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The Inconvenient Truth About Ethanol



  • nascar57nascar57 Posts: 47
    Alright, my question to you, what is your solution to the energy problem in the SHORT TERM. Yes I know all about the cellulosic approach to ethanol, and yes with time that will come along and be much more efficient. I want you to give me one situation that weans us off fossil fuels and cuts down the pollution we are putting out in the SHORT TERM. Now dont go knocking the education that I am getting, I am attending what people in the Ag. industry consider one of the better Agricultural Economics schools in the country. There are professors that obviously know that corn ethanol is not the final solution. But it is better than sitting and doing nothing as we have for the past 20 years. If we can get to the presidents goal of reducing gas consumption by 20% in 2017, I would be very proud of this country. But people have to WANT to do this, look at Brazil, they stepped up to the plate and their gasoline consumption today is 40-50 % less than it was 20 years ago. It CAN be done
  • eliaselias Posts: 1,898
    i think ethanol as fuel in USA is a scam on many levels, especially CAFE. but i'd still like to try it myself.
    unfortunately i don't have a gasser that can handle E85 and don't see any available soon that are interesting to me.
    i'll buy another SUV some year soon, but i think it's will be a diesel.
    i might buy a corvette, M3, M5, or BMW550 or a zippy Audi some year. will any performance car like that be E85 compatible?
  • gagricegagrice San DiegoPosts: 28,850
    First let me apologize for treating your educators harshly. I am sure they know their field better than I.

    I feel very strongly that we as a country and our government are not really interested in solutions to the fossil fuel problem. There is too much money being passed around that keep the votes for the status quo. Ethanol in its current form is one of those well paid for products. It makes a few Congressmen look good to a constituency that has long been forgotten, the farmers. I just do not see the little farmers being helped. If you plan to go into the Mega-Agriculture business I can understand your wanting to protect the field.

    If I was to pick a short term solution it would be to encourage the use of diesel cars & SUVs. They would give us an immediate 25% to 35% increase in efficiency. That and they can when available run on any mixture of biodiesel. ULSD was an important step to making it possible in states like CA where there has been an anti-diesel bias for years. I am just finding out that the biggest complaint about diesel cars is not quite accurate. According the latest UN report on GHG, NoX can be mostly attributed to farming. Many would have us believe that it is from diesel cars.

    I also think we are in the dark ages so to speak on our electrical generation. We are the only major country that has not expanded our use of Nuclear energy. It is by far the cleanest energy available. We have untold streams of geothermal that are not used. Off limits due to environmental & religious zealotry. Solar is a solution. It is not near as perfect as some would have us believe. The processes involved in making PV cells is not real eco friendly. Wind is coming under fire also by opposing environmental groups.

    Nothing is going to satisfy everyone. Even hydrogen could raise the GHG levels more than a gas car.
  • gagricegagrice San DiegoPosts: 28,850
    This was posted elsewhere by one of our fine Hosts. It needs to be read by those advocating the current ethanol craze.

    "It's not green in terms of air pollution," said study author Mark Jacobson, a Stanford University civil and environmental engineering professor. "If you want to use ethanol, fine, but don't do it based on health grounds. It's no better than gasoline, apparently slightly worse."

    His study, based on a computer model, is published in Wednesday's online edition of the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Science and Technology and adds to the messy debate over ethanol.

    Farmers, politicians, industry leaders and environmentalists have clashed over just how much ethanol can be produced, how much land it would take to grow the crops to make it, and how much it would cost. They also disagree on the benefits of ethanol in cutting back fuel consumption and in fighting pollution, especially global warming gases.

    Based on computer models of pollution and air flow, Jacobson predicted that the increase in ozone _ and diseases it causes _ would be worst in areas where smog is already a serious problem: Los Angeles and the Northeast.

    The science behind why ethanol might increase smog is complicated, but according to Jacobson, part of the explanation is that ethanol produces more hydrocarbons than gasoline. And ozone is the product of hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxide cooking in the sun.

    Also, the ethanol produces longer-lasting chemicals that eventually turn into hydrocarbons that can travel farther. "You are really spreading out pollution over a larger area," he said.

    And finally, while ethanol produces less nitrogen oxide, that can actually be a negative in some very smoggy places. When an area like Los Angeles reaches a certain high level of nitrogen oxide, that excess chemical begins eating up spare ozone, Jacobson said.

    Hwang agreed that that is a "well-known effect."
  • shieattshieatt Posts: 75
    For the first time, E-85 is available at a local station just up the road from my home. I drive an 03 Chevy Suburban that will run on E-85, so I have filled up on it twice to give it a try. E-85 is selling between 20 and 30 cents cheaper than regular unleaded, which I don't think completely compensates for the lost MPG. It seems pretty obvious from the debate that E-85 is not the savior that some politicians want to pretend like it is (yes, I must have the same Congresswoman as markcincinnati - she drives a new Chevy Tahoe with license plates reading "E85 4 OH"... and, coincidentally, the station that started selling E-85 is directly across the street from her farm). Nevertheless, on balance, since I already have a vehicle that will run on it, it seems like on balance it is at least slightly better for the environment and to reduce demand for foreign oil, so I think I will keep filling up on E-85. Interested in your thoughts...
  • jkinzeljkinzel Posts: 735
    Keep track of your mileage with E85 and with Regular unleaded and lets see what the diffrence is.

  • shieattshieatt Posts: 75
    The Suburban has a trip computer... strictly around town stop-and-go driving, I am averaging around 10.5 MPG on my first two tanks of E85. Not impressive, but I only averaged around 14 MPG on regular unleaded under similar driving conditions. The problem, of course, is that currently E85 is only about 11% cheaper than regular unleaded, whereas my mileage is suffering by around 25%. So, as I do the math, about 14% increase in fuel cost. I'd be willing to pay 14% more if I thought I was doing some good, but I'm not convinced that my money is well spent.
  • jkinzeljkinzel Posts: 735
    Well, the numbers are discouraging and with fuel prices rising I’m not sure my wallet could take a 25% reduction in MPG.

    The numbers make a Suburban with a diesel option getting 25 to 30 MPG much more appealing.

    It’s truly a shame and a travesty that such an option does not exist.

    Thanks for the update.
  • markcincinnatimarkcincinnati Posts: 5,069
    My 2005 Audi A6 3.2 seemed -- over two years ago -- a gas sipper, compared to my previous thirstier Audis. Now, as the cost for premium juice (even with my Costco or Kroger cards) has risen to $3.59 (and counting) per gallon, well, I'm thinking this "sipper" even is too thirsty.

    Reading about diesel, clean, cleaner, cleanest diesel -- then reading about diesel made from (fer instance) soybeans and other non petrol based substances -- AND THEN reading about the variety of diesel cars we Americans cannot buy. . .well, its enough to frustrate and confuse even the most optimistic of us.

    I'd say I'm beyond confused, I've made the transition to disappointed.

    Careful reading -- and it is hardly lively prose -- about E85 does seem to lead to the conclusion that its main purpose is to allow the skirting of CAFE issues that are, er, "difficult" (or would be) to address without some clever engineering and/or adoption of diesel across a much wider number of vehicles.

    It seems E85 costs more to use (including the subsidy that it gets, which means it would REALLY cost more without the subsidy). Some evidence suggests it is -- overall -- dirtier than dino-fuel, too. Additional evidence says it (as it is currently produced) an energy negative or at best energy neutral (in terms of production when "the total impact" is accounted for.)

    Virtually none of these concerns seem to be the case with dino-diesel and the varying permutations of "B" diesel. Moreover, diesel cars get up to 44% better mileage when one attempts to keep the performance "similar."

    My 3.2 V6 gasoline engine can be replaced with a 3.0 V6 diesel engine (but not in the US). The result? More torque, similar performance (both in acceleration and top speed) and a 39% improvement in MPG. Diesel, per gallon, was -- recently -- $.70 less per gallon than the fuel my engine requires.

    Hmm: more torque, approximately the same performance, better mileage and lower price per gallon to boot.

    Add any amount of "B" you care to, to these points, all the way to B100.

    E85 seems doomed -- it seems "E85 4 OHIO" is, er, crapola, political crapola at that.

    Diesel, in the short term, still seems a more "appropriate" solution.
  • gagricegagrice San DiegoPosts: 28,850
    I'd say I'm beyond confused, I've made the transition to disappointed

    Join the club. The sad truth is the US Government including Congress, EPA and the Administration are not at all interested in using less fossil fuel. Ethanol is a smoke screen and political ploy to keep the farm lobby happy. It takes about as much fossil fuel to grow and produce ethanol as you get back in BTUs. Add those entities to most of the state governments especially the very powerful CA legislature and the lackeys they hire to run CARB and it brings the frustration level even higher. In CA they have held off the environmental wackos in Hollywood with hybrid cars. The real truth is any kind of decrease in fuel usage costs these government agencies TAX DOLLARS. They managed to turn off the EV-1 program that would have cost them billions in lost gas tax revenue.


    They have managed to keep the status quo for the last 30 years. They are going to keep it flowing at any cost.
  • texasestexases Posts: 5,511
    Newpaper today: ethanol not only boosted corn prices 46% over the last several years, it's making farmers plant corn instead of wheat and soybeans, so their prices are going up, too (22% for soybeans). So everything we eat will be going up because of the corporate welfare known as ethanol.
  • jkinzeljkinzel Posts: 735
    This why I'm saying "NO" to buying GM or Ford. Unless they back off or let go of this ethanol thing, Im looking at buying my first foreign car.
  • smithjamalsmithjamal Posts: 1
    It maybe a fact because ethanol uses organic materials, but is we can minimize the pollution then why not? it's all worthy...

    Green Car
  • jkinzeljkinzel Posts: 735
    Bio diesel uses organic materials (used cooking oil, animal waste, mostly thing we do not eat) and gets far better mileage. Let use bio diesel instead and eat the corn. Better mileage and a full belly.
  • fezofezo Posts: 9,328
    As gagrice pointed out it takes almost as much energy to produce ethanol as it has in the finished product. (This applies to corn ethanol. Sugar cane ethanol can be produced more cheaply.)

    I'm not sure why but this kind of government provided wheel turning reminds me of an old joke -

    A guy is watching as a government truck is driving along. Every so often the truck would stop. One guy would get out and dig a hole. Then the other guy would get out and fill the hole back in. This continued at regular intervals for some time until the guy finally asks what on earth they are doing. "We're planting trees. Can we help it if the guy that puts the tree in the hole is sick today?"

    Ethanol production is a lot like that....
  • Kirstie_HKirstie_H Posts: 10,824
    This is unverified (by me), but just wondering if others have heard the same -
    I was told be a co-worker yesterday that there may be a tequila shortage soon. According to him, agave takes about 8 years to raise properly, so given the (artificial & temporary?) demand for ethanol, Mexican farmworkers are abandoning & destroying agave crop in order to raise corn.

    Sounds a bit suspect to me. Suddenly corn is more profitable than agave? Seems like with an 8-year turnaround, it would've been all along.

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  • fezofezo Posts: 9,328
    Hmmm I don't know. I have seen teh whole mess kicking up a lot of agricultural products as corn prices are guaranteed domestically and now we are growing less what and soybeans because the farm biz would rather grow a guaranteed price crop.

    Now I've seen gas prices go up when oil prices go up which is a bit of a lag, but 8 years seems a bit of a stretch.
  • texasestexases Posts: 5,511
    Sad but true - read about it here: Agave out, corn in
  • Kirstie_HKirstie_H Posts: 10,824
    Dang. Guess I'd better start getting my fill of margaritas before the price of tequila goes higher than gas prices (I guess it already is, gallon for gallon, but even I can't drink a gallon). Now that really IS an "inconvenient truth" for me :(

    Interesting... I assumed that the US produced enough corn, or at least has the immediate capability to do so, to satisfy the ethanol-related demand.

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  • fezofezo Posts: 9,328
    But capacity isn't the trick here. This is a very thinly veiled gift to the large agricultural conglomerates and once one crop has a known, high price everyone will get into the act.

    I wonder if it's too late to plant?
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