Archive for Sunday, August 12, 2007

Corn-fed ethanol production fuels controversy

August 12, 2007


Kent Nunemaker, co-owner of Nunemaker-Ross Inc., cuts corn for silage on land in North Lawrence. The silage will be used to feed cattle in the Nunemaker-Ross cattle feed lot. Although the corn being harvested by Nunemaker-Ross is not being used for the production of ethanol, the company does feed its livestock a high-protein byproduct of ethanol production.

Kent Nunemaker, co-owner of Nunemaker-Ross Inc., cuts corn for silage on land in North Lawrence. The silage will be used to feed cattle in the Nunemaker-Ross cattle feed lot. Although the corn being harvested by Nunemaker-Ross is not being used for the production of ethanol, the company does feed its livestock a high-protein byproduct of ethanol production.

Ethanol has been touted as the fuel of the future.

Made with a renewable resource - mostly corn - vehicles running on ethanol will help the environment, put money in the pockets of family farmers and reduce the United States' dependence on foreign oil, its proponents say.

"I think it's a good thing for everybody," said Lawrence farmer Pat Ross, who feeds his livestock a high-protein byproduct of ethanol production.

But ethanol is coming under increased scrutiny.

Some are concerned that the recent increase in corn crops used to make ethanol will further deplete dwindling groundwater reserves, and increase the use of fertilizers that run off into waterways and kill aquatic life.

"There are huge hidden costs," said Ken Warren, managing director of the Land Institute, a Salina-based research organization that supports sustainable agriculture.

In the long run, he said, the amount of energy needed to make and transport ethanol exceeds the energy produced. "It depends on how you want to do the accounting," he said.

Ethanol pumped up

Regardless of the debate, more Kansas farmers are joining the effort to produce ethanol.

There are 3.7 million acres of corn being grown in Kansas this year, about 8 percent more than last year, according to Kansas Agricultural Statistics.

"Corn is increasing primarily because of the demand of ethanol," said Eldon Thiessen, director of the agricultural statistics office.

Ethanol is produced by fermenting food crops, such as corn, and grain sorghum.

Ethanol production plants are popping up all over Kansas. Ten years ago, the state produced approximately 20 million to 25 million gallons of ethanol per year. Now, 215 million gallons are produced per year, and plants under construction will add another 300 million gallons to that number.

"It has been really good for our state and the Midwest in general," said Sue Schulte, a spokeswoman for the Kansas Corn Growers Association.

Ethanol vs. oil, water

To that, Kansas University geology professor emeritus Ernest Angino says ethanol couldn't compete with other fuels without its governmental subsidies and protections that total roughly $1 per gallon.

"It's popular now because the government gives a huge subsidy to produce it. It's not competing on a level playing field," said Angino, who taught an energy and minerals resources course for decades.

But Schulte said oil also receives subsidies. "It's not like this is the only subsidized fuel in the stream," she said of ethanol.

Warren, with the Land Institute, said one of his major concerns is that ethanol provides an enticement to ratchet up irrigation of corn crops. He said he had heard about irrigators in western Kansas deciding to dryland farm (no irrigation), but when the price of corn started going up "they were back in business."

Schulte said there is plenty of water available.

Only about half of the corn acreage in Kansas is irrigated and the other crops, such as grain sorghum, which is generally a dryland crop, are also being used to produce ethanol, she said.

Energy producer?

The amount of energy to produce ethanol and transport it also is often cited as demerits for the fuel. It's also the subject of numerous conflicting studies.

A 2005 study by scientists from Cornell and University of California-Berkley said ethanol production using corn grain "required 29 percent more fossil energy than the ethanol produced."

But ethanol supporters cite other studies.

Schulte pointed to a U.S. Department of Energy study conducted in 2005.

The report states that the fossil energy put into growing corn for ethanol is lower than the amount of energy produced - 0.74 million British thermal unit fossil energy consumed for each 1 million Btu of ethanol delivered. That was much more efficient than gasoline, the study concluded.

The study notes that some of the energy used to produce ethanol is "free solar energy used to grow corn in the first place."

Greg Krissek is director of government affairs for ICM Inc., a Colwich-based company that is involved with the development of approximately 60 percent of the ethanol plants in the country.

Krissek said ethanol helps the environment because it's a cleaner burning fuel than gasoline and it takes less energy to produce.

The most common blend of vehicle fuel with ethanol is called E-10, which is 90 percent gasoline and 10 percent ethanol.

About 145 billion gallons of gasoline is used in the United States per year. Two years ago, ethanol represented 3 billion gallons of that amount; now it is 6 billion and is expected to double in two more years, Krissek said. Kansas ranks seventh in the nation in producing ethanol, with Iowa and Illinois leading the pack, Schulte said.

"We see a tremendous impact in the community where the plant is being built," Krissek said. "You may be looking at $80 million to $160 million in construction costs and that helps local suppliers and we usually use local labor."

When the plant is finished, he said, "you have a $100 million to $200 million revenue generating company."

He said the development of ethanol is crucial, not only for the rural economy and environment, but to help quench the nation's increasing demand for fuel.

"The farmer has responded to this demand," he said.

To Ross, the Lawrence farmer, ethanol is a win-win for the taxpayer and farmer.

The demand for ethanol has raised the price of corn, he noted.

"That helps out the American farmer so they don't have to be subsidized so much," he said.


Mkh 10 years ago

Sure Marion, whatever you say.

Mkh 10 years ago

My original point was this. Hemp is a far bet solution for ethanol than corn. Can any of you actually refute this?

Corn ethanol is a mistake, they're are far better options on the table if the policy makers would stop and think. Hemp is the answer.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 10 years ago

Unless we intend to stop eating, there isn't enough cropland to produce anything more that supplemental amounts of ethanol and biodiesel.

usesomesense 10 years ago

Why aren't we modifying our nuclear power plants to refine ethanol? Heat is a byproduct of this reaction and anything else needed in ethanol refinement can be performed electrically.

It's clear that Ethanol isn't a perfect fuel, but it is way better than fossil fuels and far more do-able and realistic than hydrogen may ever be. All farm subsidies should be re-distributed as ethanol crop subsidies. Subsidized crop types can be regulated by region (corn where water is ample, sorghum or switchgrass in drier areas).

Sean Livingstone 10 years ago

It's not the problem of using and producing ethanol, but it's the sudden switch in gear that causes the problem. We have 20 years to do this work, but President Bush only talks about it this year and everyone starts to do it. Given more time, land, water etc. will be able to readjust and adapt, thus, not affecting local plants and ecology. My advice, never do things in a rush.

wl318 10 years ago

It boggles my mind how journalists continue accept this Pimentel study like its the Gospel. It seems to me that if there were actually any merit to it, I wouldn't have to take the word of one entomologist.

Mkh 10 years ago

Ethonal is not an acceptable alternative fuel to substitute for oil/gas. Not only does ethonal take away much needed farm land for food production, but it also takes too much energy to produce. Kansas farmers and the government need to stop investing in this dead-end industry.

Ethonal works great if it can be produced from sugar cane such as in Brazil, but not with corn. The only real bio-fuel that America and especially Kansas should be embracing in Hemp. Hemp grows naturally without the use of tilling or other erosion causing methods. Plus it takes No fertilizer/pesticides that our made with petrochemicals. Hemp can be easily and cheaply produced and refined into a clean burning fuel for America's transportation needs.

However, in order to use the wonderful potential of Hemp we have to change our archaic and idiotic drug laws. Hemp has less than 1% THC and should not be classified in the same category as marijuana or any other drug.

usesomesense 10 years ago

While Hemp and other Bio-Diesel fuels are great, most Americans don't drive Diesel vehicles. Ethanol can easily REDUCE our dependency on foreign oil. I do not suggest is will REMOVE our dependancy on fossil fuels. The primary reason it is currently costly to produce has been relatively low demand. I guarantee that the refinery industry will find ways to more cheaply and efficiently produce ethanol as the demand rises. They are, after all in the business of producing profits. Change in our fuel use habits will directly hinge on ease of use and profitability. We already the delivery system in place for liquid fuels. Hybrid vehicles are a joke, hydrogen's not a reality. This is the most reasonable solution at the current time.

Mkh 10 years ago


It's obvious that no matter how you cut it, there is going to have to be a substantial transition in transportation, whether in vehicles, infrastructer, or both. In terms of practicality it would be very easy to switch the majority of vehicle production to hemp friendly diesel engines.

LogicMan 10 years ago

"anything more that supplemental amounts of ethanol"

We need to make and distribute at least enough ethanol to replace MTBE everywhere it was needed in the country.

"Lubricating oil should also be re-refined"

Most of it is reused -- either as fuel for burners, or "re-refined". And it has value -- oil change places usually get paid a nominal amount when their storage tanks get emptied. (Same should become commonplace for used cooking oil; is already true for the goo in greasetraps --> soap.)

Used to be STP-brand oil was recycled, and it stated such in very small print on the cans; wouldn't be surprised if some name brand motor oils, and a lot of the off-brands, are made from used oil. Don't know if they are now exempt from stating such on their bottles.

Sigmund 10 years ago

Turning ground water, farmland, and corn into fuel makes as much sense as turning crude oil and coal into bread and water. But Gov. Kathy is all behind it in order to increase farm income and appease the Ecomentalists. Politically smart, but economic and scientific stupidity.

usesomesense 10 years ago

The reality is that biodiesel and hempoline require ethanol to produce as well (it is a component of both). It's great to suggest that vehicle production will shift to diesel, but it does nothing for the millions of cars on the road today. If the market can produce the ideal best liquid fuel as biodiesel or hempoline that is great - and price of such fuels should reflect as such. If consumers see lower prices for diesel type fuels (sigificantly) they will choose and demand vehicles that can use those fuels - as they buy new vehicles.

Ethanol supplemented to existing fossil fuels reduces our use of fossil fuels now and in the future without changing anything other than requiring 10% (or perhaps greater) ethanol in all fossil fuel mixtures. This is not a permanent fix, but an immediate relief measure.

Martin_D_15 10 years ago

at this rate, the Ogallala Aquifer will be depleted in 20 years.

Let's bring back the bison and then I can hunt them with my bow!

Sigmund 10 years ago

Ethanol production is currently heavily subsidized in the United States. Wheat, corn and sugar growers have succeeded in lobbying for regulatory intervention encouraging adoption of ethanol, insuring the major beneficiaries of increased use would be "Big Agribusiness", but at what cost? U.N. researchers are warning that ethanol produced from agricultural feedstocks will cause a global food shortage, contributing to starvation in the third world.

But as long as big US Agribusiness (ADM et. al) gets rich and Ecomentalists are "saving the world". who really cares if a couple of million poor people starve? Maybe Exxon can learn to turn coal and oil into a synthetic food and sell that to them instead.

lunacydetector 10 years ago

do cars get better gas mileage with the 10% ethanol mix? i figured not but then again, it is 100 degrees outside.

CharliePeters 10 years ago

  • NO on California "car tax" AB118 (Nunez)

  • Clean Air Performance Professionals (CAPP) supports a Smog Check inspection & repair audit, gasoline oxygen cap and elimination of dual fuel CAFÃ credit to cut car impact over 50% in 1 year.

  • Some folks believe corn ethanol in gasoline increases oil use and oil profit

  • Ethanol uses lots of water

  • A Smog Check audit would cut toxic car impact in ½ in 1 year. Chief Sherry Mehl, DCA/BAR, has never found out if what is broken on a Smog Check failed car gets fixed, never

  • A corn ethanol waiver would stop a $1 billion California oil refinery welfare program coming from the federal government @ $0.51 per gallon of ethanol used

  • About 60,000 barrels per day of the oil used by cars is allowed by the "renewable fuel" CAFE credit

Clean Air Performance Professionals

hornhunter 10 years ago

With all of this corn going into fuel production, will it hurt the farmers triing to raise cattle? How about the cost of everthing else that corn produces?

Mkh 10 years ago

"Ethanol supplemented to existing fossil fuels reduces our use of fossil fuels now and in the future without changing anything other than requiring 10% (or perhaps greater) ethanol in all fossil fuel mixtures. This is not a permanent fix, but an immediate relief measure."


So what? 10% is a drop in the bucket, ethonal is achieving nothing. It takes an incredible amount of energy to produce ethonal and we get very little out of it. Do you know why you can only put 10% ethonal in your car? It's because if you put more it would destroy your engine. Therefore ethonal is not the answer.

Plus ethonal is rising the price of corn dramatically, hurting families across the board with a sharp increase in food costs.

Mkh 10 years ago


You're correct. But my point is still valid, and that is right now millions of older cars cannot properly take more than 10% ethanol. This of course is not a problem in newer or modified vehicles. I'm not claiming that Some cars cannot run on E85, but right now there are only 6 million vehicles that can. Obviously that is barely a blip on the radar screen.

But in reality that entire discussion is irrelavent. What we should be debating is whether or not we can afford to divert enough corn crop to produce the ethanol needed to power America's cars in the future. Plus what that would do to food prices.

I find it amusing that earlier today you were against ethanol and now you are defending it. Take your meds.

Sigmund 10 years ago

Agnostic, can I assume after reading my comments the only thing you found that sparked any intellectual response in you was the neologism? Can I assume you were equally disoriented and upset when you first heard the phrase "e-mail" or "blog?"

Sigmund 10 years ago

BTW, I show 174 hits for ecomentalist and why a few of my uses show up when you "google" (the act of searching for a word or a phrase on the interweb using a "search engine", specifically I have no idea whateva!

usesomesense 10 years ago

MKH - Hemp oil (and all biodiesel fuels that I have read about) REQUIRE ethanol to produce (or at least methanol, which is bad for groundwater). Biodiesel can not be used in the majority of vehicles on the road today.

Up to 25% ethanol can be used without any change to existing vehicles.

Do we chuck all of our existing vehicles in the landfill so we can use biodiesel?

Many things can be used to produce ethanol, not just corn. When corn is used, the resulting 'mash' is still used for animal feed.

If we're subsidizing farming we should be subsidizing the kind of farming we want to be done. If it pays to follow the rules, the rules will be followed.

lounger 10 years ago

Why can't people see it will be a host of things that will eventually get us away from oil? Not one "silver bullet" will do it. Ethanol, solar, biodeasel, wind and so on.

Mkh 10 years ago

usesomesense (Anonymous) says:

"MKH - Hemp oil (and all biodiesel fuels that I have read about) require ethanol to produce (or at least methanol, which is bad for groundwater). Biodiesel can not be used in the majority of vehicles on the road today.

Up to 25% ethanol can be used without any change to existing vehicles."


Ethanol and bio-desiel are two seperate things. Pure Corn ethanol cannot be used in most vehichles today either. You claim up to 25%, the highest figure I know of is 15%, but who knows, you might be correct. Either way though, my point is still valid. Methonal is bad for ground water, lol, what in the heck do you think corn production does to ground water?

You're still ignoring the point that I'm making, is this on purpose or a reading problem? Hemp is a much better alternative fuel that corn. Corn is a mistake and the resources and sudsidies should be instead used to start industrial Hemp farming all across America.

"Truth: If you have a regular engine, you can run 15% ethanol (E-15) right now, with no conversion. If you want to use 85% ethanol (E-85), you would need to have your engine converted or own a car that is a Flexible Fuel Vehicle (FFV)."

"What's the difference between ethanol and biodiesel?"

"Ethanol is an alcohol rather than an oil, where the primary substance that comprises it is a grain, usually corn, sometimes wheat or barley. Ethanol can come from many sources, but in the U.S., right now, it's mostly corn."

"Biodiesel is an oil-based fuel where the primary substance that comprises it is soybeans. Like ethanol, biodiesel can be made from other sources: recovered used cooking oil (which must be strained and processed to remove the glycerin), hemp seed oil (right on!), and other oils.",25

JSpizias 10 years ago

Ethanol is a scam foisted on a marginally scientifically literate populace by farm state politicians. Look at the thermodynamics to understand the feasibility of alternative fuels!

  1. If one does, one finds that, at best, production of ethanol is a process that takes almost as much energy input to produce it as is produced, and there are many who share the view that when all energy inputs of production are taken into consideration the net yield of usable energy is negative.

Basically, production of corn involves "mining" the soil, thus this is not a process that is "renewable". Production of high nitrogen fertilizers, required to produce high yields of corn, requires a tremendous energy input, most of which is from utilization of hydrocarbons. Production of ethanol, even from "biomass" by cellulosic conversion, can make only a limited contribution to world energy requirements. Also note that a gallon of ethanol has only about 80% of the energy content of a gallon of gasoline.

  1. There is lots of hoopla about what great things ethanol has done for Brazil. To find out what ethanol has actually contributed to Brazil's energy mix look at:

  1. Note also that those concerned about anthropogenic CO2 production and global warming have concerns about ethanol and biodiesel.

I should add that I share the skepticism of Freeman Dyson, physicist at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University regarding CO2 being the primary driver of global warming.

See also results of a survey of climate scientists on global warming:

Report below is available at the above URL. GKSS-report (Bray, D.; von Storch, H.) on "The perspectives of climate scientists on global climate change" is available as hard print and online....

In summary, I think that for the forseable future most of our energy will be from hydrocarbon combustion. Policy wise, we need an enhanced commitment to nuclear power, conservation, and to continue research on improving technology (wind, photovoltaics) that can make small but valuable contributions to our overall energy budget. One of the most important, and easily implemented, of these is conservation.

gr 10 years ago

"The notion that ethanol is a clean burning fuel is the first myth that should be debunked."

I guess I thought the combustion of ethanol gave "carbon dioxide, water, and heat". Could you show us what you found are the unclean products from burning ethanol?

Frederic Gutknecht IV 10 years ago

Am I to understand that we want to mine soil and water to increase our reliance on monocultures, pesticides and herbicides to reduce our reliance on oil? That makes perfect sense. Let's continue to do what we do best...funnel money into short sighted schemes that not only monetarily benefit those corporations already in power, but also increase our dependence on those corporations!~)

Sigmund 10 years ago


Ecomentalist, an mutant crossing between an "ecologist" and "environmentalist" exhibiting the most noxious, zealous, and radical traits of each. One willing to starve poor people by using farmland and water to produce a substance not as good as oil, to substitute for oil, in order to "save the planet." One who believes every creature on earth, except homo sapiens, is a part of natural world and would live in a perfect Garden of Eden, but for the existence of human beings.

Examples of an ecomnetalist can be found in Earth Liberation Front and Animal Liberation Front and are willing to harm or kill human beings to protect "Mother Earth", "Gaya", or "The Planet."

The term ecomentalist is considered a pejorative, and having recently come into usage is a neologism. While no one seems to know who coined or first used the term it certainly was not me. I heard it from a friend of mine, but unlike you instantly intuited its meaning from his usage. As far as I can determine there is no known usage of the term by Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, Neil Bortz, Bill O'Rielly, nor any other conservative media personality that I can think of or find.

My point with the phrases "e-mail", "googling", or "the Interweb" is that new words and phrases come into living languages all the time to describe new things or ideas in the culture. Often these terms are considered slang before gaining widespread acceptance appearing in Oxford English or Webster's Third New International Dictionary . As you appear to have an interest in lexicography, here is an interesting link.

Hope that helps and thanks for the complimenting my prose, you are much too kind.

Frederic Gutknecht IV 10 years ago

Agnostick, You are way too angry, arrogant and obnoxious for me to deal with you properly. Besides, my katana is having a few nicks polished out of it;~)

You may now proceed in your bloviation. I'm sorry that it's so infuriating for you to have no accounts like me fail to buy into your brand of the 'merican dream!~) I can't, though. Sorry. We're paying the same corporations for the same dream.

Thanks for reminding me that I belong off the grid, though...much appreciated.

Sigmund 10 years ago

On Ecomentalist and Fundamentalist

"Reacting yesterday to word that certain European governments and officials are suddenly trying to abandon their costly "global warming" policies (because NASA made a mistake on its global warming numbers, the 10 hottest years were actually in the 1930's with 1934 hottest of all), Royal Astronomical Society fellow Benny Peiser, of the science faculty at Liverpool John Moores University in Great Britain, recalls the teachings of Marcus Aurelius: "The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane."

So when your data is wrong, how accurate can your climate models be? "Garbage In, Garbage Recycled", to borrow a phrase.

British-born physicist Freeman Dyson has revealed three "heresies", two of which challenge the current scientific orthodoxy that anthropogenic carbon causes climate change.

"The models solve the equations of fluid dynamics, and they do a very good job of describing the fluid motions of the atmosphere and the oceans. They do a very poor job of describing the clouds, the dust, the chemistry and the biology of fields and farms and forests. They do not begin to describe the real world that we live in. The real world is muddy and messy and full of things that we do not yet understand. It is much easier for a scientist to sit in an air-conditioned building and run computer models, than to put on winter clothes and measure what is really happening outside in the swamps and the clouds. That is why the climate model experts end up believing their own models."

But hey, let's drain all the water in Kansas growing corn to turn into a product not as good as and more costly than oil, to run our vehicles. Let's do that even if it guarantees higher prices for food and water, and risking wide spread starvation of the Third World. Let's do all of this in the name of "saving the world" and let's subsidize Archer Daniels Midland and other Big Agribusinesses with our tax dollars in the process!

Yes I know, the Ecomentalist will call me a "Denier", the Fundamentalist will call me a "Sinner", and all because I don't I don't believe I need saving from either of their apocalyptic visions of the future. My only wish is to escape being be saved by the ranks of the insane.

gr 10 years ago

"The Ogallala water is fossil water"


Fossil water. Well, anyway, the idea was it was formed long ago. Given the rate it forms/collects, the amount there was, we could estimate when it started, right?

gr 10 years ago

"the water becomes trapped inside"

How do they know absolutely for sure that it's trapped and not being replenished nor depleted on it's own/naturally?

I was looking at and also didn't know what they would calibrate the water with. And, wouldn't limestone rock in the aquifer contribute CaCO3, messing the dates up?

Especially of interest here was the idea that in Stalagmites, "Carbon-14 levels were found to be twice as high as modern levels". Cave circumstances could be related with underground aquifers.

Ohh, this is so exciting! "could also affect estimates of how quickly the Earth can re-absorb the excess carbon dioxide generated by fossil fuels" "But Beck and colleagues believe that the ratio of stable and radioactive carbon in the atmosphere may have changed considerably over the last 50 thousand years." "But these effects are predictable and are thought to have changed little in the last million years - which means they cannot explain the glut of carbon-14."

CharliePeters 9 years, 10 months ago

Auto Club of Southern California

Oct 05, 2007 12:01 ET

Auto Club Asks Governor to Veto New $1 Billion Car Tax Bill

LOS ANGELES, CA--(Marketwire - October 5, 2007) - The Automobile Club of Southern California is urging Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to veto Assembly Bill 118. According to the Auto Club, this legislation would violate the state constitution by unfairly and unlawfully raising taxes on motorists to fund programs unrelated to automobile use, ownership or operation.

AB118, approved by the Legislature in September, would raise vehicle registration fees by $3 and increase smog abatement fees 66% by raising the fee on newer, cleaner cars to $20 annually. AB118 would cost motorists more than $150 million each year and well over $1 billion through the life of the bill.

"If AB118 is enacted, motorists alone would bear the cost of multi-million dollar programs addressing pollution problems that they did not cause," said Steve Lenzi, the Auto Club's senior vice president for public affairs. "The bill would provide grants and loans to private enterprise, including venture capitalists, and pay to retrofit or replace engines of heavy duty trucks and lawn mowers. While these programs may be laudable, they are not responsibility of the average motorist."

According to the Auto Club, this bill directly contradicts the wishes of voters. Many of the programs in AB118 are similar to those contained in Proposition 87, decisively rejected by voters in November 2006. Now, in what the Auto Club believes is a direct slap in the face of those voters, the bill seeks to transfer taxpayer dollars to private enterprise to pay for research and development efforts that these businesses would then benefit from financially.

AB118 does have sections that would benefit motorists, including a vehicle replacement program that the Auto Club believes has the potential to reduce vehicle-related air pollution even further. But according to the Auto Club, this one program does not justify an unwieldy and inappropriate scheme to burden motorists.

"This bill is inequitable and unlawful, and we urge the governor to do the right thing and veto the bill," Lenzi said.

CONTACT:, Carol Thorp or Jeffrey Spring, (714) 885-2333

Clean Air Performance Professionals

tangential_reasoners_anonymous 9 years, 10 months ago

The_Original_Bob says: "Ethanol bad. Too much money has been sunk into this boondogle. Unfortunately, that alone seems to be the reason why more money will be spent."

... and by "Ethanol," I take it that you mean "War in Iraq?"

(sorry... lost my way, again)

Commenting has been disabled for this item.