Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Alternative Fuel: Ethanol Fuel Production Subsidies

I was recently taken to task by a reader for not giving more coverage to ethanol fuel (alcohol). I replied that I am yet to be convinced that ethanol is either energy positive or economically viable. I then forwarded her reply to the Engineer Poet who continued the correspondence resulting in a post entitled "the money-grubbing mendacity of the ethanol lobby" with accompanying calculations. In reply the original emailer sent me a press release from the "grassroots voice of the U.S. ethanol industry".

The Slate recently ran an article entitled "the ethanol subsidy is worse than you can imagine".

In it Robert Bryce reports that for the last generation, ethanol has been America's fuel of the future. But there has never been more hype about it than there is today. Green-energy analysts like Amory Lovins, environmental groups like the Natural Resources Defense Council, neoconservatives like James Woolsey, and farm groups like the American Coalition for Ethanol are all touting the biofuel.

Making ethanol, they claim, will help America achieve the elusive goal of "energy security" while helping farmers, reducing oil imports, and stimulating the American economy. But the ethanol boosters are ignoring some unpleasant facts: Ethanol won't significantly reduce our oil imports; adding more ethanol to our gas tanks adds further complexity to our motor-fuel supply chain, which will lead to further price hikes at the pump; and, most important (and most astonishing), it may take more energy to produce a gallon of ethanol than it actually contains.

The greens, hawks, and farmers helped convince the Senate to add an ethanol provision to the energy bill—now awaiting action by a House-Senate conference committee—that would require refiners to more than double their use of ethanol to 8 billion gallons per year by 2012. The provision is the latest installment of the ethanol subsidy, a handout that has cost American taxpayers billions of dollars during the last three decades, with little to show for it. It also shovels yet more federal cash on the single most subsidized crop in America, corn. Between 1995 and 2003, federal corn subsidies totaled $37.3 billion. That's more than twice the amount spent on wheat subsidies, three times the amount spent on soybeans, and 70 times the amount spent on tobacco.

The stickiest question about ethanol is this: Does making alcohol from grain or plant waste really create any new energy?

The answer, of course, depends upon whom you ask. The ethanol lobby claims there's a 30 percent net gain in BTUs from ethanol made from corn. Other boosters, including Woolsey, claim there are huge energy gains (as much as 700 percent) to be had by making ethanol from grass.

But the ethanol critics have shown that the industry calculations are bogus. David Pimentel, a professor of ecology at Cornell University who has been studying grain alcohol for 20 years, and Tad Patzek, an engineering professor at the University of California, Berkeley, co-wrote a recent report that estimates that making ethanol from corn requires 29 percent more fossil energy than the ethanol fuel itself actually contains.

The two scientists calculated all the fuel inputs for ethanol production—from the diesel fuel for the tractor planting the corn, to the fertilizer put in the field, to the energy needed at the processing plant—and found that ethanol is a net energy-loser. According to their calculations, ethanol contains about 76,000 BTUs per gallon, but producing that ethanol from corn takes about 98,000 BTUs. For comparison, a gallon of gasoline contains about 116,000 BTUs per gallon. But making that gallon of gas—from drilling the well, to transportation, through refining—requires around 22,000 BTUs.

In addition to their findings on corn, they determined that making ethanol from switch grass requires 50 percent more fossil energy than the ethanol yields, wood biomass 57 percent more, and sunflowers 118 percent more. The best yield comes from soybeans, but they, too, are a net loser, requiring 27 percent more fossil energy than the biodiesel fuel produced. In other words, more ethanol production will increase America's total energy consumption, not decrease it. (Pimentel has not taken money from the oil or refining industries. Patzek runs the UC Oil Consortium, which does research on oil and is funded by oil companies. His ethanol research is not funded by the oil or refining industries.)

Ethanol poses other serious difficulties for our energy economy. First, 8 billion gallons of ethanol will do almost nothing to reduce our oil imports. Eight billion gallons may sound like a lot, until you realize that America burned more than 134 billion gallons of gasoline last year. By 2012, those 8 billion gallons might reduce America's overall oil consumption by 0.5 percent. Way back in 1997, the General Accounting Office concluded that "ethanol's potential for substituting for petroleum is so small that it is unlikely to significantly affect overall energy security." That's still true today.

Adding more ethanol will also increase the complexity of America's refining infrastructure, which is already straining to meet demand, thus raising pump prices. Ethanol must be blended with gasoline. But ethanol absorbs water. Gasoline doesn't. Therefore, ethanol cannot be shipped by regular petroleum pipelines. Instead, it must be segregated from other motor fuels and shipped by truck, rail car, or barge. Those shipping methods are far more expensive than pipelines.

There's a final point to be raised about ethanol: It contains only about two-thirds as much energy as gasoline. Thus, when it gets blended with regular gasoline, it lowers the heat content of the fuel. So, while a gallon of ethanol-blended gas may cost the same as regular gasoline, it won't take you as far.

My latest post (July 2006) on ethanol and flex fuel vehicles can be found here:
Ethanol E85 Fuel

To support a real solution to our transportation energy challenges I encourage you to sign this online plug in hybrid campaign urging automakers to produce plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs).

If you have comments I suggest the debate continues here.

Full Slate Article

American Coalition for Ethanol Press Release

Star Phoenix article criticising Pimental and Patzek's research

Rocky Moutain News' Coverage of the National Corn Growers Association Opinion

The Ohio Farm Bureau Federation's Coverage

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Although I take no position in the ethanol debate due to a lack of credible research, you are committing an act as bad as you accuse others of by taking Pimentel's research at its word, event though it has been widely discredited every year when he releases the same report. I'd reserve judgement until a more credible, thorough study is done. Especially with the promise that cellulose-ethanol appears to have.

8:16 am, July 26, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are ridiculous for taking a study at its word instead of being objective. There are other studies that say it is a net positive of energy. Why aren't those being put on your blog? At least show all the information and let your readers decide for themselves.

8:46 pm, July 26, 2005  
Blogger James said...

Anonymous & Joseph,

I'd like to know where I've taken Pimentel's "study at its word". I've posted an extended quote from an article discussing Pimentel's study. That does not necessarily mean I agree with the article in its entirety or believe the research the article refers to is flawless. This applies to any post of the alternative energy blog. Remember one of the key aims of this blog is not to provide the "correct" answer but rather to encourage debate.

Joseph you'll notice at the end of the post I linked to a number of anti-Pimentel articles. If you have links to better ones please email them to me or post them in the comments section.

I note that no-one has disputed the Engineer-Poet's assertion that ethanol will never lead to U.S. energy independence.

Nor has anyone convinced me that ethanol production would be viable without non-renewable fossil fuel inputs.

Therefore currently I can only conclude that ethanol will not help us reach a post-fossil fuel future nor help individual countries achieve energy independence.

Alternative Energy Blog

1:28 am, July 27, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The article posts an interesting view of ethanol from an American production and useage perspective. How does this relate to ethanol production and usage in a country such as Brazil? Ethanol is produced from sugarcane in a more cost effective dollar and energy wise form (energy positive and cheper domestically than gasoline even considering 70% difference in energy output and this is without subsidy). The auto market is broken down as follows: gasoline (25% mix of anhydrous ethanol w/gas), 100% hydrous alcohol, Flex (any mix of hydrous alcohol and gasoline), diesel. In addition, ethanol is a cleaner burning fuel eliminating the need for such additives as MTBE. With increased demand segregated pipelines are a possibility as they are doing in Brazil. So stating that 97% of America would need to be planted to meet demand eliminates economical supply from other areas of the world.

3:48 pm, July 27, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think that ethanol should be looked at as an intermediate gas-stretcher solution and as not as a long term answer to our energy problem. We know that it is costly to produce, lower in BTU's per gallon than an equal volume of gasoline and will not provide oil replacement. It might be practical to produce in certain rural areas where crop excesses might be economical to convert.

The real question is what would be a wise use of our financial resources in the development of national renewables? Certainly, in windy areas, we could look for more bang for the buck with wind generators and sunny areas could develop PV resources but we are also looking for liquid fuels to take the place of gasoline and this is not so easy a job.

Research is needed. To save on gasoline, it might be better to develop a motor that could run on a combination of gasoline and hydrogen. We really need our government energy agency to study the matter and to come up with some cost comparisons and fuel comparisons. It took decades just to get the automobile on the road and for roads themselves to be built. Now is the opportunity to get in at ground level and do the same for fuel systems and motors. For our government not to make an effort in this direction would show lack of vision.

All of us pay tax dollars and if we think that more should be spent on developing renewables, then the government which is supposed to serve us should make an effort to comply with our wishes otherwise it is not representing our best interests.

5:56 pm, July 27, 2005  
Blogger Engineer-Poet said...

James - terrific cartoons!  I wish I could find such good stuff to leaven my posts with humor, but since I'm such a geek I'll probably wind up making graphs and diagrams instead.

Adrian:  I've read that the USA has spent over $30 billion on ethanol subsidies so far, and has nothing to show for it except steady increases in oil imports.  If that $30 billion had instead been used to subsidize $2500 worth of hardware per vehicle to make them plug-in hybrids, there would be 12 million of them on the roads by now and the gasoline savings would be closer to half than the 10% maximum improvement of gasohol.

Of course, the US farm lobby would be against it.

10:19 pm, July 27, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's a interesting article, especially considering that the new energy bill mandates that the amount of ethanol used in gasoline double.

Study: Ethanol Not Worth the Energy
The Associated Press
Tuesday, July 19, 2005; 3:11 AM
ALBANY, N.Y. -- Farmers, businesses and state officials are investing millions of dollars in ethanol and biofuel plants as renewable energy sources, but a new study says the alternative fuels burn more energy than they produce.
Supporters of ethanol and other biofuels contend they burn cleaner than fossil fuels, reduce U.S. dependence on oil and give farmers another market to sell their produce.
But researchers at Cornell University and the University of California-Berkeley say it takes 29 percent more fossil energy to turn corn into ethanol than the amount of fuel the process produces. For switch grass, a warm weather perennial grass found in the Great Plains and eastern North America United States, it takes 45 percent more energy and for wood, 57 percent.
It takes 27 percent more energy to turn soybeans into biodiesel fuel and more than double the energy produced is needed to do the same to sunflower plants, the study found.
"Ethanol production in the United States does not benefit the nation's energy security, its agriculture, the economy, or the environment," according to the study by Cornell's David Pimentel and Berkeley's Tad Patzek. They conclude the country would be better off investing in solar, wind and hydrogen energy.
The researchers included such factors as the energy used in producing the crop, costs that were not used in other studies that supported ethanol production, said Pimentel.
The study also omitted $3 billion in state and federal government subsidies that go toward ethanol production in the United States each year, payments that mask the true costs, Pimentel said.
Ethanol producers dispute Pimentel and Patzek's findings, saying the data is outdated and doesn't take into account profits that offset costs.
Ethanol is an additive blended with gasoline to reduce auto emissions and increase gas' octane levels. About 3.6 billion gallons of ethanol were produced last year in the United States, according to the Renewable Fuels Association, an ethanol trade group.
The ethanol industry claims that using 8 billion gallons of ethanol a year will allow refiners to use 2 billion fewer barrels of oil. The oil industry disputes that, saying the ethanol mandate would have negligible impact on oil imports."

I don't have any problem with biodiesel, but the subsidies on ethanol are out of control. In addition to the regular farm subsidies, the subsidies on ethanol plants make it profitable to produce even though it does nothing to help our dependence on foreign oil and it fact adds to it. In addition it is known to screw up fuel systems especially on older cars and actually decreases overall fuel mileage significantly. I also heard that the energy bill contains specific subsidies for ethanol plants owned by former Enron execs. If the wasted expenditures for the Iraq war and things of this nature were actually directed to renewal resources like solar, wind, and hydro etc. we wouldn't be in this situation.

12:22 pm, July 28, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry to not be able to confirm the "proof" that ethanol requires more energy to produce than it gives us back. I've heard these arguments before, but i think there is still room for debate.

I'm not in favor, at all, of taking farmland out of food production. If there is a way, and i say IF, to use waste products for ethanol, and do it with minimal use of fossil fuel, I say go for it.

Also, if there is land available for switch grass, and it is land unsuitable for growing food crops, again, I say go for it.

But my first choice remains solar energy. I personally use PV to produce about half the power for two houses. I have an "intertie" system, and it works even better than it was predicted to. The 3kw system has produced over 6000 kwh since i flipped the switch a year and a half ago.

There is also-for those unfamiliar with it-a system called "solar troughs", which is already producing power in California. I won't describe how it works, as you can google it for yourself. Suffice to say, as soon as GWB heard about it, he cut its support. Ass!

Regardless of proof that you can't make ethanol out of corn without a net loss of energy, it seems intuitively obvious that this same thing is happening in Brazil, using sugar cane. Perhaps sugar beets would work? Or perhaps we just don't have the climate to make ethanol practical. I've heard to many arguments both pro and con; it's pretty frustrating.

I recently read that Spain is now requiring that new construction include PV panels. I am curious how many watts they are required to produce, but I do think Spain is on the right track. We should be doing this in the US of A.

right now there is a shortage of manufacturing plants for PV panels. How about if some of our states build plants, and pay people who are currently unemployed to work in the plants instead of collecting unemployment?

7:37 pm, July 29, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This blog post comes off as very anti-ethanol and not very balanced.

Posting quotes from a known anti-ethanol zealot (whose claims have been debunked so many times that he clearly lost his credibility on this matter), without any real criticism except for maybe a couple of links at the bottom (who clicks on those?), is not a good example of balanced reporting. "Inflammatory" is not the same as "encouraging debate".

Yes, US ethanol subsidies is crazy, but that's not ethanols fault. Showing that the US way of producing ethanol is non-viable does not really prove anything about ethanol.

As for the energy inputs on ethanol production: it's irrelevant.

Either ethanol is energy positive, or energy negative.

If it's negative, ethanol production just becomes a huge energy sink. Then it's clearly not viable regardless of energy inputs.

If it's positive, it is viable even with fossil energy input. If compared to the alternative of using the oil directly, using ethanol will reduce CO2 emmisions and reduce oil imports. If it wouldn't, it would by definition not be energy positive.

It's just the same for wind and solar. Return of energy is important, inputs are not.

12:24 am, July 30, 2005  
Blogger James said...


I repeat, if anyone has some good pro-ethanol information I should read please let me know.

"As for the energy inputs on ethanol production: it's irrelevant."

I have to disagree. One of the main concerns of this blog is how humanity can plot a course to a post fossil fuel future. In absolute terms humans have never before used so much energy and yet we may have only a few decades left of "cheap" petroleum. Renewable energy is much less energy dense than fossil fuels and yet our energy needs are increasing. This is NOT a trivial problem. To make the switch is going to require huge change. It's something we need to get started on now. Subsidising a short term "solution" like ethanol to the tune of billions of dollars year is therefore ridiculous.

Ethanol will not displace petroleum in any meaningful way. It relies on the same technology (the internal combustion engine) and same class of thinking as the use of gasoline.

GO-HEVs (gas optional hybrid electric vehicles) allow the possibility of utilising electricity from renewable sources and begin to fundamentally change the nature of our energy system.

Alternative Energy Blog

1:06 am, July 30, 2005  
Blogger James said...


I agree with you. Spain is on the right track. It is already producing 10% of its electricity from wind power and is aiming for 40% by 2010. Solar is already competitive in off-grid applications and will be utilised even more as costs continue to fall.

Alternative Energy Blog

1:11 am, July 30, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Your arguments apply to any alternative energy source, not just ethanol.

Can you please how ethanol is different from solar, wind, nuclear, hydro or any other energy source with regards to energy inputs? They all have them, and presently they use fossil fuels as energy inputs (mostly).

If they are energy positive, they can use themselves as inputs. Or other renewables. There is nothing "special" about ethanol here.

And ethanol is not dependent on ICE:s. Ever heard of fuel cells? The fact that they CAN be used in engines already in use today is a HUGE advantage.

How is GO-HEV:s capable of using energy from renewable sources while ethanol is not?

Why is fossil fuel input in solar and wind power not a problem while it is in ethanol?

Why is a technology that allows you to take a barrel of oil and get energy equivalent of X (where X > 1.0) barrels of oil not a good thing?

All this is assuming that ethanol is energy positive of course. That's the important thing. I cannot prove that it is (i don't know) but arguing that ethanol is bad even if it is energy positive seems very strange to me.

Of course, ethanol won't automatically solve all our problems. But it is available NOW, unlike pipe dreams such as fusion or hydrogen.

2:47 am, July 30, 2005  
Blogger Engineer-Poet said...

Frederik stated:

"Either ethanol is energy positive, or energy negative....

If it's positive, it is viable even with fossil energy input.

Non sequitur.  An extreme example would suffice:  suppose you have a system, call it a flux modulator, which requires 100 gallons of fuel to produce 110 gallons-equivalent.  Someone decides that "domestic fuel" is so important that flux-modulator output should be subsidized to the tune of $.50 per gallon-equivalent.  The 110 gallons-equivalent would receive a subsidy of $55, but only 10 gallons-equivalent were created by the process; the other 100 are just passed through.  The subsidy amounts to $5.50 per gallon-equivalent of energy created.  What if there is some other process which can make energy for $3.00 per gallon-equivalent, but doesn't get the benefit of the fossil pass-through?  It would look more expensive even though it's actually cheaper.

Ethanol isn't quite as bad as that; the latest I've seen claims about 1.34 gallons-equivalent of output per gallon-equivalent of input.  But the $.52/gallon subsidy for the alcohol itself still amounts to $2.05 per gallon of subsidies for the energy created by the process (not passed through from fossil inputs), and the roughly 1/4 net payback means that a self-supporting system capable of supplying a net 100 billion gallons of ethanol a year for motor fuel would have to produce roughly 400 billion gallons gross and apply 300 billion for cultivation, fertilizer production, and other overhead.  The entire US corn crop (11.8 billion bushels in 2004) would not make even 40 billion gallons at 2.66 gallons per bushel, and the net would be about 10.  By this standard, ethanol is not viable.

A 5 MW wind turbine making juice at even 8¢/kWh and feeding a partially or completely electric car which uses 300 Wh/mile would cost 2.4¢/mile for the energy it created.  The same car burning ethanol at 30 MPG would cost 6.8¢/mile in subsidies alone for the new energy in the ethanol!  As an energy strategy, the wind-turbine/GO-HEV is viable; ethanol from any kind of grain is not.

3:47 am, July 30, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Your argument is based entirely on the assumption that ethanol is and will always be unfairly subsidized. Where i live they are not (and ethanol is still cheaper than gasoline) so that's obviously not the case.

So my question remains: How is solar and wind different to ethanol with regards to energy inputs, assuming equal or no subsidies?

6:31 am, July 30, 2005  
Blogger Engineer-Poet said...

Fredrik:  You didn't say where you live (I assume it is Brazil), and while Brazil's overt subsidies have stopped some claim that there are still hidden ethanol subsidies.

"How is solar and wind different to ethanol with regards to energy inputs, assuming equal or no subsidies?"

This paper claims that the wind farms analyzed have an energy payback time of 0.39 years.  That is less than 5 months.  Unsubsidized wind power is far cheaper at the wheels (through batteries) than most kinds of liquid fuel.  In addition, you can harvest wind power over land without changing its use or other characteristics very much.

8:55 am, July 30, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No, i'm in Sweden. I should make it clear that while there are no subsidies on ethanol itself, there are subsidies on the raw materials used in production. Most of the ethanol is made from agricultural byproducts which are extremely subsidized in the EU. A smaller part (i belieive around 10% or so) is made of wine. That's right, perfectly good drinkable wine. But those subsidies would be there even without the ethanol production.

The biggest reason for the price difference is that fossil fuel taxes are enormous (i think it's about 80% of the street price).

I'm perfectly willing to accept that wind might turn out to be a more efficient energy source than ethanol (but it would only have to do with energy return, the energy input source is irrelevant for both). But right now ethanol is a superior energy carrier as the transition costs are much lower than for any type of electricity based technology. Even if we could get by on only half the number of vehicles we have today, the financial and energy investment would be huge and those agricultural subsidies would pale in comparision.

I don't think there is a single solution to the energy problem. It would probably take a combination of conservation, solar, wind, hydro (only in colder countries such as mine, see recent IPCC report on hydropower), tidal, geothermic, biofuels and eventually maybe fusion.

10:24 am, July 30, 2005  
Blogger Engineer-Poet said...

In other words, the lower price of ethanol in Sweden comes from a steep differential in tax rates which favor it (exactly like the US tax subsidy for "gasohol").

This has nothing to do with the EROEI, or the financial viability of ethanol as an energy source; I suspect that an equitable tax regime would price ethanol considerably higher than petroleum, and both of them several times as much as electricity per kWh at the wheels.

4:05 pm, July 30, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The taxes does not favor ethanol specifically, they favor all non-fossil fuels. It is a system which take the externalities of fossil fuels into account, very different to the US system, which effectively puts huge subsidies on oil, and even bigger subsidies on ethanol to make it attractive.

There are NO tax differences that favors ethanol over electricity, quite the contrary. Especially if you consider that any oil used in ethanol production is just as heavily taxed. Petroleum-derived fertilizers are heavily taxed too.

You can get electricity FOR FREE here if you have an electric car (this electricity comes from wind and hydro). Still the running costs of electric cars are way higher than biopowered cars (gas, ethanol and biodiesel).

It is not an equitable tax regime, it's a tax regime that favors electricity over petroleum, and electricity is still not financially viable.

You cannot talk about financial viability and just ignore the trasition costs.

2:36 am, July 31, 2005  
Blogger Engineer-Poet said...

You misunderstood me.  I said that taxes favored ethanol over gasoline, not ethanol over electricity.  Why are you disagreeing with something I did not say?

You also don't say anything about the EROEI of the ethanol sold in Sweden.  I'll bet that distilling surplus wine for motor fuel has a particularly poor return.

You imply that there are infrastructure costs in changing from liquid fuel to electricity.  If you have sufficient generation capacity from e.g. hydro, I don't see where that comes from.  What's the difference if you build an electric car or GO-HEV instead of a conventional car?

9:20 pm, July 31, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear James; I am the origanal reader who took you to task for not including info about alcohol on your site. I want to thank you for doing it now. Whether or not you believe it is a worthwhile alternative was not my original point. I was searching the web looking for answers to my questions about whether or not it was and expected some discussion of it on a website that billed itself as an alternative energy blog. Now you have the discussion and a neophyte such as myself can come here and find coherent discussion of the pros and cons. I thank you for providing this service to us. What I am learning is that it may not be the ultimate answer to our problems, but, it offers the most promise to aleveate our current crisis. It is here now and when we have put more time and effort into using it to move the general populace from its heavy dependence on petroleum, then we can begin to move them further from the government subsidised programs as well. Perhaps into something totally different from alcohol use.

7:19 am, August 03, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am not disputing any part of your option or any article you posted. I have not researched ethanol to the extent you have.

I do want to add a comment on the value of ethanol.

When corn is used to manufacturer ethanol the corn is not destroyed. After the corn is used to make ethanol the "wasted" corn can still be used as animal feed.

This adds to the value of the corn. Although corn prices do go up in areas where there is a ethonal plant, the price of corn does not go up to the extent it would if that corn was completely destroyed by the milling process.

Because of this, the price of beef and pork do not feel the sting of elevated production costs so you don't notice a big change at the supermarket. The milled corn is still nutritionally sound for the animals to eat.

So when judging ethanol, there is more than just what is debated at the surface.

One comment talked about taking farmland out of food production to be used to grow corn for ethanol. Such is not the case as the milled corn that was used to make ethanol is still used to feed the world (by way of livestock).

5:20 pm, August 04, 2005  
Blogger Heiko said...

I've posted quite a bit over on engineer-poet's site.

Firstly, ethanol costs around $50 to produce, while the wholesale price of gasoline is around $75.

Secondly, how superior ethanol is as an energy carrier when compared with electricity becomes obvious when considering that gasoline sells for around $6 per gallon in Europe, and plug-in hybrid sales are zero.

Thirdly, engineer poets argument that the current corn crop would only amount of a 35 or so billion gallons compared to 130 or so billion gallons of gasoline is bogus. There are other sources of ethanol, and other alternative transportation fuels, and there is efficiency. As Woolsey argues, if US mpg just rise to European levels, cellulosic ethanol from switchgrass could easily sort out half of demand. The other half can come from even higher efficiency, or from natural gas (CNG), or from oil sands, or from palm oil biodiesel etc...

Fourthly, the net energy argument is silly. Looking at the USDA study, farm inputs of diesel and gasoline are tiny compared to output.

Inputs are largely in the form of nat gas or coal, and the majority is pretty low quality energy (ie heat for drying, fermentation, distillation).

The whole process is optimised for minimal liquid fuel production cost, not for minimal fossil fuel use.

1:42 am, August 05, 2005  
Blogger John Fames said...

I wish there was a simple answer. I suspect that under current corporate farming techniques, ti does take a lot of energy to make ethanol. Perhaps ethanol will have a future under some less oil-intensive crops and techniques.

If the Bushies and big oil are pushing for it, that's all you need to know...you will get the short-end.

And just for fun, check out my take on the new Energy Bill:


1:50 pm, August 06, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A fascinating debate. Ethanol may have its uses, but it seems to necessitate the cultivation of large amounts of a single crop for conversion. In the US, corn is (I think) the most popular option. It's worth considering the consequences of this monoculture. Tom Philpott has an excellent post on this subject:

7:55 pm, August 06, 2005  
Blogger James said...


"in Europe... plug-in hybrid sales are zero"

Firstly plug-in hybrids are not sold by any major automaker. They are hybrid cars which are modified or converted.

Hybrid cars like the Prius and electric vehicles (see www.goingreen.co.uk) certainly sell.

Finally the fact that a number of companies are launching plug-in hybrid conversions in Europe suggests there is unfulfilled demand:


Alternative Energy Blog

6:36 am, August 10, 2005  
Blogger Heiko said...

Iogen has a nice graph on the subject:

Iogen also says that "widespread use of the five percent ethanol mixture would deliver the same benefits as a 20 to 30 percent market penetration of relatively costly hybrid cars, which are powered by both gasoline and batteries."

If you look at my comments on engineer-poet's site, you'll notice that I actually looked into buying a g-whiz. My wife and me even spent a day going to London to have a test drive.

Anyways, goingreen's sold only about 200 of these cars in London in spite of the heavy effective subsidies available there.

6:52 am, August 10, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very good debate here. I appreciate all the posts. I especially like the easy to follow example from Engineer-Poet describing how expensive current ethanol subsidies are and the real implications of energy return on investment. However, I think there are a couple of points a lot of people are missing:

1) All of the current studies about ethanol/biodeisel refining and their net energy return on investment discussed above ignore recent developments in biofuels refining methods, specifically a variety of methods that allow refining of biofuels from the cellulose-rich portions of plants. This is not just an incremental advancement, but a potentially revolutionary one!

These methods, being developed by Iogen (www.iogen.ca/3000.html), BC International Corp (www.bcintlcorp.com), Colusa Biomass Energy (www.colusabiomass.com/default.htm) and others (Novozymes, NREL, Univ of Wisconsin-Madison), all allow utilization of 90+% of the biomass for biofuels, rather than 10-15% contained in the sugary/starchy portions of the plant (also coincidentally the edible parts of the plant like corn kernels). This includes all kinds of agricultural and timber residues such as corn stover, wheat stalks, wood residues and pulping liquor from the timber/paper mill industry etc. It also allow for greater utilization of dedicated perennial crops such as switch grass and other grasses, hemp, and/or trees which are less energy intesive to farm (no need to till, replant etc each year). Perennial crops, as well as the no-till farming practices that would be encouraged by utilizing agricultural residue for biofuels, reduce soil-erosion and increase soil-carbon levels (a good thing). See the "Billion Ton Vision" report form the USDA/USDOE at http://feedstockreview.ornl.gov/pdf/billion_ton_vision.pdf.

In short, this would yield a much larger energy return on investment (Iogen claims a 3:1 return, MUCH better than current standards, see http://sustainabilityzone.com/comments.php?load_this=44), would allow utilization of agricultural and timber wastes - this means you avoid energy costs of growing a dedicated crop; these crops are grown anyway, we are just utilizing the leftovers - as well as less-energy intensive no-till and perennial dedicated crops. All in all, these methods and the available biomass resources (upwards of 1 billion tons and above annually) could allow us to replace 30% or more of our annual petroleum consumption with biofuels! Even taking into account that the 3 to 1 return on investment means you'd need to devote 1/3rd of the produced biofuels to the energy costs of continued production, this would still replace 20% or more of our petroleum use (remember, this assumes using the ethanol to farm more ethanol, rather than diesel/gas, an additional offset of petroleum).

Finnaly, GreenFuels (see http://www.greenfuelonline.com/) is commercializing an algae-based biofuels refining system that could be promising as well. It grows algae in tubes that feed on sunlight and the waste heat, carbon dioxide and sulpher of the power plants they are built at. Check it out here: http://www.treehugger.com/files/2005/06/greenfuel_produ.php

2) Many people have been argueing about the relative merits of biofuels versus wind, solar, etc. While I am a BIG proponent of wind, solar and other renewables as a means of replacing our fossil-fuel based electric generation systems, we have to remember that you can't simply run your car on wind power.

Oh yes you can, you might say, just plug in your electric car/plug-in hybrid! While electric vehicles (EVs) may be a solution to replacing our internal combustion (IC) fleet, we have to keep in mind that any time you send energy into a battery, you lose A LOT of that energy. Most batteries are not very efficient, losing 20-35% of the energy put into them. There are also transmission losses to consider between the wind farm/solar array and your EV which can be considerable as well. Note that this all applies to using the electricity to make hydrogen through electrolysis and power your fuel cell car: fuel cells are only around 40% energy efficient AND you electrolysis is only around 66% efficient meaning you again get BIG losses between the wind farm and your car.

Finally, building enough wind, solar etc to displace our petroleum use (roughly 39% of the US's nearly 98 quadrillion BTUs of energy consumption) ON TOP OF replacing our fossil fuel plants for electrical generation would be an require an ENORMOUS ramp up in alternative energy generation. This may ultimately be what we have to do, but I think it is MUCH more likely and feasible to use a liquid fuel replacement for petroleum - i.e. biofuels produced as described above - hopefully in conjunction with an increase in a mix of plug-in/regular hybrids, EVs and/or Fuel Cell vehicles and a rapid construction of wind, solar and other alternative energy sources to (initially) replace our fossil fuels burning power plants.

Anyway, thats my 2 cents (maybe we should call it 50 cents considering the length of that post). Check out the links and see for your self. Id love to hear your comments too.

1:58 pm, August 10, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The point has been made that ethanol production has been utilizing energy from petroleum; thus, it is energy negative. Comparisons are made between ethanol and solar regarding advantages of solar for generating electricity for electric cars. Solar power reaches us wether we use it or not. (Thus, it should be exploited, and it's a shame that it is not.) Most cars now have fuel tanks, not batteries, for propulsion. You can't pour sunbeams into a gas tank, nor sock the tank full of electricity. So, why not use "free" (i. e., cheap) solar power to process (distill) ethanol? At least then, you have something to put in a tank! Perhaps we need to think more in terms of having a resource available to enhance, extend, supplement, or substitute for gasoline instead of replacing it altogether. The same applies to hydrogen, use "home produced" solar electricity as the (free/cheap) fuel to extract the hydrogen from water. At least then you have a fuel accessible for non-electric cars.

3:09 pm, August 13, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just an observation:

Engineer poet wrote, "Ethanol isn't quite as bad as that; the latest I've seen claims about 1.34 gallons-equivalent of output per gallon-equivalent of input."

Unfortunately, at 76,000 BTU/gal ethanol and 116,000 BTU/gal gasoline, you would need an output-input ratio of 1.53 gallons-equivalent just to break even in terms of true energy value.

6:53 am, August 19, 2005  
Blogger Solar Kismet said...

A few thoughts:

1. The Pimental/Patzek studies have two factors that make ethanol negative that no one looks at:

a) Machinery - they include the steel and equipment used in farming (tell me a farmer won't have a combine if ethanol wasn't around - they even include the food the farmer/workers eat and fuel for getting to the plant, as if they wouldn't eat or drive otherwise)

b) Co-products - Ethanol plants make more than just ethanol and an energy "credit" needs to be included, which they don't.

In the interest of disclosure Patzek works for the CA Oil Consortium and Pimentel is an entemologist with no training in the area.

2. Even if ethanol were net energy neutral, it has benefits:

a) Fuel blending flexibility to moderate prices when one is higher or lower than the other

b) Foreign oil displacement - only 17% of a gallon of ethanol is petroleum so every gallon saved 83% petroleum (55% of that is imported)

c) Air quality benefits when burned, reducing pollution (ask states who chose MTBE instead of ethanol whether that was a good choice)

3. Ethanol energy balances are debated because the possibility is there that it can generate more energy than it uses (i.e. photosynthesis) - you can't do that with oil. Oil is a net energy loser any way you calculate it.

4. Corn ethanol is a transition to cellulistic ethanol when this debate (those studies not withstanding) will cease - the energy balance is 3-5 x's positive and the inputs to a switchgrass are much less environmentally damaging. Could we have build the hybrid-gasoline car without the gasoline engine? No. Similarly we can't get to cellulistic ethanol without corn ethanol in the meantime.

5. Find me a better solution that can be implemented. Fuel economy standards would be my number one choice but it's not a solution - it buys time. We use so much energy that we're going to need everything we've got.

6. Don't try to tell me petroleum isn't subsidized. Let someone analyze that...Iraq? Saudi Arabia? Iran?

10:26 am, August 23, 2005  
Blogger Solar Kismet said...

One thing to add:


Good background on the anti-ethanol researchers...

2:05 pm, August 24, 2005  
Blogger James said...

"Good background on the anti-ethanol researchers"

from the National Corn Growers Association?

Hardly an unbiased source.

Alternative Energy Blog

3:00 pm, August 24, 2005  
Blogger Solar Kismet said...

Facts from a biased source are still facts.

5:46 am, August 25, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a lawyer in cases arising out of MTBE contamination of ground water, I looked at ethanol policy on occasion. My conclusion is that even though it does not present the same polloution threat as MTBE, the subsidies are misplaced as a matter of energy policy. One post said the following: "ethanol should be looked at as an intermediate gas-stretcher solution and not as a long term answer to our energy problem. We know that it is costly to produce, lower in BTU's per gallon than an equal volume of gasoline and will not provide oil replacement." There is a contradiction there. The facts, as correctly summarized, make plain that ethanol is not helpful either in the long or short term and we should stop creating infrastructure to support its production. Our first energy priority should be to remove subsidies, overt and covert, from fossil fuels but also things like ethanol. A genuinely clean, renewable energy source, like wind power, may be deserving of some public money. Current policy, particularly in this Congress and administration, is close to the opposite.

6:22 am, September 30, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My understanding is that most of the biodiesel promoters want to use genetically modified canola as feedstock. Any comments about the implications for our environment and the organic farmers whose crops might be cross-pollenated (and hence owned) by agribusiness interests?

8:44 am, October 13, 2005  
Blogger clem clements said...

Fear Uncertainty Doubt (FUD)...

works every time. What a fabulous way to confuse people.

The main arguments here are that:

1. We are spending billions creating ethanol (a la Pork Barrel)

2. Ethanol is a net negative energy source.

Thousands of billions (ie TRILLIONS) of dollars have been spent over the past 80 years subsidizing oil. We are currently spending 8 billion a MONTH subsidizing an oil grab. If you think oil isn't subsidized, I pity your ignorance.

Regarding the second argument, Pimentel's research from 1979 is one word: OUT OF DATE. He updated some of it (1991 corn yields) but most still relies on ancient (in the ag world) chemical req's.

The FUD created by a few scholars is an amazing work of genius. You can read the other side, which is a little more current:




8:30 am, October 26, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The comment on "taking ag land out of food production" is also not taking into account that current ethanol refining methods are not only 30% or greater net energry gains, but also the by product of "dry" ethanol production is cattle feed. Which about 90% of yellow #2 corn (which is used for ethanol production) is used for to begin with.

4:29 pm, November 10, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For an authoratative and deep analysis of this please see "The Debate on Energy and Greenhouse Gas Emissions Impacts of Fuel Ethanol" avaialbale at www.transportation.anl.gov/pdfs/TA/347.pdf
and "Updated Energy and Greenhouse Gas Emissions Results of Fuel Ethanol (Septemer 2005, 456kb pdf)" at www.transportation.anl.gov/pdfs/TA/354.pdf

8:11 pm, November 12, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A few innocent questions:

1- Who said that only the edible part of corn has to be used for producing ethanol? As far as I'm aware every organic substance has enough carbon and water to produce it. Corn stalks could be used for producing ethanol while the cobs could still be used as normal. This would cut off the energy balance all the energy expended in the cultivation process (which would take place anyway) and prevent the cultivation of land for sole energy generating purposes. Also, a stalk is a lot bigger than a cob...

2- Why can't there be an unbiased research? Both "pro"'s and "anti"'s manipulate data to make their own point. The "anti" side uses fairly outdated information and a rather arbitrary definition of the system boundaries: the only input that they don't count is the amount of energy spent by the farmers' parents to conceive the farmers themselves. To make an example: trucks would be built anyway, even if they wouldn't be used for the transport of ethanol or its constituents, so the energy used to manufacture them shouldn't count (but the energy used by them should). The "pro" side, on the other hand, keeps counting the bi-products of ethanol production as energy "credit". This is also incorrect as this energy would not return into the cycle in any shape or form... unless you fertilise the fields with the waste from the animals fed on that.

3-Why don't people know maths? If the energy ratio for ethanol is 1.34 it doesn't change regardless of its energy content compared with gasoline. If ethanol contains less energy than gasoline you use more ethanol: gallons are not a measure of energy. If you really want to make a comparison between the two, compare the energy ratios between gasoline and ethanol.

4- What has money got to do with the suitability of ethanol as a rebnewable fuel? Would the same money-based calculations apply if oil cost $150 per barrel (vs the $20 it cost when Pimentel made his calculations...)? With China and India increasing their consumption, it's not so unlikely that it will reach these prices. Energy is less fickle than price.

Replies to Marco

6:41 am, November 25, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

MEMS USA, Inc. Affiliate to Build Biomass-to-Fuel-Ethanol Plant in Canada
Wednesday January 4, 8:30 am ET

LOS ANGELES--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Jan. 4, 2006--MEMS USA, Inc. (OTCBB:MEMS - News), a California-based professional engineered systems, products and services company, announced that Northern Ontario, Canada, will be the site of Hearst Ethanol One, Inc. ("HEO"), a biomass-to-fuel-ethanol conversion facility targeting annual production of 227 million liters of fuel-grade ethanol.


4:27 pm, January 08, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If ethanol use as fuel is attractive to the consumer economically, without any subsidy, then it should and will exist. If not, then it should not exist. This is the ultimate question. Capitalism will decide the issue, as consumers vote with their dollars.

6:58 pm, April 25, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How can procuring and distributing oil only take 22k Btu's? I'll bet that they didn't count the budget of the US defence department. They spend hundreds of billions every year to secure "american interest" overseas. What are those american interests, I wonder. Well they seem to be spending a lot of time in Iraq and Afghanistan lately. I say if we are going to count farm labor in the ethanol equation we should count military labor into the oil equation. Fair is fair, right?

1:10 pm, April 26, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The ethanol issue has its pros and cons. Its definately better than Middle East oil that costs and arm and a leg and it also brings money to the millions of farmers in our country. But I feel that using food for fuel is a little wasteful considering how many people in the world are hungry. And it would be foolish to neglect energy sources like solar and wind that are free, cost nothing. Zip. Nada.

12:19 pm, May 08, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, and by the way I didn't even read this article at all. Thats just common sense. On another note, I also feel that its stupid to bitch and bicker at each other online, just say your two cents like I did and move on, don't address each other by name and ridicule them, fighting like that is like trying to destroy a brick wall with a super soaker, its pointless.

12:26 pm, May 08, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How about ethanol from switchgrass? I understand that switchgrass has higher yield per acre, as well as it it is not used as a edible feedstock, as some other feedstock such as corn is...

Ec, Plant Oils A-Z

11:31 am, May 16, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wonder why more research is not conducted into promising areas such as biodiesel from algae ( see Oilgae.com - Oil from Algae!)...though of course it is not a competitor to ethanol (biodiesel is for diesel engines), from what I read biodiesel from algae appears to have exceptional potential, but I rarely hear of any considerable investment in this regard...even some studies done by NREL are gathering dust!


1:11 am, June 04, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think it's time that we focus on better alternatives than ethanol. Sure, it might have the potential to reduce the amount of oil imported, but what's the endgame? Energy consumption is not going to decline ever, barring some plague or nuclear war. One respondent called fusion and hydrogen power a pipe dream. He's entitled to his opinion, but there were those in the past who thought that the world was flat, that it was impossible to achieve flight, and that landing on the moon was pure fiction. The fact is, and this comes anecdotally from a fusion researcher I know, that the only hurdle to successful fusion power is funding. I find it hard to believe that the civilized world can't unleash the dogs on this inexhaustable source of energy. During WWII, the US said 'build the atom bomb; we don't care what it costs. Just do it.' My frustration stems from the apparent reality that we spend billions subsidizing a temporary solution to fossil fuels and billions more on pollution controls, regulation, and enforcement, while spending mere pennies on the dollar researching the most powerful source of energy currently known to mankind.

Say that it costs a couple trillion dollars of research and construction to make fusion power and hydrogen fuel cells viable. Yes, that's a lot of money, but we (the US) already spend $800+ billion every year on petroleum. Furthermore, the EU is fruitlessly spending billions more trying to comply with Kyoto. I'm sure it's nice feeling like you're helping, but let's face it, greenhouse emissions aren't going to go down until we stop using combustible fuels. Reduction helps slow the increase, but with India and China rapidly expanding, it's one step forward and two steps back.

A couple fellow bloggers spoke of foreign policy. What better bargaining chip could the West have over crazy corrupt oil shahs in the Middle East? If we no longer needed their oil we could simply leave them alone and chuckle as their economies spiral down the toilet. Then they could hate us all they want, without the means to finance terrorists.

The upside is enormous. Fusion is very green because CO2 emissions become irrelevant, the fuel is inexhaustable and not subject to market forces, and the fusion process is 4 times more powerful than fission. And with the development of hydrogen fuel cells, fuel should be inexpensive, the fuel can be produced using fusion power plants, and these vehicles do not pollute.

The only losers in this scenario are the millions of oil industry workers and executives, and Middle Eastern countries. I say that it's a small price to pay for a technology that has the potential to fuel growth for centuries to come. Perhaps I'm an idealist in this respect, but the investment is miniscule compared to the long-run return.

11:38 am, August 03, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wont enter into the arguments about the production of ethanol except to say that ethanol produced from corn, switch grass or other cellulosic material is the same chemically and the only advantage of one source over the other would be the cost. But, those who claim that it is more enviromentally friendly than gasoline with respect to the atmosphere shoud note that it is just the opposite. Because ethanol is less energy efficient more has to be used to achieve the same mileage as gasoline in an automotive vehicle. This results in more carbon dioxde emmissions since the products of combustion of ethanol are identical, carbon dioxide and water. I wonder what the Global Warming crowd has to say about that since they are so concerned about carbon dioxide emissions.

11:46 am, August 19, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So an oil industry professor at Berkeley is saying Ethanol is energy negative? Did you expect otherwise from a post-colonial school allied with big oil?

To the previous poster: You forgot to subtract the amount of carbon that the corn plants remove from the atmosphere -- you must be a litcrit or cultural studies graduate obviously with no understanding of science.

4:52 am, December 30, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why is there so much negative talk about Ethanol? Ethanol isn't the only product to come from an Ethanol plant, there are quite a few other valuable products. Ethanol doesn't have to be a complete replace gasoline. Ethanol is currently replacing the addative MTBE, which is know to cause cancer. Seems to me this is an industry in itself. If the US uses 140 billion gas of gasoline a year, an E10 blend with gasoline would require 14 billion gallons of ethanol just to replace MTBE. I'd prefer not to get cancer.

Plus, I think there is alot of none equal comparision. As the one guy stated... "It's proof that ethanol has a negative return on energy, cause they don't burn ethanol to produce ethanol!"
I guess that means they burn gasoline at an oil refinery...to make gasoline. I don't know the answer to that, but I doubt it. I'll bet the guy that made that comment doesn't know either.

Recent articles from BP, Americas largest oil company has stated that biofuels has a big role ahead. Which is why BP has spent the last 10 years researching the topic. And has anounced that in the next 10 years it will invest 10 billion into biofuels. To date, a total of about 6.5 billion has been invested in biofuels. So if ethanol is so negative... what on earth is BP doing!

Thanks for your time.

3:10 pm, January 30, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just want to add some numbers to the discussion. If the current gasoline consumption is to be replace d by ethanol derived from switchgrass it would require in the best case scenario 15% of the US land surface. With the population projected to grow 60% over the next decades this is not a realistic scenario. Also I did some rough calculation that the switchgrass converts about 0.2% of the solar energy into celluloses. Now if it would be possible to build make a device that converts 10-20% of the solar energy into ethanol, then we have a potential solution (if cost-effective). Besides the latter, I believe that plug-in hybrid cars, electrically powered by wind and solar energy at massive scale are the best intermediate options for carbon reduction.

10:25 pm, February 06, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a supporter of Ethanol. However, I don't believe this means that advances in Solar and wind technology can't be used. In fact, I believe they should be used! I don't believe the real issue is for any one solutions to cure all. It's a combination of many techonologies. For example if automobiles manufactores production more efficent cars. If these cars were partly electric, great! If some of that electricity can come from wind and solar, GREAT! The prototype car from GM, the chevy Volt is along that line. It's an electric car that can be plugged in. However, it also has an onboard engine to generate electricity if/when needed. This onboard engine can run on gas, ethanol, or biodeisel. GM claims this car get about 100 MPG. So by combining advances in technology, it's not just about ethanol replacing gasoline. At which point the land mass need to produce 140billion gallons of ethanol is not the point. It's a stepping stone. Thus, if GM's Volt gets 100 MPG, that a 5 fold increase over most cars today. Thus, that means 140 billions of gasoline, reduced by 5 folds... is 28 billion gallons of fuel. Now if 85% of that is ethanol, that's 23 billion gallons of ethanol. Though, Biodeisel most likely will have a role in biofuels too. So if we divide 25 billion gallons of fuel by half, that about 12.5 billion gallons of ethanol, and 12.5 billion gallons of biodeisel. Now we are talking about the US becoming energy independent without a need for 140 billion gallons of ethanol. Plus, for short trips, a car could be recharged nightly, and hardly burn any biofuels. So why all the anger expressed toward ethanol? I rather not have to depend on a sunny day to go for a drive, or make sure I got home before dark!


11:21 am, February 12, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read a lot of anti-ethanol sentimentaility in the news and elsewhere these days but I am reminded of 1980 when the Oil Companies circulated all kinds of false rumors about Gasahol to crush the move away from oil then. The Oil Companies intend to stick with what pays them the most to the very last day if it destroys us all! If you don't know it the Oil Companies are still heavily subsidized by the American taxpayers not to mention to cost of trying to stabilize a region of America haters with our tax dollars and American lives. I will believe we are trying to move toward oil-independence when we get the American sugar cane growers involved in ethanol production since they produce twice the yield per acre in gallons of ethanol as opposed to corn. The government will show a desire to save oil when we help the railroads to increase their freight capacity and get more of these fuel hog diesel trucks off the road. Locomotives carry at least 40 times the freight for a given amount of fuel to deliver goods to market! Road-Rail facilities have proven there is no longer a need for such wasteful methods to deliver goods.

8:03 am, May 07, 2007  
Blogger Unknown said...

No one is looking at the human cost. Two billion people in this world are living on less that a dollar a day. You are talking about the US the breadbasket of the world converting 30 percent of it's harvest to ethanol. The cost of a bushel has gone from $2 to $6 in the past 2 years. It takes 450 pounds of corn to fill up a Cadillac Escalade. That is enough food to feed a person for a year. No one is looking at the human cost of converting food to ethanol. Moslem countries from Africa to Asia are going to have real difficulties feeding millions of people in 8 months. The world needs to wake up and realize that if people don't get along in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Mid-East that they will suffer dearly beyond their wildest imaginations. There is no other source they can call up and order food from. The conversion process is a one way street. The Moslem leadership needs to get a grip and put a lid on the violence or the majority of their people will starve in the next 3 years.

1:26 pm, June 19, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Converting corn to ethanol is a looser because first you have to convert the starch to sugar. Spinning energy from hurricanes and various other winds sounds good to me... Now if only someone could figure out how to use all that insufferable heat they have in the south and west every summer. Imagine converting so much solar energy to electricity or hot water that the ambient temperature went down one degree...after all, dissimilar metals release electricity when in contact under heat...

4:25 pm, June 30, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I too am an ethanol supporter and believe ethanol is just one piece of the puzzle that will steer us away from total Middle East reliance. In Virginia, we are looking at using hulless barley and switchgrass. As cellulostic ethanol becomes more available and feasible we will truely move to a win win situation. It's a MUST that we make a move away from patrolium, no ifs, ands, or buts. Oil is being depleted with every barrell pumped, that's a fact so we really have no option but to look at EVERY option. Then there's the MTBE issue. More and more states are moving away from it and replacing it with ethanol. And finally, from my personal researching of the issue, it's pretty much a given today that Pimentel and Paztek used out dated figures and didn't use sound models in their studies. As I said, we need ALL the alternitives not just one.

7:59 pm, September 01, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Natural Resources Defense Council, neoconservatives like James Woolsey, and farm groups like the American Coalition for Ethanol are all correct. Ethanol is the fuel of the future. It is energy positive and is good for American farmers. David Pimentel is a fool, his half-baked theories don't stand up to the fact that ethanol is energy efficient, which has been supported by Argon national laboratories.

12:56 pm, February 19, 2008  
Blogger PKamp said...

The same things that were true about ethanol leading up to the recent anti-ethanol blitz remain true: ethanol blended fuels reduce tailpipe emissions, create US jobs, provide incentive for agriculture development, reduce farm subsidies, provide much needed economic development in small US cities and towns where other industries have left, and displace oil imports with US made fuel - gallon by gallon. All still true.
The recent onslaught of anti-ethanol blogs, articles and other media have made the two contrarians famous than all other more autorititive sources. Cornell's David Pimentel and Berkeley's Tad Patzek use Chinese farming fertilizer data, ethanol production data from the early 1980's, human labor inputs that would not be physically possible, exaggerated data on the cost of the "farmer's wife to drive to the store to buy his lunch", and ignore the econonomic benefits of domestic production and industrial development. On the flip side, they ignore all similar inputs in their gasoline assessment. These two guys have become the most famous "scientists" in the debate, simply because they are so contrary to the authoritative findings of DOE, USDA, ANL, EPA and dozens of others academic and industry findings. (When compared to gasoline production, ethanol is a big winner on energy balance, water use, emissions). Yet those who want to bash ethanol happily and repeatedly embrace these inaccurate contrarians as the "experts". Even Patzek's own students have refuted his findings. And Pimental is an entemologist from New York, not a scientist who has devoted a career to energy or agriculture. Why are people whose research is backed by big oil considered in this debate? Isn't the bias a bit obvious?
There is one factor to point to in the escalation of all commodity prices - price of crude oil. Secondary, but major factors - droughts last year, Chinese and Asian energy demand, huge increases in automobiles worldwide. Way down on the list when it comes to actual supply and demand impact is ethanol. And the US farmer, who deserves to be labled a champion for this, produced more than enough corn for all new ethanol production, and increased amounts for all other uses - feed, food, industrial and export - last year alone. We exported a record amount of corn last year to "feed the world". The problem, as always, is that costs of producing nearly everything are dramatically increased, so prices have to be high for grains, because of oil prices and their impact on fertilizer, transportation, and on and off-site farming.
Instead the anti-ethanolers label the US farmer as fat, greedy, destructive and subsidy dependent. This is the worst part of the whole argument, and its so wrong.
I gladly defend ethanol based on its past track record and the new technologies and efficiencies that will (and already does) produce power on-site, human food products, increased amounts of high-quality animal feed, a clean burning, high octane fuel product that displaces imported oil one gallon at a time (now enough to nearly displace all Saudi imports), and drives new highs in agricultural yields, because it creates a new market for crops. This isn't inaccurate, biased, hype - its the day-to-day reality of the growing industry. Please, doom-and-gloomers, stand aside. Every American should be in favor of renewable fuels but we have allowed an oil-financed media blitz to impact public perception.

7:33 am, April 28, 2008  

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