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Can the US Be Weaned Off Ethanol? 330

Posted by timothy
from the so-you-hate-farmers? dept.
Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "Matthew Wald reports in the NYT the the Environmental Protection Agency has proposed reducing the amount of ethanol that is required to be mixed with the gasoline supply, the first time it has taken steps to slow down the drive to replace fossil fuels with renewable forms of energy. The move drew bitter complaints from advocates of ethanol, including some environmentalists, who see the corn-based fuel blend as a weapon to fight climate change and was also unwelcome news to farmers, coming at a time when a record corn crop is expected, and the price of a bushel has fallen almost to the cost of production. "Boy, my goodness, are the oil companies going to benefit from this," says Bob Dinneen, president of the Renewable Fuels Association. "We're all just sort of scratching our heads here wondering why this administration is telling us to produce less of a clean-burning American fuel." But the EPA says that a big part of the problem was that automobile fuel systems and service stations were not set up to absorb more than about 10 percent ethanol. Most cars on the road are limited to the current mixture, called E10, and there has been little demand by consumers for more. Reasons for the turnaround are many: The boom in domestic oil drilling has dimmed the urgency to find other alternatives to Mideast petroleum. Demand for gasoline has slumped. And criticism of the environmental impacts of corn ethanol has dimmed its luster nationally. The chill on ethanol will certainly affect the industry's powerhouse, corn ethanol. But the risk is far greater for smaller sectors of the industry still struggling to get out of the gate — those aimed at producing next-generation biofuels like "cellulosic" ethanol, made from ingredients like switchgrass and corn stalks. "I don't know if the EPA is aiming for uncertainty, but they may inadvertently create it," says Jan Koninckx, the global business director of biorefineries for DuPont. "The impact could be that another country will lead this rather than the U.S.""
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Can the US Be Weaned Off Ethanol?

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  • by Snotnose (212196) on Saturday November 16, 2013 @02:24PM (#45443807)
    Notice how consumers aren't given the choice of buying "pure" gas, as opposed to E10. I'm pretty sure that if we had the choice we'd be buying the good stuff, not the corn crap.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      The republicans are big believers in a centrally managed economy (socialism), so long as they are the managers.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by bondsbw (888959)

        Democrats are dumb enough to give all power to the government, even when it could mean that Republicans (or someone much more terrible [wikipedia.org]) may inherit that power.

        • by Uberbah (647458)

          Democrats are dumb enough to give all power to the government, even when it could mean that Republicans (or someone much more terrible) may inherit that power.

          Are you dumb enough to think that giving the government the power to keep poison out of your food is the same thing as the government spying on you illegally? Get past the nonsensical absolutes and slippery slope nonsense, you might notice that both parties are willing to sell out everyone and everything to monied interests.

      • Socialism is not rooting in a centrally mananged economy, but the belief that all production should be done for a common good("worker owned" the means of production)

        While there are certainly many types of socialism where this is the case, its NOT a defining feature (anarcho-socialism for one, and even pure marxism, in the never achieved end state has no government).

        There are other highly oppressive big state types of governence than socialism.

        Facism and the so called National "Socialism", and integralists,

    • by swillden (191260) <shawn-ds@willden.org> on Saturday November 16, 2013 @02:51PM (#45443965) Homepage Journal

      Notice how consumers aren't given the choice of buying "pure" gas, as opposed to E10. I'm pretty sure that if we had the choice we'd be buying the good stuff, not the corn crap.

      +1

      I'd really like to find a place I could get pure gasoline. I don't care so much for my road vehicles (one of which is an EV anyway), but I really hate putting ethanol in my boat. The alcohol is terribly corrosive if it ends up sitting for an extended period of time. Cars and trucks generally get driven enough that's not a problem but recreational vehicles may go months -- or occasionally, years -- between uses. I had to spend $600 on a complete carburetor rebuild for my boat last year because it had sat unused for two years and the ethanol had really screwed up the carb.

      The mechanic said that in the future if I'm going to use ethanol and might be leaving the boat to sit for more than about six months, that I should ensure that every drop of fuel is cleared out of the carburetor and fuel lines. Fuel stabilizer that keeps the gasoline from separating doesn't prevent the alcohol corrosion. His recommendation is not to use ethanol, but about the only places I can find pure gasoline are boat fuel stations on lakes (where the gas is $5+ per gallon).

      I'm all for reducing petroleum consumption, but ethanol is the wrong way to do it, for all sorts of reasons.

      • If you have a marina or airport close by, you can get the real deal. Cheaper as well since you don't pay federal highway taxes.

        • Oops, didn't read you post completely. You're getting taken for a ride on your lakes. Not only are they charging you more, but you should get about a .25 / gallon break from Federal taxes. I guess you have to move somewhere more maritime.

      • by sribe (304414) on Saturday November 16, 2013 @03:12PM (#45444111)

        Fuel stabilizer that keeps the gasoline from separating doesn't prevent the alcohol corrosion.

        There are however fuel stabilizers on the market which claim to inhibit the alcohol corrosion. I believe these may be relatively new, since I can't recall ever seeing them before last year. FYI, here [baileysonline.com] and maybe here [baileysonline.com].

        His recommendation is not to use ethanol, but about the only places I can find pure gasoline are boat fuel stations on lakes (where the gas is $5+ per gallon).

        Use whatever gas you want to all season. At the end of the season run it dry, put in a gallon of the good stuff, run it dry, repeat.

        • by pepty (1976012)
          Sta-bil has been around a long time. Keeping the alcohol from separating out helps some of the corrosion issues, though clearing out all of the fuel is better. Your lawnmower will definitely thank you for either emptying it or putting in sta-bil for the winter.
      • Last I knew premium didn't get blended, just low and mid-grade fuel.
        • by Mashiki (184564)

          Yeah not really true, I saw premium in Iowa two years ago that had a statement at the pump that said "all blends may contain up to 10% ethanol, premium may contain up to 5%" We see it in Canada at some stations too, Shell is one of the few where you can buy 91 and 93 without ethanol in it.

      • by caseih (160668) on Saturday November 16, 2013 @03:37PM (#45444247)

        I understand what you're saying, but the pedant in me wants to point out that there's no such thing as "pure gasoline." Gasoline(tm) is a cocktail of many different hydrocarbon molecules, usually consisting of between 4 and 12 carbon atoms in their chains. And different companies' products contain differing ratios of the common components of petrol.

    • by TEG24601 (1850816)
      One of the Gas Station owners in my area, has Ethanol Free fuel at every other station he owns along a stretch of highway. It is 89 Octane, and really helps older vehicles and boats.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by icebike (68054)

      The cost of the ethanol exceeds the cost of gasoline, especially when you consider the 10% (minimum) milage hit you have to put up with.

      • Especially when you consider that ethanol reduces your gas mileage by a rather significant amount, thereby likely polluting more than if it was not there.
    • by knarf (34928) on Saturday November 16, 2013 @03:03PM (#45444053) Homepage

      'pure' gas... 'corn crap'... 'good stuff'...

      Humbug.

      Corn is not a good stock for producing fuel ethanol, that much is true. Not that there is something wrong with the ethanol itself, it is just a rather inefficient way to get there.

      'pure' gas and 'good stuff' is just what you'd expect to hear from someone who read a flyer written by a stakeholder to incite the masses. The product coming from the refinery is neither 'pure' - and a good thing that is as your engine would not run that well on 'pure' petrol - nor 'good stuff'.

      Ethanol can be a good fuel for internal combustion engines. It burns clean, tolerates high compression ratios without problems and - in contrast to what many sources state - stores well. Its energy content per litre is lower than that of petrol, which in turn has a lower energy content per litre than diesel. This in itself is not a problem but it does lead to higher specific fuel consumption rates and with that more fuel for the petrol lobby.

      Modern cars - at least those from Europe and Japan - have no problems with higher ethanol ratios. The real limit is often the maximum capacity for the fuel injection system: as ethanol has a lower energy content per litre, more fuel is needed for the same load. Injection systems in engines tuned for petrol simply can not supply enough fuel per combustion stroke for higher ethanol ratios. This can be adjusted though, eg. by raising the injection pressure. The often-heard problem with ethanol dissolving seals and gaskets might apply to old vehicles but it is unlikely to be a problem when talking about more recent (say, made in the last 20 years) engines. If the car has been running on petrol for many years the ethanol will dissolve the crud left behind so you'll want to change the fuel filter more often in the beginning.

      As to my personal experience with this I can state that, other than the ethanol dissolving some coating from the inside of the fuel tank on my soviet-era Ural motorbike - which runs on E85 (85% ethanol) - I have yet to see a single problem caused by ethanol while we use it in various ratios - from 45% to 85%, depending on the application - in many engines, from a '92 B&S lawn mower to a 2003 Skoda. I've used it in 2-strokes as well but this has been less of a success as it is hard to keep the fuel and oil mixed. As soon as I find a good (and inexpensive) lubricant which stays mixed I'll use in the chain saws as the exhaust gases are less noxious than those from petrol.

      • by evandrofisico (933918) on Saturday November 16, 2013 @03:12PM (#45444117)
        Here in Brazil, most new cars can run on anything from 15% ethanol (the default on mix around here is 85% gasoline, 15% ethanol) to 100% ethanol, usually through sensors in the fuel injection system, and in as much as I know, no changes related to corrosion being necessary.
        • They don't need any changes related to corrosion because they're made with those changes already included - it's mostly picking the right kinds of rubber for the seals and hoses. That doesn't mean an old motor boat engine will have been designed for that, and as the earlier poster said, there's also the problem that boat engines often sit unused for half a year, with the fuel evaporating away.

        • Here in the US, most new cars have fuel systems which are just fine with E85 (or more) as well. They just lack the appropriate sensors to identify the varying ethanol mix, and like the parent noted, lack adequate injector flow to handle the increased volume needed - 'cause that stuff costs money. :)

      • Ethanol can be a good fuel for internal combustion engines. It burns clean, tolerates high compression ratios without problems and - in contrast to what many sources state - stores well. Its energy content per litre is lower than that of petrol, which in turn has a lower energy content per litre than diesel. This in itself is not a problem but it does lead to higher specific fuel consumption rates and with that more fuel for the petrol lobby.

        It can be a good fuel... but not when used in engines designed for gasoline (petrol).

        As you point out, it has a lower energy density, thereby reducing your mileage and likely leading to the burning of more gasoline, rather than less. But it also reduces ignition efficiency... a bit less of the fuel actually burns when ignited. Further reducing efficiency.

        Add that to the fact that corn-derived methanol is just plain energy inefficient, and the only reasonable conclusion is that we have better things to

        • s/methanol/ethanol
        • by ApplePy (2703131)

          Yep... however, an engine designed to run straight ethanol is a beautiful thing. Compared to the average gasoline burner, you'd have higher compression ratios and lower displacements.

          Higher C/R equates to longer stroke, which increases torque and fuel efficiency. Higher torque and fuel efficiency means we can downsize the engine to maintain the same power to weight ratio for our vehicle.

          Thus... take two identical cars but one with an engine designed for ethanol. They'll both turn in about the same number

        • Just a minor quibble. Adding ethanol to gas does not increase of gasoline you burn, it decreases it.

          It increases the volume of fuel you have to burn, but that fuel is only 90% gasoline.

      • by ChumpusRex2003 (726306) on Saturday November 16, 2013 @04:00PM (#45444375)

        Ethanol can be a big problem with certain modern cars.

        Toyota and its luxury devision, Lexus, have this problem with models up to 2008. For example, the 2008 Lexus IS (built during calendar year 2007) is not E10 compatible. In areas where E10 fuel was legally mandated, lexus noticed a high rate of warranty replacements of the fuel injection pump and fuel injector failure, as well as fuel leaks from the fuel injection manifold. This was found to be ethanol induced corrosion of the metal alloys used in the injection pump and manifolds. Oxidation and debris from the corrosion would also clog injectors or cause them to leak.

        These cars were recalled in the US, but were not recalled outside of the US. Customers with these cars who are now out of warranty are potentially SOL, if they live in an area where E10 is expected to be mandated shortly.

        It's not just recent Japanese cars that have problems with E10. Recent european cars also have major problems with E10. Mercedes-Benz vehicles built between 2002 and 2005 are not E10 compatible, as are numerous post 2000 Fiat vehicles, Audi/Volkswagen/Seat/Skoda vehicles with direct injection systems built before 2006, etc. The list of non-compatible cars is very long.

    • by Type44Q (1233630)

      Oklahoma is the only state I've found that commonly has ethanol-free gas available (but good luck finding anything higher than 91 octane).

    • by bigdavex (155746) on Saturday November 16, 2013 @03:24PM (#45444177)

      Look for Gas Throwback at the pump.

    • by snsh (968808)

      Pure E0 gasoline is available here and there. It's usually branded as "Amoco Silver" sold at one specific pump and costs maybe 5% more than 93-octane E10 depending on the station.

      http://puregas.org/ [puregas.org]

    • Notice how consumers aren't given the choice of buying "pure" gas, as opposed to E10. I'm pretty sure that if we had the choice we'd be buying the good stuff, not the corn crap.

      You can buy it, you just can't put it in your car to drive on the highway. You can buy it at specialty fuel paces that sell to race car folks and at cardlock type places. You have to sign that you won't put it in your car. I buy it at my local CFN dealer to use in my chainsaw, lawnmower, etc. Definitely worth the extra cost to run it in your small engines; more power and none of the damage you get from ethanol.

    • by Locutus (9039) on Saturday November 16, 2013 @04:25PM (#45444537)
      Exactly and the E10 used can, by law, only be corn based ethanol. So those crying of other ethanol producers being hard is 100% propaganda. The whole ethanol thing was generated by the corn farmers lobby and it had nothing to do with environmental or geo-political oil industry factors.

      I'm hoping ethanol gets dumped.

      LoB
    • by mlts (1038732) *

      If I want E0 gas here in Texas, I have to pay for a fuel company to set up an above ground tank on property and pay in increments of hundreds of gallons.

      I would love E0 gas. E10 doesn't help generator or small engine life in any way whatsoever. It also kills gasoline life because the ethanol sucks water from the air, which causes gas to get bad quicker. Preservatives like Sta-Bil help, but even with that, one really can't store E10 past 6 months without risking fouling up carbs.

  • corn vs algae (Score:5, Interesting)

    by DaphneDiane (72889) <tg6xin001@sneakemail.com> on Saturday November 16, 2013 @02:24PM (#45443813)

    The real question to me is why corn is used for Ethanol instead of say algae?

    • Re:corn vs algae (Score:5, Informative)

      by mcmonkey (96054) on Saturday November 16, 2013 @02:27PM (#45443839) Homepage

      Ethanol requirements are corporate welfare for Big Corn.

      It has nothing to do with renewable fuels or dependance on imported oil. The second the US has large scale ethanol production not using corn, any requirements for ethanol use will disappear.

      • Re:corn vs algae (Score:5, Informative)

        by ShanghaiBill (739463) on Saturday November 16, 2013 @02:55PM (#45443987)

        Ethanol requirements are corporate welfare for Big Corn.

        The corn lobby is a big part of it. There is no algae lobby. But there is much more to it. I remember reading about "fuel from algae" back in the 1970s. There were some major hurdles back then. Four decades hence, we have the exact same hurdles. There are huge problems with "fuel from algae", and these problems are not being solved. It is easy to make ethanol from starch, and much harder to make it from cellulose. Algae contains no starch. Most "algae fuel" schemes focus instead on making bio-diesel from lipids, which some algae do contain in significant amounts. The problem is that when algae is bred to produce more lipids, it is out produced by invasive species, and feasted on by predators such as paramecium and rotifers. This problem can be solved by growing algae in enclosed containers rather than open ponds, but that vastly increases the cost. Even if you manage to grow algae with enough lipids, you still have to separate them from that water, break up the cell walls, and separate the fuel from the other cellular debris. We are not even close to doing this cost effectively.

        • by jfengel (409917)

          I'm far from an expert, but I would have thought that separating the lipids from the water was the easy part. Is there something about the way the algae store the lipids? Or are the algae too hard to crush to get them to release the oils?

          • Re:corn vs algae (Score:5, Interesting)

            by ShanghaiBill (739463) on Saturday November 16, 2013 @04:47PM (#45444655)

            Or are the algae too hard to crush to get them to release the oils?

            Yes. The algae are small, individual cells, with tough, flexible membranes. You start with 99% water, then you separate the algae with filters or centrifuges. Then you need to thoroughly dry the algae to weaken the cell membranes. Then you need to use enzymes or heat to break them down further. Then you need to press or chemically extract the lipids. This can be done. But it is an expensive, energy intensive process. It isn't even close to being cost competitive with petroleum derived diesel, or even soybean oil. There is no "vast conspiracy" keeping algae oil off the market. The real reason is far simpler than that.

            • by smugfunt (8972)

              The process you describe is the traditional approach and it is a problem.

              Having done considerable googling on the subject I have come up with a potential alternative:
              Remove most of the water with a hydrocyclone.
              Crack the cell walls with ultrasonics and/or microwaves.
              Transesterify the still-wet goop with super-critical methanol.
              Recover the excess methanol with a flash drum.
              Separate the biodiesel, glycerol, remaining water and algae residue with another hydrocyclone and settling tanks and filters.
              None of this

      • by pepty (1976012)
        It's a way to turn coal (burned to manufacture ethanol from corn in the US) and diesel (ag and transportation trucks) BTUs into ethanol BTUs, and urban dollars into farm dollars.
    • by gl4ss (559668)

      corn fields are cheap to operate, due to cheap fossil fuels and ease of growth(as indicated by how cheap corn is), so if you have corn fields and a saturated market it's pretty useful if you can have the government mandate to other people to use your produce...

      and nobody really has working algae production in the scale that would work, this use of ethanol has much more to do with surplus corn than anything else - it's a farming subsidy and a jobs program. the thing is, the ethanol isn't there to save the en

      • Re:corn vs algae (Score:5, Insightful)

        by dskoll (99328) on Saturday November 16, 2013 @02:55PM (#45443991)

        corn fields are cheap to operate

        They also promote monoculture farming and depletion of soil, which in turn requires huge inputs of chemical fertilizers and pesticides and also makes GMO attractive.

        The US corn policy is exceedingly damaging to the economy, the environment, and public health.

      • by AftanGustur (7715)

        corn fields are cheap to operate, ..

        Actually, without government subsidies, corn-based ethanol would not be economically feasible fuel.

      • Re:corn vs algae (Score:5, Informative)

        by Nethemas the Great (909900) on Saturday November 16, 2013 @03:48PM (#45444299)
        Corn is only cheap because it is subsidized by my tax dollars. No one ever bothered to make a distinction between food crops and fuel crops, neither did they bother to subsidize nutritionally beneficial crops. This is why manufactured food is cheaper than anything in the produce aisle and why everything has corn syrup or some other corn based derivative in it. Ditch the damn agriculture subsidies and incentivize the actual goals of the public facing message, clean energy consumption and production. Our food supply and thus our health will improve and engineers can work towards solutions with technical rather than artificial merits.
    • by Joce640k (829181)

      Big Corn

  • Environmentalists? (Score:5, Informative)

    by smugfunt (8972) on Saturday November 16, 2013 @02:26PM (#45443831)

    complaints from advocates of ethanol, including some environmentalists

    There are environmentalists advocating ethanol fuel from corn?
    If they are referring to the Renewable Fuels Association [wikipedia.org] they've made a mistake.

    • They're certainly not environmentalists and while they are clearly arguing for the wrong reasons there are excellent environmental reasons to mix in ethanol in automobile fuel.

      Specifically, the efficiency of a heat engine increases with the hot temperature (which increases with compression ratio). In piston engines this is limited by knocking, which in can be prevented by mixing in various things, some of the horrible or hard to produce, and among these ethanol seems a fairly good choice, it being availab
    • by Tailhook (98486)

      There are environmentalists advocating ethanol fuel from corn?

      It was sold [nytimes.com] to the public as "clean energy." Some of the most culpable are apologizing [nytimes.com] for their advocacy.

      If it was all a front for Big Corn or whomever — the otherwise noble green agenda co-opted to serve narrow interests — one must wonder which parts of our contemporary `green' agenda are also misplaced.

      Or not. When the policies prove a mistake the enviro-statists will assign blame to someone else while advocating the next bad idea.

  • by Press2ToContinue (2424598) * on Saturday November 16, 2013 @02:30PM (#45443859)

    I kinda miss it.

  • and use it to feed poor people? It's not like there's any shortage of them...
    • by Bill_the_Engineer (772575) on Saturday November 16, 2013 @02:37PM (#45443887)
      Better yet Instead of corn, grow something actually nutritious to feed to people.
    • by Bill, Shooter of Bul (629286) on Saturday November 16, 2013 @02:44PM (#45443921) Journal

      There is a lot of debate over weather or not its such a great thing to just give food away to poor countries. It lowers the price of domestic farmed goods, depressing the local economy. Its often argued that its a better idea to support the local farmers as much as possible and only giving away food in famine situations.

      • by gl4ss (559668)

        well if their country is in the toilet they could usually use more booze though.

      • if a country's so poor their entire economy is farm based isn't the goal to get the price of food (and other necessities) low enough that people start having disposable income? The 'Big Mac Index' I think it's called.
        • If your entire economy is based farming then low food prices means everyone is broke (no income). If you want people to have disposable income you need high food prices. The reason Africa is so poor is because western countries sell food below cost and destroy their economy.
    • by PPH (736903)

      We could produce ethanol from the corn and give that to the poor people. Lots of them around these parts are major consumers already.

    • We do, and we destroy the livelihoods of everyone who lives in these agrarian societies. It's called dumping [wikipedia.org] and these bags [guim.co.uk] represent one of the largest contributors to poverty in the third-world. Those bags do not represent a leg-up but a boot smashing them back into the mire.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    I do sales in high end luxury industry type stuff. The people who are buying stuff are bigger corn farmers. They have money to spend. Food prices go up, gas goes up, they profit. We pay. Our cars get lower mpg with even 10% ethanol. The effect is big enough that if you could seperate the 90% gas from the ethanol, you'd be better off throwing the ethanol completely away.

    Americans would do alright without ethanol but the special interests will cry, as always.

  • The real cost... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 16, 2013 @02:41PM (#45443903)

    Most people are unaware that they already pay for ethanol, in the form of subsidies, before it is even added to gasoline.

    Everyone I've spoken to about ethanol did a 180-degree reversal of opinion when I mentioned to them that not only have they already paid for that ethanol, but that it is also genetically-modified corn developed by Monsanto that is used to produce that ethanol, as are the pesticides used on those crops.

    Funny, how people change their opinions so quickly when provided factual information.

  • by Kohath (38547) on Saturday November 16, 2013 @02:48PM (#45443945)

    The only reason we still have corn ethanol is because there's so much money involved. It's a great way to get paid a lot of money without actually going to the trouble to earn any of it.

    - It's never really been about "the environment", but now they're not even pretending any more.
    - "Energy independence" was always a cheap slogan to fool the rubes into paying more for an inferior product, but that's not working either now that the US is set to become the world's largest oil producer in 2015.

    Like many government programs, graft is all that's left. The ethanol producers and the farmers feel entitled, and the politicians were bought off a long time ago.

  • by PCM2 (4486) on Saturday November 16, 2013 @02:50PM (#45443953) Homepage

    I, at least, am unlikely to be weaned off ethanol.

    • by 32771 (906153)

      Not to forget that the US tried that with the prohibition and it didn't work out either.

  • by lesincompetent (2836253) on Saturday November 16, 2013 @03:02PM (#45444045)
    For a moment there i thought proibitionism was making a comeback. Get your dirty hands off my booze!
  • by Areyoukiddingme (1289470) on Saturday November 16, 2013 @03:20PM (#45444155)

    "I don't know if the EPA is aiming for uncertainty, but they may inadvertently create it," says Jan Koninckx, the global business director of biorefineries for DuPont. "The impact could be that another country will lead this rather than the U.S."

    Oh boohoo. Cry me a river. Let's have a look at DuPont's financial statements, shall we?
    In millions of USD

                2009 2010 2011 2012
    Net Income
    After Taxes: 1769 2745 3155 2493

    If DuPont wants to lead in biofuels, DuPont should pay for the research to lead in biofuels. "Another country could lead this" is code for "give us free taxpayer money because $2 billion or $3 billion annual profit isn't enough for us."

    How about do your fucking jobs and develop your own new markets. Start selling pure ethanol as fuel. Need to drive demand? How about Ellen Kullman goes and has a golf game with Alan Mulally. Ethanol-only F-150s should do the trick, especially if DuPont decides to sell mini-bioreactors suitable for farms.

    But I forgot, Ellen Kullman has already had a golf game with Ryan Lance, so that isn't going to happen, is it.

  • by Animats (122034) on Saturday November 16, 2013 @03:21PM (#45444157) Homepage

    Fuel from corn, and the subsidy for it, was a giveaway to Archer Daniels Midland. The subsidy expired a few years ago, but the requirement that corn be converted to fuel ethanol [motherjones.com] drove the price of corn up.

    Ethanol from corn is probably a net energy lose. Ethanol refineries don't burn their own product for their own process heat. (Oil refineries do.)

    Ethanol for cellulose, if it ever works commercially, has real promise. There's so much excess cellulose in the world produced as farming waste, from corn cobs to straw to wood chips. The first big ethanol from cellulose plants [japantimes.co.jp] are coming on line in 2014. But they need subsidies to survive.

  • The ethanol used for fuel is made from industrial grade corn syrup. Because the corn syrup used is not food-grade, it is usually made using a process which uses mercury. So, the combustion of fuel with ethanol is actually putting mercury into the environment.. Mercury is considered a worse toxin than lead but it's arguably at much smaller quantities.

  • by v1 (525388) on Saturday November 16, 2013 @04:04PM (#45444399) Homepage Journal

    I live in Iowa. We grow a lot of corn here. But there are other crops, things like soybean and sunflower. You know what happens when the demand for ethanol goes up? The price of corn goes up. And then what? People stop planting as much soybean and sunflower because corn is making them more. And then what? The price of soybean and sunflower goes up because there's a drop in supply.

    And that's why a large bag of sunflower seed for my birdfeeder darn near doubled in price a few years ago, everyone was pulling out their sunflower and replacing it with corn. You don't really notice all these effects until they start hitting you.

    Farmers will hedge their bets, plant multiple kinds of crops in case one of them tanks due to weather, but the ratio they mix in varies, to balance return and risk. When return on their main crop goes up, they can take bigger risks by pulling more of the less profitable crops out.

  • Not sure if US diesel fuel contain ethanol.

  • Even if ethanol provide a 1-to-1 substitute for oil (1 gallon of ethanol produced from 1 gallon of oil), it becomes a potential for curtailing future global warming. Corn can be engineered to have long roots thus trapping more CO2 in the soil. Since this corn is not going to be consumed (only processed into gasoline), it's not a food safety problem. And it is a solution to a potential AGW problem.

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