Ethanol Not All it's Cracked Up to Be

I rarely get into political type discussion here, but I found this subject too loaded to ignore.

As with many political bandwagons, it seems that ethanol as the savior of our fossil fuel consumption is much more a nice idea than it is a practical one. Here are a couple talking points from a recent article on the subject.

“And a study by the International Institute for Sustainable Development found that ethanol subsidies amount to as much as $1.38 per gallon — about half of ethanol’s wholesale market price.”

That’s taxpayer money. A sustainable fuel source, but half of it is paid from my taxes? Hmmm.

“But as a gasoline substitute, ethanol has big problems: Its energy density is one-third less than gasoline, which means you have to burn more of it to get the same amount of power. It also has a nasty tendency to absorb water, so it can’t be transported in existing pipelines and must be distributed by truck or rail, which is tremendously inefficient.”

Which in effect puts huge limits on how much can be distributed even if it is produced.

“...gasoline, which has an energy balance of 5-to-1. In contrast, the energy balance of corn ethanol is only 1.3-to-1 – making it practically worthless as an energy source. “Corn ethanol is essentially a way of recycling natural gas,” says Robert Rapier, an oil-industry engineer who runs the R-Squared Energy Blog.”

And almost all of the “1” side of the “1.3:1” ratio is produced by fossil fuels. So much for ending reliance upon foreign oil.

“The most seductive myth about ethanol is that it will free us from our dependence on foreign oil. But even if ethanol producers manage to hit the mandate of 36 billion gallons of ethanol by 2022, that will replace a paltry 1.5 million barrels of oil per day — only seven percent of current oil needs. Even if the entire U.S. corn crop were used to make ethanol, the fuel would replace only twelve percent of current gasoline use.”

So we can’t produce enough to even dent our fossil fuel use (and as mentioned above, even if we do, we can’t transport it). Interesting.

“since America provides two-thirds of all global corn exports, the impact is being felt around the world. In Mexico, tortilla prices have jumped sixty percent, leading to food riots. In Europe, butter prices have spiked forty percent, and pork prices in China are up twenty percent. By 2025, according to Runge and Senauer, rising food prices caused by the demand for ethanol and other biofuels could cause as many as 600 million more people to go hungry worldwide.”

But what’s a few more starving so that I can feel good about “buy USA”.

In short, read the article and remember a few of these things the next time your favorite politician points to the promised land of ethanol.

  1. Not only is it political, but Ethanol is no better tasting than Gasoline. I want my money back.

    Nathan Smith is the author. Aug 1, 12:32 is the time. <
  2. A copy of the IISD’s report that is cited in the Rolling Stone article, “Biofuels—At What Cost?: Government Support for Ethanol and Biodiesel in the United States” can be downloaded from our website:

    Ron Steenblik (Global Subsidies Initiative) is the author. Aug 2, 00:48 is the time. <
  3. I tend to agree with your statements… I don’t think ethanol is the real way forward. We HAVE to find a way forward, regardless, though. I still can’t believe that in the year 2007 we’re relying on fossil fuels to power our vehicles. By now I’m convinced we should have come up with much more energy and ecologically efficient methods. Ethanol is not the best answer, but there ARE some good answers out there— the problem is these answers are cheaper. What this means is they are not a good investment for industry— people still want this industry to be huge, because countries actually run their economy on fossil fuels. Not trying to get all ‘conspiracy theory’ on this, but the truth is that they will much more accept an expensive substitute than a cheap one, for the sake of keeping industry going.

    affiliate is the author. Aug 9, 03:27 is the time. <
  4. That’s an interesting theory, there, affiliate. I can see where you’re coming from, but what are some of these cheaper alternative that already exist?

    Nathan Logan is the author. Aug 9, 15:58 is the time. <