Archive for Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Scrap ethanol

August 15, 2012


To the editor:

Now is the time to scrap the failed ethanol fuel experiment. Not only is it a fuel source that cannot exist in the marketplace without massive government subsidies, but it uses a resource (corn) that is in shorter supply than ever and has increased in price by 50 percent in the last six weeks. Last year, ethanol production used 40 percent of the available domestic supply and, this year, more corn was used for it than for feed. Yet, it provides less than 1 percent of fuel used worldwide and it is still less efficient than other fuels.

Corn makes up a large portion of the 60 percent of our economy that relies on exports and, though the highest acreage since the 1930s was planted this year, the drought has severely impacted corn production. We may be beginning to feel it in the marketplace, but other countries will experience greater hunger and hunger-related diseases with the shortage.  Many world organizations have called for the suspension, or repeal, of the EPA-mandated ethanol use rules. Even the “green” lobby decries the deforestation that goes with the push for ethanol.

It would have been better if the government had hitched its wagon to natural gas vehicles than listening to the ethanol lobby. Change course now.


Bruce Bertsch 5 years, 10 months ago

What we need to do is not scrap ethanol, but corn ethanol. To do this the US would need to remove sugar price supports and allow the importation of sugar cane and cane ethanol from Brazil. The only advantage to using corn ethanol is the price of corn to growers.

Ron Holzwarth 5 years, 10 months ago

Some time ago I was told by someone that should be in a position to know that it takes more energy in Diesel fuel form to farm the corn, plus the additional energy to pump the water to irrigate it, than can be produced by burning ethanol fuel.

Plus the Ogallala aquifer is running low. That's not good.

The situation is different in Brazil, where ethanol fuel is produced from sugar cane. That is a practical way to produce and use ethanol fuel, but due to our climate we cannot grow it here.

A clip from a disreputable source, wiki: "There are no longer any light vehicles in Brazil running on pure gasoline. Since 1976 the government made it mandatory to blend anhydrous ethanol with gasoline, fluctuating between 10% to 22%."

There is an urban legend going around in some circles, and I don't know if it's factual or not, and that is that biofuels damage the valves in an internal combustion engine.

Taken all together, the use of corn to produce ethanol and then use it to supplement gasoline is regarded as a stupid joke in western Kansas, where I grew up and still have many connections to. But, because of the government subsidies, it actually is profitable to grow corn, sure, sell it to the highest bidder, that's capitalism at work.

But it's not efficient at all, and yes, natural gas is the way to go. A whole lot of farmers that grow corn that is then used to produce biofuel drive pickup trucks that are powered with propane, or sometimes, natural gas.

If you're a farmer, of course you're going to go for the highest profits you can, and when the U.S. government pays you to grow corn, yes, you'll grow the corn!

Ron Holzwarth 5 years, 10 months ago

It's certainly not the best source for any claim, because anyone can edit it.

It's much better to read what's on Wiki, then check the sources that were used by the latest person to edit the article. I didn't want to quote Wiki for any definitive claim, simply due to the fact that any number of unqualified persons can make any claim they want on it, and it might be a while before the errors are corrected.

fedxxx 5 years, 10 months ago

Reducing our nation’s dependence on foreign oil is one of the many reasons ethanol is so important to the goverment......

tolawdjk 5 years, 10 months ago

I thought we were a net exporter of refined products and a net importer of basic crude oil?

"Fuel oil" would be one of those refined products. But gold, Texas tea...we still bring in more than we bake homemade.

Ken Lassman 5 years, 10 months ago

I sure hope that the cellulosic ethanol research is going to be commercially fruitful. Then grass, wood chips and other non-food sources can be used instead of corn and a much more sustainable ethanol source can be sustainably grown here in the US. It would be nice if those corn ethanol plants could be retrofitted for cellulosic ethanol at that point so that the corn belt farmers could still benefit from sustainable ethanol.

While the energy output ratios are much better for sugar cane than corn, I'm not sure how sustainably sugar cane is produced. Converting brush and prairie into ethanol sounds much better in the long run.

Off-topic, I stopped at a drought dried out corn field in the area to look at the ears, and while the ears may be smaller than many years, it sure looked well worth harvesting.

hedshrinker 5 years, 10 months ago

Corn based ethanol should be done away with, in favor of other cellulose ethanol that isn't a food source, either for people or animals.. There have been unsustainable unintended consequences world wide as a result of this completely politically driven erroneous policy. this was a stupid idea in the first place, hugely supported by big agri business and will face massive lobbying until the conversion is made to other crops. This will require leadership and political will and long term vision all of which are in short supply in our political domain.

Mike Ford 5 years, 10 months ago

look to Iowa.....I heard on NPR a couple of years ago where a plant there used the corn byproduct from ethanol to feed livestock instead of using the speculated corn products thus saving money. If the dimwits at IBP in Emporia would've used that byproduct instead of actual corn who knows.....

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 10 months ago

Most of the current production of corn is used for unsustainable and/or unhealthy products, whether it's for high-fructose corn syrup, fatting up livestock in highly polluting feedlots that require massive use of antibiotics to feed Americans' addiction to an all-meat diet, or for the ethanol fuels mentioned in this letter. All of this requires massive inputs of fossil-derived fuels and chemicals, which itself is completely unsustainable and highly polluting.

Bottomline-- industrial agriculture needs drastic reform, and even replacement with a comprehensive return to family farms and locally based organic agriculture.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 10 months ago

"This country feeds the world, "

"This country doesn't to this by themselves, or without some of the practices you're complaining about.

"This country feeds the world, "

No, it doesn't. But I'll cut it close and say that his country supplies a very large percentage of the commodity grains that distort the worldwide agricultural market. Without heavy govt. subsidies, either directly to the growers and/or to the producers of the fossil-fuel/chemical feedstocks that this production depends on, food-deficient countries might learn to feed themselves on agricultural practices that fit local conditions, rather than imposing N. American and/or European techniques where they are inappropriate and ineffective.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 10 months ago

You want truth?

One of the clearest effects of NAFTA was to open up Mexico to heavily subsidized industrially produced corn from the US, which destroyed the livelihood of thousands of subsistence farmers and locally based agricultural economies.

Where did all those former farmers go? To the shanty towns of Mexico City and other large metropolitan areas, not just in Mexico, but also across the US border, seeking work wherever they could find it.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 10 months ago

OK, you want to believe in the myth of SuperAmericans, who must do everything for everyone in the world. Go ahead and revel in your ignorance.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 10 months ago

Hunger Games, by George Monbiot

"The poor will starve so that the rich can drive."

purplesage 5 years, 10 months ago

There are 76,100 BTUs in a gallon of ethanol compared to 114,000 BTUs in a gallon of gasoline. Hence, the mileage is not as good when burning ethanol or ethanol blended fuels. Most "gasoline" that we purchase at the pump is about 10% ethanol. A bill sneaked through the Kansas legislature a couple years back that allowed this lower concentration to be sold without advising the public that they are buying an ethanol-blended fuel. I have been told that it takes about a gallon of fossil fuel to convert grain to ethanol and then the price is subsidized. The retail gas station gets a government subsidy for each gallon of ethanol it sells.

My initial reaction was that of great, we have an abundance, we pay farmers not to grow crops on land, we can grow more corn for ethanol. But the result has not been a reduction of fuel prices. It has raised corn prices. And that affects world hunger. All things considered, I don't think ethanol is the answer!

Clara Westphal 5 years, 10 months ago

I remember seeing sugar cane fields in southern Texas when on vacation one year. So apparently sugar cane can be grown is the country. No need to import from Brazil.

One problem might be rat infestation. There were plenty of them in those sugar cane fields.

Clara Westphal 5 years, 10 months ago

Whoops. I meant can be grown in this country.

blindrabbit 5 years, 10 months ago

Corn growing lobby is creating this problem, ethanol can be produced from a variety of crops using much less water, thus utilizing corn production for more traditional uses. Sugar cane (for juice and bagass waste fibers) and sugar beets can be grown in many areas of the US, but the incentive toward ethanol production is not there There used to be a viable sugar beet industry in Western Kansas, around Goodland (Holly Sugar) and had a sugar refinery there. Hemp has been prooven to be a good crop for this purpose and if grown as a "low grade" variety would be a good crop for many area is the US, but the Feds will not allow it. Dubya used to talk about using switchgrass for such purpose, have not heard about that lately. I've even heard that kudzu "the plant that ate the South" is a good possibility, fast growth rate, good yield for ethanol production. Biggest problem, the US unlike Brazil, does not have a effective federal energy policy, we just flounder around ignoring the problem even though viable solutions are apparent.

Liberty275 5 years, 10 months ago

"'Nat Gas' is the future."

Not even close. You can slap a CNG system onto a car, but it won't get near the mileage some of the newer direct injection gasoline cars get.

Besides, have you ever used CNG? You know dumb people have to open a bleeder valve to fill the tank, right? That's a little more complicated than most people can handle.

blindrabbit 5 years, 10 months ago

Natural gas is a partial answer, but it is not a renewable, eventually it will become more scarce and thus limiting. People used to think helium would never run out, used for everything from fun balloons to duck talk fun. Now, helium another non-renewable is in serious depletion and the government needs to restrict it's frivilous use and conserve for truly needed purposes. Renewables are the long-term answer, wind, solar, tidal, agricultural energy producers, and many others.

tbaker 5 years, 10 months ago

Much like wind energy, ethanol would not exist were it not for government subsidies. If net carbon footprint is the measurement, both are bad for the environment compared to traditional sources of energy, and both are wasteful government spending for the ever-shrinking tax paying minority. I say we pull the plug on all the government subsidies and let these industries compete in the marketplace with everything else. If the government wants to subsidize alternative transportation fuels that are much cleaner for the environment and a lot cheaper per unit of energy than gasoline, they should be promoting compressed natural gas.

Liberty275 5 years, 10 months ago

Ethanol has it's usages. If your car has 15:1 compression it's pretty good stuff except for the corrosion and hygroscopy.

OTOH, I think it's pretty dumb to fuel your car instead of have food. We should stop the ethanol craze, go back to unleaded and use our own oil in our cars and save our food for our tables.

tbaker 5 years, 10 months ago

Speaking of fail, demagoguery is not a substitute for fact.

Per unit of energy, gasoline is “cleaner” than ethanol and much more economical.

Per unit of energy, CNG is even more environmentally friendly than ethanol and an order of magnitude cheaper.

As a transportation fuel, CNG technology has been around for decades. My grandpa ran his pickup on it in the 60s and 70s. It’s ready to be the bridge between fossil fuels and the next generation fuels when they come on line in 10-20 years. It will improve air quality immediately and provide consumers a 30-40% reduction in transportation fuel costs. Think of the economic “stimulus” that increase in Americans’ disposable income will provide.

Ethanol (from US corn) is a failure economically and environmentally. On top of the environmental impact, it makes no sense to keep pouring money into another failed government boondoggle especially when we have to borrow 40 cents of every dollar we spend.

tbaker 5 years, 10 months ago

Ah yes...the Volt.

The coal-powered car.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 10 months ago

But they could just as easily be solar or wind powered, if we have the political will to make it happen.

Ron Holzwarth 5 years, 10 months ago

I suddenly remembered something that I saw in the 1980s. It was in a magazine that was published during World War II, when gasoline was strictly rationed.

A farmer had installed a wood burning stove in the back of his pickup, and was burning wood to make steam to power it. So, he wasn't limited by the gas rationing at all.

But the point was made that the range of the vehicle was rather limited, and it did take a while to fire it up to go somewhere. And then when he ran out of wood, he could just about always find enough twigs and dead branches to go farther, at no cost at all. But it probably was a lot of work.

I think that the eventual first real solution to our nation's energy needs will be the use of coal.

Sure, many people say that there's no such thing as "clean coal", but those people need to be reminded that it was definitely scientifically proven in the 1700s, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that a speed of a mile a minute, that is, 60 mph, could never be attained because the vibrations that such a speed would produce would break every bone in the human body. And, getting to the moon? Totally impossible.

With a century or two of experimentation, I simply cannot believe that it will not be possible to pulverize coal, and then with some refining, produce a very clean burning fuel.

And maybe in about 400 years, assuming our technological culture survives, many new ways will be developed to collect energy in ways that are totally impractical today.

tbaker 5 years, 10 months ago

I love the breathless stammering of the intellectually constipated statist liberals who can’t understand why they lack the ability to form a cogent argument in favor of wind, solar, and ethanol when confronted with facts to the contrary. I think the appeal of these ideas must be the fact they are failures. Promoting a successful approach to energy is just not something they identify with.

Everyone agrees crude-oil based fuels for ground transportation are harmful in many different ways and need to be replaced. Totally clean, renewable sources of transportation fuel are not practical in their current state of evolution. CNG is a much better alternative and is available now. It should be used to get us off crude oil until the other technologies finally mature to the point they are viable.

If carbon footprint is the yardstick, than Ethanol is more harmful to the environment per unit of energy than gasoline is, not to mention what it does to grocery prices and tax payer’s wallets.

Like corn ethanol, wind and solar wouldn’t exist without government subsidies. In an era where less than 50% (and shrinking) of the population pays income taxes and 40% (and growing) of every dollar the government spends is borrowed, is it wise to pour money into energy ideas that cannot stand on their own merits in the market place – not to mention the net negative impact on the environment wind and solar produce.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 10 months ago

And use of CNG at the levels you propose won't exist without massive use of groundwater, and the pollution of the same, which in and of itself is a massive externalized cost, AKA, subsidy.

Your proposed free lunch isn't any freer than the others you deride with so much bald assertion.

Frederic Gutknecht IV 5 years, 10 months ago

I quit reading all this tripe. Any idiot who believes that corn, black gold, wind or switchgrass can save this world is...what I said. idiot. We need to reduce the population of this planet. Everyone who ignores this is a total moron. Overpopulation is our biggest problem and our greatest fault. We've got 7 billion people demanding their rights and just due with no resources at our store of knowledge. I hope the powers that be are holding resources back for our desolate day. Those who control the world seem able to appease all idiots, but that won't last for long unless they anihilate all educative processes.That definitely seems to be part of the kill education and discontent. It seems appeasement and ignoRANT exploitation will not end. ALL will be catered to in voice but not in kind. The wealthy will have us all on their ropes and in their sights. Pray for the souls of your brethren. It will do no good. Your voice is stolen and corrupted. The politicians are all after your soul or your lack thereof. You give it away and they greedily take the goods of the soiled, slothful and corrupted humans you hate..and portray. ...And there is no soul. There is no truth. There is now only belief. And due to your arrogant nature and minimal power, it is the poorest master and only a lame game pretending to fool those poorer than yourself, who still imagine imaginary wealth, the same as you. Those who you hate...winning and losing. Those who make you a fool in time, lost in the ways of the current proclivities...lost in belief...lost in this failure...lost in the spouting of lies and the purchase of souls pressed into your bidding for political wealth...that...that spells the truth they've lost...and spells out most clearly...that... you will lose.

Frederic Gutknecht IV 5 years, 10 months ago

You play your way. I'll play mine. We're idiots...all in place and time...

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