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The Inconvenient Truth About Ethanol



  • texasestexases Posts: 8,922
    Ethanol from sugar cane is much more efficient than our ethanol from corn. This, of course, ignores the 'minor' issue of clearing rainforests to plant sugar cane. Of course it works, a correctly set-up car can use it. Are you wanting to use E100? Not available here.
  • galongagalonga Posts: 50
    " This, of course, ignores the 'minor' issue of clearing rainforests to plant sugar cane"

    I´ve read these days a recent article on The Economist that debunks that.

    But thanks anyways. :)
  • texasestexases Posts: 8,922
    "I´ve read these days a recent article on The Economist that debunks that."

    Do you have a link? I couldn't find that on their web site.
  • galongagalonga Posts: 50
    I tried to find it on my bookmarks but I @#$@#$ lost it!

    But believe me I´m not making this stuff up: it was an excellent article.

    Either way, there are a lot of recent GOOD studies that prove that theory is old: you won´t have trouble finding them. :)
  • gagricegagrice Pahrump, NevadaPosts: 31,432
    Brazil has NOT used ONLY ethanol for 30 years. They gave up production when sugar prices went up and oil prices dropped. They left 1000s of vehicle owners in the lurch with cars that would only run on ethanol. A lot of the vehicles sold in Brazil now will run on anything from unleaded gas to 100% ethanol. It is also somewhat misleading that Brazil is energy independent using ethanol. They get about 20% from ethanol and the rest from new oil discoveries in Brazil. Lastly sugar ethanol is so much cheaper than corn ethanol that will still buy millions of barrels from Brazil with the 53 cent tariff for less than it costs US to produce with corn.

    Corn ethanol is a boondoggle to appease the Midwest. Problem is the only ones making money are the big conglomerate growers and producers. It will fail again just as it did in the 1980s.

    There are many vehicles for FlexFuel and have been for more than 10 years. Just be ready to refuel a lot more often as the mileage stinks.

    Brazil uses ethanol for political reasons not environmental. A short history of Brazil and ethanol will give you a bit of perspective.

    Under the Pro-Alcohol programme, farmers were paid generous subsidies to grow sugar-cane, from which ethanol was produced.

    The price at the pump was also subsidised to make the new fuel cheaper than petrol, while the motor industry turned out increasing numbers of vehicles adapted to burn pure ethanol.

    As a result, in 1985 and 1986, more than 75% of all motor vehicles produced in Brazil - and more than 90% of cars - were designed for alcohol consumption.

    But then it all went wrong.

    But despite ethanol's green credentials, Brazilian enthusiasm for the fuel reached its lowest ebb in 1997, just as the world was marking five years since Rio de Janeiro hosted the United Nations Earth Summit.

    That year, just 1,075 motor vehicles built to run on alcohol rolled off the country's production lines - a mere 0.06% of the total output.
  • texasestexases Posts: 8,922
    I've looked, and the studies I've found say the opposite, that corn (especially) and cane based ethanol are net negative for the environment.
  • jkinzeljkinzel Posts: 735
    I was gone all day, but looks like your question was answered.

    Corn mash alcohol is for drinking, if you want good mileage; buy a diesel or a hybrid if your driving is all city.

    Driving a car with E10 gasoline (10% ethanol) seems to produce a reported 8% to 10% loss in MPG over pure gasoline because ethanol has less energy than gasoline. Diesel contains about 40% more energy than gasoline so you get about 35% to 40% increase in MPG.
  • jkinzeljkinzel Posts: 735
    These answers all point in one direction and that is that ethanol is not the answer and that is why the thread is called "The Inconvenient Truth About Ethanol".
  • yerth10yerth10 Posts: 431
    BP has released their Energy Statistics-2009.

    Ethanol has increased from 26.5 Million Tons Oil Equivalent to 34.8 MTOE which is a growth of 30 % +. In the year 1998 only 9.7 MTOE was produced. So in the last 10 years, its grown nearly 4 fold, especially with much of the increase from 2002.

    As the oil prices continue to increase, we have to move further into Ethanol.
    Also the Cellulose Ethanol has come to the market. Hope the Ethanol production may grow even faster when the E15 standard is allowed.

    Also the Ethanol from Sugar Beet is still an unexplored one. Hope that too joins.

    Dear gagrice - dont keep posting old articles.
    Ever since Brazil introduced the flexfuel E100 vehicles in the year 2003, their Ethanol is a Big Success story.

    2003 - 6% of their new vehicles are Flexfule
    2004 - 17%
    2005 - 51%
    2006 - 73%
    2007 & 2008 - 80% +
  • gagricegagrice Pahrump, NevadaPosts: 31,432
    I think you are grasping at straws. I have not seen anybody that is against ethanol as a fuel source. It is corn ethanol that is a joke. And the joke is on you and the rest of US tax payers. Yes Brazil has lots of flexfuel vehicles that will run on E100. or RUG. Using Sugar cane to make ethanol makes much more sense than our wasteful use of corn. And the latest studies question ANY gain on fossil fuel as a result of corn ethanol. Add to that many of the new stills are powered by coal. You know that stuff people think is dirty to burn. I see absolutely no good reason to use Corn Ethanol. Show us the proof it is not depleting the Ogallala Aquifer at an alarming rate.

    Environmental Defense released a report yesterday that tries to calculate the impact that biofuel plants (ones that produce corn ethanol) might have on the massive water source. The report, called "Potential Impacts of Biofuels Expansion on Natural Resources: A Case Study of the Ogallala Aquifer Region," says that pumping too much more water out of the ground for ethanol "could cause Depression-style dust bowls." New ethanol plants in the area would use up an extra 2.6 billion gallons of water a year and another 120 billion gallons would be needed to grow the corn. al-for-another-dust-bo/

    How about the destruction of the fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico? My concerns for the environment are just as important as your need for alternative fuels. Corn ethanol is now and has always been a knee jerk reaction to the high price of oil. With little or NO concerns for the environment that is being destroyed raising crops for fuel all around the World.
  • yerth10yerth10 Posts: 431
    Hi gagrice

    You may be right that Corn Ethanol is a kneejerk reaction to rising
    oil prices. But we dont have any other alternative other than CNG vehicles
    which is also expensive (vehicle costs 5K more).

    Given this scenario, the Ethanol is promoted.
    But Corn Ethanol is just the initial part, soon its cousins will join.

    Already Cellulose Ethanol has hit the market
    Cellulose Ethanol

    Sugarbeet Ethanol t-ethanol-gges-qualifying-it-for-eu-biofuel-targets/

    Algae Biofuels ofuels-in-algae .php

    Pretty soon, all these put together will be able to generate 30 billion +
    gallons of Bio-fuels.

    Meanwhile the Bio-electricity concept is also gathering steam with some European utilities using
    Wood for generating power.

    We should also point out the pollution from Oil and also the wars & civil wars fought for this fuel. Its really bad.
  • PF_FlyerPF_Flyer Pennsylvania Furnace, PAPosts: 9,237
    When an ethanol proponent can answer this one, maybe I'll jump on the "ethanol is great" bandwagon...

    First - I have no idea what percentage of ethanol is in the gas I've been forced to use for the last year since at most of the stations I've used the decal on the pump says, "Contains up to 10% ethanol".

    Second - What I DO know is that the mileage on both my cars has dropped a solid 10% and even further in the winter. One time in the last year we were at a location where I was able to go through two fillups with non-ethanol-laced gas and my mileage instantly went back up to the numbers I had been getting. As soon as we returned home to fuel with ethanol, the mileage dropped back down 10%

    So riddle me this... Looking at the same number of miles driven, my use of gasoline has not been reduced at all, and has probably increased since the reduced mileage I'm getting requires more fillups to drive the same amount.

    Why should I be excited about ANY form of ethanol being added being added to my fuel? :sick:

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  • galongagalonga Posts: 50
    If the ONLY reason you see for using ethanol is getting a better mileage (that´s at least what´s being inferred from your post) then you did not understand a thing about the benefits of ethanol.
  • bpizzutibpizzuti Posts: 2,743
    The thing about CNG vehicles is that we have the domestic resources to support a significant number of them. And there are already some vehicles that burn them. Honda even came up with a home fueling device for CNG vehicles (something many companies REALLY hate, because no one will stop at fueling stations, cutting into their profits). And CNG burns a lot cleaner than petro-gas.

    Biofuels are also a decent idea to run in parallel, yes. Sending so much money to the Middle East (among others) and being so dependent on them is a bad idea in general. But corn ethanol was and is a bad idea: it drives our food prices up, uses up too much water to create, and in fact uses about a gallon of petroleum-based fuel to create a gallon of corn ethanol. Considering that said gallon of corn ethanol contains less energy than a gallon of petro ethanol, that's a net loss of energy. 10% I think, wasted, put to no purpose.

    The key is efficiency here. Simply because something isn't petroleum based doesn't make it good. It's also important to not be wasteful. That's why I like the idea of trying to chase ethanol based on plant waste. Now, from the article you mentioned, it sounds like there's been some success in creating it, which is an important step. But now we have to look at how many energy units it takes to create an energy unit of cellulosic ethanol...ideally it would be a 0.9:1 or better ratio...I'd settle for 1:1 for now.

    Sugar beets, like corn, are a bad idea. Brazil may have been successful with sugar cane, but I'm not sure it was a wise move. Converting any potential food source from food to fuel eventually runs you into the problem of having to decide between one or the other when you run short of one or both.
  • bpizzutibpizzuti Posts: 2,743
    Your use of gasoline has been reduced up to 10% some would say. :shades: Unfortunately, they'd be lying...this blend stuff is a dodge. Why? Wait for it...


    What we should really be doing is asking why we're chasing these technologies that require us to continue using imported gasoline in the near future? Yeah, maybe it reduces the amount we need infinitesimally...but then some goofball goes and burns more of it, or probably his kid with his brand new V8 whatever it is going joyriding and so we import the same amount of barrels anyway. We don't save anything doing those blends, and they're not a midway "step" to anything that actually gets us OFF of dino-fuel.

    CNG would. Bio-diesel would. E100 wouldn't. If nothing else, there will be a backlash by the Alcoholics Association of America claiming we're depleting their supply of hard liquor. And then we'd have people drinking out of our gas tanks.
  • gagricegagrice Pahrump, NevadaPosts: 31,432
    If the ONLY reason you see for using ethanol is getting a better mileage (that´s at least what´s being inferred from your post) then you did not understand a thing about the benefits of ethanol.

    I think you are not understanding the concept of net gain. The idea was to replace a gallon of gas with a gallon of ethanol. Or at least some gain. There is NO gain. If I put 10 gallons of regular gas in my car and go 200 miles, then put 10 gallons of E10 in my car and only go 180 miles, the ethanol has gained me nothing. It has only been a source of revenue for those involved in the growing of corn and production of the ethanol.

    In the meantime it is destroying the fishery in the Gulf of Mexico. The Dead Zone is a well documented result of the excessive use of anhydrous ammonia in the growing of corn. It is depleting the ground water at an alarming rate.

    The US government is not interested in ethanol as an alternative fuel or they would not put a tariff on ethanol from Brazil. Most of the $2+ per gallon subsidy goes to buying the fossil fuel required to produce Corn for ethanol. It is not a stepping stone. It is political pandering to the Midwest where Corn Ethanol is produced. Nothing more.

    It is a giant con game. We pay with higher taxes and at the pump. Corporate welfare pure and simple.
  • yerth10yerth10 Posts: 431
    Yes, there is a 50 cent subsidy for American Ethanol, but there is also a 50 cent import duty on Brazilian Ethanol. Both should be phased out slowly.

    To produce Ethanol that generates 100 units, the input is
    Electricity (50 units) - For Refining
    Diesel (30 units) - For Tractors & Trucks

    and the remaining 20 units comes from Sun & Earth.

    So we are able to save 70 units of Diesel (Petro fuel).
    Its true that Ethanol has 25 % less energy, but gasolene is now becoming a luxury and we have to settle with Ethanol.

    As per BP Stats 2009,
    Ethanol increases 30 % over prevoius year
    Wind - 30 %
    Geothermal - 4 %
    Solar - 69 %

    So all renewables are growing rapidly and fossil fuels are growing slowly.
  • bpizzutibpizzuti Posts: 2,743
    To produce Ethanol that generates 100 units, the input is
    Electricity (50 units) - For Refining
    Diesel (30 units) - For Tractors & Trucks

    That's only half the story. You're forgetting the petro-derived chemicals for fertilizer (and mechanisms for spreading it), and you're forgetting transport after refining: you'll use a lot more than 30 units of Diesel energy, since that includes planting, harvesting, transporting corn, and then transporting the ethanol (it can't be pipelined like natural gas).

    Where exactly are you getting your figures? They're only giving you half-truths.

    Notice I'm not even bothering to get into the whole part where we're reducing our food supply.
  • bpizzutibpizzuti Posts: 2,743
    ...Biodiesel takes even less energy to create in some cases. You can use waste cooking oil as biodiesel, which means you don't need any energy to grow it (that goes toward first-use). You just need to put energy in to filter and transport it. Biodiesel in general requires little to no refining, and we can use processes already in place when dealing with the natural oils that come from our existing foodstuffs. Devise a collection system for waste oil (which we generate TONS of) and you have a very easy and quick solution.

    But agribusiness can't justify a handout over it, so no one's going there. In fact, diesels have all but disappeared from most cars...why? To keep down any possibilities for a biodiesel solution. And so instead we toss out all of our waste oils...a potential energy source, going right into the trash.
  • gagricegagrice Pahrump, NevadaPosts: 31,432
    And so instead we toss out all of our waste oils...a potential energy source, going right into the trash.

    That is the stuff that Pacific Biodiesel is using in Hawaii. A great success story that inspired Willie Nelson to start the Bio-WIllie company. It sells biodiesel all over the Western USA. Mostly used as B20 in trucks.
  • texasestexases Posts: 8,922
    Using waste oil is fine, but the palm oil is an ecological disaster, losing rain forests.
  • gagricegagrice Pahrump, NevadaPosts: 31,432
    Those are more warnings of the limitations of biodiesel. Most of US that advocate the use of biodiesel are well aware of the gelling issues. If Biodiesel had been mandated at 20% as ethanol has we would have seen some serious savings of fossil fuel. In spite of a few misguided souls including those in the Federal Government, ethanol is mostly a negative as it does NOT save enough fossil fuel to even measure. And causes irreparable damage to the environment with the way corn is grown on the mega farms.

    For those that are so gungho on corn ethanol. Try to find any data that backs up your claims of saving US from imported oil. Make sure it is by an independent source. Not the Ethanol counsel or even the oil companies. Ever wonder why the oil companies don't put out propaganda against Corn ethanol? Duh, they make a fortune off the growing of corn and processing.

    Corn ethanol subsidies totaled $7.0 billion in 2006 for 4.9 billion gallons of ethanol. That's $1.45 per gallon of ethanol (and $2.21 per gal of gas replaced).
    Even with high gas prices in 2006, producing a gallon of ethanol cost 38¢ more than making gasoline with the same energy, so ethanol did need part of that subsidy. But what about the other $1.12. Not needed! So all of that became, $5.4 billion windfall of profits paid to real farmers, corporate farmers, and ethanol makers like multinational ADM.

    Ethanol is all about corporate welfare, not saving fossil fuel.

    The Archer Daniels Midland Corporation (ADM) has been the most prominent recipient of corporate welfare in recent U.S. history. ADM and its chairman Dwayne Andreas have lavishly fertilized both political parties with millions of dollars in handouts and in return have reaped billion-dollar windfalls from taxpayers and consumers. Thanks to federal protection of the domestic sugar industry, ethanol subsidies, subsidized grain exports, and various other programs, ADM has cost the American economy billions of dollars since 1980 and has indirectly cost Americans tens of billions of dollars in higher prices and higher taxes over that same period.
  • gagricegagrice Pahrump, NevadaPosts: 31,432
    I agree that the growing of palm for biodiesel is another corn ethanol disaster in the making. It is becoming more widespread around the World.

    Palm oil production is the leading cause of deforestation in Southeast Asia; the clearance and burning of rainforests and peatlands for oil palm plantations releases huge amounts of carbon dioxide. As a result, Indonesia is now the third largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world.(2) This rampant deforestation is also pushing species like the orang-utan and the Sumatran tiger to the brink of extinction.
  • tlongtlong CaliforniaPosts: 5,192
    Notice I'm not even bothering to get into the whole part where we're reducing our food supply.

    Let's also ask a few other questions:

    1 - Where is the arable land being used for this corn, and what does that do for food production?
    2 - What water sources are used to grow the corn? What energy sources are needed to move the water? What affect does that have on food crops?
  • bpizzutibpizzuti Posts: 2,743
    All of which makes converting food into fuel an even dumber idea. But hey, who cares what the peons eat, so long as the powerful can drive around in their 5 mpg SUVs right?

    Converting food into fuel is a bad idea and always will be. Waste is a different story. If they can convert plant waste into ethanol and get as much energy out of it as they put in, that's fine (we still get a benefit, as the waste is disposed of). Getting more out of it would be better of course. But it seems like a lot of people, when given the choice of fueling their SUV or feeding their kids would go the direction of fueling their SUV. And that's insane.

    Come on, beet ethanol now? What's next, taking our milk supply and converting the lipids into burnable fuel? Not to mention converting all of our grains: why stop at corn? Let's convert all the wheat to ethanol too and get rid of bread, bagels, rolls, pizza crusts, etc. not to mention half the breakfast cereal out there (the other half, being all sugar, is already gone as all the sugar cane and sugar beets are being used for ethanol).

    Is it just me or is this a REALLY wacko derivation of the whole "let them eat cake!" scenario?
  • gagricegagrice Pahrump, NevadaPosts: 31,432
    Up until last year I do not remember ever seeing corn raised in the Imperial Valley. It is the Nations Salad bowl. What happens when Corn is the cash crop and we don't have any lettuce or tomatoes for our salads? The CA and AZ deserts account for 97% of the nations leaf lettuce. I would rather enjoy a good salad as run my car on Corn ethanol. Not to mention the fact that Mexico is replacing Agave crops with Corn, as ours is too expensive to import. No more tequila because of Stinking Corn Ethanol. Time for a revolution. Cinco de Mayo or for you Obama fans Quatro de Mayo.

    I saw a brand new G55 AMG with new dealer tags in the window. It seems some folks are not concerned about high gas prices.
  • yerth10yerth10 Posts: 431
    Here is the link which shows the net energy balance from US Govt.
    Corn Ethanol has a net gain of 1 (input) : 1.24 (output)

    Cane Ethanol has even bigger gain.

    Energy balance of Palm Biodiesel dex.html
    Its 1 (input) : 6.5 (output)
    We can talk about the food to fuel, but we need fuel as well, otherwise, we have to dump our used SUV's in countries with cheap gas like Saudi Arabia, Russia, Venezuela. Is this acceptable.

    Even after using 9 billion gallons of Ethanol last year, the gas prices hit a high of $4.11 / gallon, without this Ethanol, it should have gone past $5 / gallon.

    In the short run, we have to use Ethanol from Corn, Biodiesel from Palm and so on.
    Yes the subsidies on Ethanol should be phased out, but what about the subsidies on Oil.

    Every year we spend $ 600 billion on Defense, on this, even if $60 billion is spent on policing the Persian gulf, that works out to 30 cents / gallon on petro-fuels.
    ( $ 60 billion / 200 billion gallons of Gasolene/Diesel sold).

    It seems all the energy sources (Fossil fuels, nuclear, wind, solar, biofuels) are getting subsidies. Slowly we have to get rid of subsidies on all the energy sources, this will lead to increase in energy prices, which will also improve the energy efficiency.

    FYI : By year 2012, we have to phase out incandescent bulbs with Fluorescent / LED bulbs. Start doing this right away.

    If anyone has a old SUV and plans to buy a new vehicle, then buy a small vehicle.
    Thats the only way to reduce energy consumption. The other alternative is to buy Flexfuelled vehicle.
  • pafromflpafromfl Posts: 47
    Ethanol fuel fans should be complaining the loudest about E10 because it is giving ethanol gas a bad name. People are starting to notice that when you use E10 in many modern cars, your mileage decreases by about 10%. It appears that manufacturing and using E10 actually winds up wasting oil. At some point, ethanol will be associated with greedy corn lobbyists, crooked politicians, third world starvation, and the depletion of our Midwest aquifers. If you want ethanol fuel to succeed, the E10 nonsense must stop.
  • yerth10yerth10 Posts: 431
    Oil consumption (including biofuels) in the year 2008, dropped by 0.6 % while the production increased by 0.4 %. Why should it increase by just 0.4 % while there is such a heavy demand.

    Answer : Oil is becoming harder to find, parallelly in many countries, the production is declining. Also on energy basis, the energy content of NGL, Sands Oil and Bio-fuels are lesser. All the production info is posted only on volume basis, so if you consider energy basis, the production may have declined.

    Also earlier it took 1.9 units of energy to get Oil which can give 100 units of energy
    Now it takes 3.7 units of energy to get Oil which can give 100 units.

    Message : Oil prices will certainly rise in the coming years and also input energy will start to increase.

    Replace Oil-fired power plants and heating systems with other alternatives like natgas, electricity and so on.
    Buy smaller vehicles that fits your need (a small Wagon has more cargo space than big Sedan)
    Buy Hybrid or Flexfuelled or Bifuelled vehicles.

    Lets prepare ourself for the future, otherwise, we may face another recession before even this recession is ending.
  • nortsr1nortsr1 Posts: 1,060
    Well, I have to agree with your "message" part:"Oil prices will certainly rise" . Oil prices have already started "upward".
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