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Alias (5735)

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Saturday February 09, 2008
02:08 AM

Goldman Sachs agrees "we now compete with robots for food"

[ #35621 ]

Of course they use the terms "supercycle" and "convergence", but it boils down to exactly the same thing.

From now on, you need to compete with the machines successfully or you simply don't get to eat :(

http://business.smh.com.au/price-of-oil-is-famine-as-food-plugs-demand/20080208- 1r43.html

Of course, simply an "I told you so" wouldn't be particularly interesting...

What IS interesting is that they've also published the underlying cost of production (in equivalent barrels) of the main biolfuel alternatives.

In a pure market, sugar cane would be the only viable biofuel with a cost of $US35 per barrel of oil equivalent. The others are sugar beet at an equivalent cost of $US103 a barrel of oil equivalent, corn at $US81, wheat at $US145, rapeseed at $US209, soyabean at $US232 and cellulose at $US305.

Although the article adds that most biofuels are driven by subsidies, this misses the point somewhat.

Subsidies don't last forever, it's very rare that something is so important as to do so. The budget pressure on something that is so fundamental to the basic functioning of a country (energy) would be enormous if it became the dominant crops.

So, long term, we can expect to see the continuing rise of sugar cane.

Because while every other alternative struggles for viability at the edge of profitability and saps the life out of government budgets, sugar surges onwards without any need for subsidies. And every dollar increase in (the worldwide price of) oil means more money in the pockets of sugar farmers and sugar refineries, more tax income for governments, and more political power for that economic group.

These numbers aren't static of course. Cellulosic ethanol costs in particular continue to fall. And cellulosic ethanol is interesting because there's a lot of places where you get "leftover" cellulose in various processes.

If these can be made profitable from an energy product approach, expect more trouble. Things like the horse industry complaining about hay shortages, and greater difficulty for cattle farmers (of the "we own land" variety) finding feed to deal with short term droughts.

We compete with robots for sugar, corn, and to some degree wheat already, but this gives cellulose a free ride, and helps to control (non-feed-lot) meat prices to some degree.

But boy, just wait till you see the price of meat move once collulose becomes affordable.

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  • The not-so-funny thing is, biofuel is not an answer, it’s a disaster. It cannot solve either crisis, climate or energy, it only creates plentiful new problems.

    The environmental cost of biofuel is much higher than the cost of fossil fuels – it will cause rainforest to be replaced by palm farms, which is a ludicrous carbon balance bottom line. In other words, biofuel is the most carbon-intensive source of energy ever .

    Not only that, but according to a 2003 calculation by Jeffrey Dukes, our car

    • Well, it's causing rainforest in brazil certainly to be replaced by sugar cane, and also soy (for different reasons).

      I'm not sure if 400 is entirely correct there, or it may be out of context? I'd certainly believe we're using 400 times as much as is STORED normally. But your original figure may well be correct too.

      The earth is already powered by nuclear fusion, there's a giant reactor that goes over our heads every day.

      We just collect it in myriad different ways, including via biomass, wind power, and from
      • I’m not sure if 400 is entirely correct there, or it may be out of context? I’d certainly believe we’re using 400 times as much as is STORED normally.

        I think my phrasing was a bit muddled. What I mean is, we use 400× as much energy every year as the entire Earth can store in plants in a year. We would need to harvest the entire Earth’s flora for 4 centuries in order to run our society for one year on that harvest.

        The earth is already powered by nuclear fusion, there

        • > They don’t; not by a long shot.

          US $35 per "barrel" for sugar cane ethanol seems pretty decent to me.

          And if all of the processes involved in the manufacturing are also run off ethanol, you get something very close to carbon neutrality.
  • One of the big news "events" when I was home was the $40 billion profit Exxon made, and how they nonetheless get government subsidies. So if the implication was that the biofuel industry was "driven" by subsidies, then are we going to argue that non-biofuel isn't and stop giving them them?