Thermodynamics and Money: Richard Beal Responds

  1. "According to this theory it can never make sense to burn two units of energy in order to extract one unit of energy. " - This is a false statement. Researchers in EROI commonly take energy quality into account in their equations. In fact, concepts regarding energy quality were first developed by H. T. Odum and his students at the same time they were developing EROI.
  2. "As it happens, the people extracting oil out of tar sands today use gas from the fields themselves to power their refineries. There's gas, too, under what has been called Alberta's "trillion- barrel tar pit," but it's cheap because there's no pipeline to deliver it to where it would be worth more." - This is a problem because when you take energy quality into account natural gas' is much higher than petroleum. The same problem occurs when you change petroleum and natural gas into ethanol through corn and wood. They are net energy losers even when energy quality is considered.
  3. "But nuclear reactors extract only a minuscule fraction of the energy locked up in the nuclei of uranium atoms; all the rest gets discarded as "waste." On Eroei logic, uranium would never be used to generate either electricity or heat. But per unit of raw stored energy, uranium is a thousand times cheaper than oil." - Huber is confusing the efficiency of the process with EROI. Two different calculations.
  4. "The economic value of energy just doesn't depend very strongly on raw energy content as conventionally measured in British thermal units. Instead it's determined mainly by the distance between the BTUs and where you need them, and how densely the BTUs are packed into pounds of stuff you've got to move, and by the quality of the technology at hand to move, concentrate, refine and burn those BTUs, and by how your neighbors feel about carbon, uranium and windmills." - This is mostly true and already well-known to and accounted for by those working in EROI. In addition, energy density of fuel is critical due to the biophysical constraints as seen in Carnot efficiencies.
  5. "Put another way, Eroei--a sophomoric form of thermodynamic accounting--is always negative and always irrelevant." - Wrong, when one does not confuse efficiency of an energy conversion process with EROI one often gets positive EROI. In addition, it is always relevant to the health of the economy on the macro-scale whether you choose to notice it or not.
  6. "The "monetary culture" still rules." - This statement is unfortunately true and could have society stampeding toward a biophysical brick wall.

Rick Beal PHD
Associate Director of Educational Outreach
phone: 315-470-4867 fax: 315-470-6890