What is the most inefficient way to make electricity? Answer: power an a 15% efficient* internal combustion engine with a liquid fuel made primarily from industrial food crops to spin a generator. Someone in Houston has come up with a brilliant way to dispose of, consume, use up biodiesel. It is just a matter of time now before someone starts using biodiesel to save water by flushing toilets with it. From Renewable Energy Access:

*another screw up pointed out by commenters

“We believe the new Oak Ridge North plant will be a showcase installation for environmentally conscious companies that want to reduce their air pollution footprint by satisfying their electricity needs with carbon neutral and 100% renewable fuels. We are proud that the Oak Ridge North facility is one of the cleanest generating facilities in the country. We also believe this first important step in urban renewable power can reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil while significantly benefiting our domestic agricultural economy,” said Ken Crimmins, COO of Biofuels Power.

Almost nothing in the above quote is true. Biodiesel is not as clean as natural gas, solar, wind, geothermal, or hydro. Biodiesel made primarily from industrial food crops is also not carbon neutral or renewable.

The biodiesel powering these generators may release half as much CO2 on a life cycle basis as a coal plant, but because the coal plant is twice as efficient, you don’t gain anything. The generators, if they are like most other diesel engines, won’t even have air pollution controls. If you account for the energy used growing the crops, refining them into a liquid fuel, and all of the environmental degradation associated with industrial agriculture, these generators are far from environmentally friendly.

Foreign oil is used primarily for transport, not electric power generation. These generators are actually displacing coal, not oil, thus causing someone to use more oil to power a truck somewhere. There is a grain of truth that this is benefiting our domestic agricultural economy, but it is doing so with money taken from my pocket. Hell, I have to wonder if Ken Crimmins is even really the COO.

Here is another article discussing a power plant that will be burning, of all things, wood. Not a new idea, that’s for sure. It is far more efficient and less carbon intensive than turning the wood into a liquid fuel and then burning it, especially if it is waste wood. However, when you consider that trees are already being turned into mulch, and paper, and everything else, you have got to wonder if we can also grow enough trees to generate electricity as well. If we can, then maybe burning wood instead of coal is the answer to our problems. Imagine power plants nestled in the centers of forests using wood no faster than it can grow. Trees are solar collectors that store the sun’s energy. Sounds idyllic but I don’t have to run any numbers to know we can’t grow trees faster than we would be burning them.

And finally, there is this little power struggle.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality says that blending 20 percent (B20) or more of biodiesel with diesel fuel could increase the amount of nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions above levels permitted by the state

Note that this is for a 20% blend. It would be five times worse for pure biodiesel.

Texas was supposed to decide on whether or not to ban biodiesel in December, but on the 23rd of the month voted to study the issue for another year.

If biodiesel were to be banned in the state it would be devastating blow to the biodiesel industry. Texas is the second largest consumer of biodiesel in the country behind Iowa, and has many biodiesel plants in use or under construction.

Allow me to translate: We need an extra year to change the law.