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Once-Darling Ethanol Losing Friends In High Places 586

Posted by timothy
from the political-economy-case-in-point dept.
theodp writes "It's now conceivable, says BusinessWeek's Ed Wallace, that the myth of ethanol as the salvation for America's energy problem is coming to an end. Curiously, the alternative fuel may be done in by an unlikely collection of foes. Fervidly pro-ethanol in the last decade of his political career, former VP Al Gore reversed course in late November and apologized for supporting ethanol, which apparently was more about ingratiating himself to farmers. A week later, Energy Secretary Steven Chu piled on, saying: 'The future of transportation fuels shouldn't involve ethanol.' And in December, a group of small-engine manufacturers, automakers, and boat manufacturers filed suit in the US Court of Appeals to vacate the EPA's October ruling that using a 15% blend of ethanol in fuel supplies would not harm 2007 and newer vehicles. Despite all of this, the newly-elected Congress has extended the 45 cent-per-gallon ethanol blending tax credit that was due to expire, a move that is expected to reduce revenue by $6.25 billion in 2011. 'The ethanol insanity,' longtime-critic Wallace laments, 'will continue until so many cars and motors are damaged by this fuel additive that the public outcry can no longer be ignored.'"
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Once-Darling Ethanol Losing Friends In High Places

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  • by Amorymeltzer (1213818) on Sunday December 26, 2010 @04:49PM (#34671652)

    Corn ethanol: bad
    Switchgrass ethanol: good

    There's nothing inherently wrong with ethanol (unless you're under 21 - shame on you majority of populace!) but how we get our current stock is a terrible deal. Corn and farm policies are troublesome, and current ethanol mandates are indeed another subsidy for a growing and yet still ailing production force, but it need not be. Convert some fields into sugarcane or switchgrass, which is vastly more effective for creating biofuels, and that's without all the genetic advances corn has had. We'll get more efficient energy production, another crop will become incredibly profitable, and the corn cycle of "grow more causing prices to drop so grow more" - that's a win-win-win situation.

  • by Maxo-Texas (864189) on Sunday December 26, 2010 @05:17PM (#34671824)

    I have stumbled on "real 100% gasoline" three times in a 2008 Honda Element. Each time, my mileage increased for that tankful from 265 miles to 300 miles.

    Honda: 10% Ethanol, 13 gallon tank mileage to fill up (about 12.25 gallons).

    265 miles. About 21.6 miles per gallon.

    Honda: Gasoline, 13 gallon tank mileage to fill up (about 12.25 gallons).

    300 miles. About 24.4 miles per gallon.

    12% more miles with gasoline than with 10% Ethanol.

    You see the problem, right?

    When using 10% ethanol, I actually burn MORE GASOLINE to travel the same number of miles.

    So ethanol is worse than useless.

    I keep putting this out there so hopefully someone who can reliably get 100% gasoline can perform a formal study.
    This is increasing the amount of gasoline we use, not reducing it.

  • Re:Quoting Homer (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Pharmboy (216950) on Sunday December 26, 2010 @05:30PM (#34671884) Journal

    How apropos! I have already had TWO generators get trashed ($650+ each) and have had several other mechanical issues with ethanol in non-car engines. Ethanol is the worst thing you can put in a lawn mower, boat, or other motor that isn't run every day. It sucks more water out of the air than the average dehumidifier, which will literally RUST out the engine components.

    Putting alcohol in my small motor fuel has created hundreds of dollars of damage, and has created MORE carbon than regular gas, due to all the replacement parts that had to be manufactured again, and shipped. It sounds good on paper, but by the time you add the cost of subsidizing Monsanto and adding the damage, it costs more than it saves in both money and carbon.

  • issues (Score:5, Interesting)

    by itzdandy (183397) <dandenson&gmail,com> on Sunday December 26, 2010 @05:33PM (#34671908) Homepage

    The issue with Ethanol is really 2 fronts.
    1, corn has a low output per crop for food or for fuel.
    2, Ethanol is hard on an engine, even an engine designed to handle it.

    We are propping up the corn industry claiming that we are saving farmers. The subsidies that keep those farmers on corn is also keeping the from switching to a more appropriate crop.

    Ethanol really tears up engine components such as gaskets and seals. As these items wear at a faster pace with Ethanol, they become less efficient and less reliable.

    I understand the draw for ethanol, it acts sort-of like gasoline which keeps the many millions of cars on our roads compatible with the 'next-gen' fuel. The problem is that it is from a low yiel crop and has an intense and expensive manufacturing process.

    We could product a diesel-compatible biofuel much more easily and out of crops with significantly higher yield. A significant percent of fuel used in America is diesel through trucks and tractors and a push for a more sustainable fuel in a diesel form would change the focus of automakers selling cars in the US.

    It is easier and cheaper to make diesel from corn rather than ethanol, but still not efficient.

    Rapeseed can be be broken down by simply crushing the seed which is ~40% oil. This crop produces about ~127 Gallons per acre. The US in 2009 used about 137Billion gallons of gasoline.
    with some math 137B/127Gallons = 1.07Billion acres. The US is 2.428Billion acres. There are only 922Million acres of farmland.
    hmmmm, so we dont have enough land to grown a renewable fuel unless we both a, stop eating AND b, come up with something that has a ~50% oil content.

    You dont have to be a rocket scientist to do the math from numbers freely available at usda.gov. I would think that any person pushing to eliminate our need for foreign oil or oil in general and actually expecting some level of success would have done a tiny bit of research. We can't grow our fuel, or at the very least we cant grow all of it. We are going to have to use technology to handle this issue, not brute force.

    And on that subject, only ~27% of our energy usage is in transporation. petrolium is about 38% of our energy sources.

    So the real question is, should we really be looking at changing the fuel source for cars right now? Shouldn't we continue to improve out technology for electric and/or hybrid systems, batteries, and more efficient engines while targeting industrial and commercial power uses? This way in the future we can make a much better change in cars when the technology is ready? We could reduce our need on oil by a massive amount with nuclear power and converting many fuel burners to electical heating and cooling. With nuclear power alone we could see as much fuel energy savings as completely replacing the fuel in our cars. We already have nuclear power technology and building more plants will push that technology further ahead. btw, nuclear is just 8 1/2% of out power source.

    I am not saying that we should ignore oil use in cars, just that it is not the best place to start. Batteries and power production, probably nuclear, is what I think is the best route. if we try, we might actually be doing nuclear fusion this century, but fission is proven and reliable and safe.

  • Re:Thank God (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Galactic Dominator (944134) on Sunday December 26, 2010 @05:43PM (#34671988)

    I thought not, but believe me, don't try it, you won't be able to, it's a grade lower than that used for silage/cattle feed.

    You are more full of shit that feeder cattle you pretend to know about. The exact same corn can and does go to an ethanol plant or to a feed lot or even human food consumption processing. The by-product of ethanol is distillers grain and is also fed to livestock among other uses. I was raised on a farm and now have a few cattle of my own on an acreage.

    You can eat and digest normal field corn just fine(GMO arguments aside), although it's not the sweet corn variety which what most people are used to.

    FWIW, most small farmer don't get much or any subsidies for corn production and we nearly all have recognized for years that the ethanol pitch is bullshit. If you want to rage about farmers getting too much unwarranted subsidies, make sure you focus the anger on the big corporate farms because they're the one's that have Congress's ear. About the only benefit small farmer's have seen is the relatively recent sustained rise in corn prices due to the OP's point. The small farmer subsidy era largely went away during the Reagan Administration and has never returned. If you want to check your "fax", look at how many family farms went under in the 80's and the farm bill provisions before, during, and after that time.

    You may also want to consider the reasoning behind subsidies as well. It's essentially a safeguard so that American food supply will be adequate on a yearly basis. If you let market forces run it entirely, there would be large swings in price and availability. Some might say fine, that's the way it should. The problem with is when a core need like food supply become volatile then so does everything dependent on the supply. The society we live in today would not be possible without subsidies to encourage farmers to plant even when there is excess. The argument "There shouldn't be subsidies" is completely different than "We have too many subsidies".

  • by Leafheart (1120885) on Sunday December 26, 2010 @05:44PM (#34672000)

    Lucky you. You don't have a sugar cartel controlling supply and jacking up prices like we do.

    As the other user said, yes we do, the usineiros as they are called have a lot of people on the congress (the Agribusiness Lobby is the second larges non-partisan group on the Congress and Senate), and they have a monopoly of a lot of stuff. That means they jack up prices and try to stiffle the market of other type of fuel.

    What happened to balance is that other big farmers decided to jump on the biodiesel wagon, and their lobby was stronger than the Ethanol's, so they got some subsidies to start making Castor Bean diesel. That put them on their place and the prices got a little more controlled. But still that risks upping the price of other produces with more and more farmers jumping at that wagon and forgetting the once great rice, wheat and soy.

  • by dr2chase (653338) on Sunday December 26, 2010 @09:53PM (#34673186) Homepage
    Really? I look at what I do in my spare time, I am damn sure not getting paid to do it, and I do it anyway. For example, tonight I tried (and failed) to fit a snowplow onto my bike (it's a cargo bike, there's an easy fitting in the back). Nobody's paying me. The light on my bicycle, my design, nobody paid me (you can't buy one like it, either). Friends tell me I should try to sell it, but who has the time, I have a job, too.

    I want a lot more out of life than just food.

    Note, also, that there is a huge difference between guaranteed minimum income, and the old Russian or Chinese systems. If the basic system is market driven, you'll get market behavior, even though people don't need to work for all of their money. If it's command-and-control with silly-ass state ownership of the means of production, we tried that experiment, it sucked. But what is proposed, is not what you claim it is, nor do we know that it inevitably leads to that, either.
  • What is the deal? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Charcharodon (611187) on Sunday December 26, 2010 @10:48PM (#34673426)
    Why the obsession with alternate liquid fuels? Switch to methane and you kill five birds with one stone.

    1. The infrastructure to deliver it is already in place and is far less complicated than say what is needed for a hydrogen system.

    2. The conversion costs are small and will work with most vehicles. Pickup trucks being the easiest to convert. (Cool trucks, no gay hybrids required.)

    3. It's readily availabe just about everywhere. You can drill a hole in the ground to get it. You can make it with crop and animal waste on the farm. You can make it from sewage waste in the city. You can collect it as a by product from the petrolium industry. You could make your own fuel in your backyard if you were so inclined and had the space.

    4. It is environment friendly. No bad polutants when you burn it and can come from "carbon neutral" sources if you still buy into such things.

    5. We can make it in our own country and stop funding the overseas assholes. Let them try to eat their oil after we stop buying and see how far that gets them.

    Win, win, win, win, win.

  • by dr2chase (653338) on Sunday December 26, 2010 @10:54PM (#34673450) Homepage
    I've never understood the incredible attraction of a flat tax; it's not as if piecewise linear functions were what made filing taxes hard. The attraction, for me, of a guaranteed minimum income, is that all the income-indexed subsidies that we have, as they phase out (in a relatively narrow income band), act as a rather high marginal rate tax on working poor-ish people. That's a problem.

    "Guaranteed minimum income" is just another way of saying "subsidies that avoid the phase-out problem". And the thing is, supposed the GMI is $10k , and then a 20% (marginal) "tax" kicks in at $50k. At $100k income, you're still getting your "minimum income" , but you're also paying the same amount in "tax". Money's fungible, people should not get all hung up about the labels attached to it, just figure out subsidies and tax codes so you have a healthy economy, enough money to run the government, and you avoid pathologies like the way current subsidies getting turned off in a narrow income band provide such a disincentive to work.

Aren't you glad you're not getting all the government you pay for now?

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