Skip to comments.CORN ETHANOL IS MORE GOV'T IDIOCY
Posted on 10/06/2011 6:14:29 AM PDT by shortstop
Should we use ethanol for fuel?
Should we use corn to make that ethanol?
Sure, we want to get over our need for foreign oil. Sure, we want to find a renewable fuel for our vehicles. Sure, ethanol could work just fine.
But dont make it from corn.
Heres what Im talking about. The president and a bunch of powerful people in Congress have been working over recent years to hold up corn-based ethanol as the answer to our future energy-supply needs.
When he talks about it, the president says corn-based ethanol is our only hope of escaping the evils of OPEC. He says the only way we can ever become energy independent is through ethanol made from corn.
First of all, if energy independence is truly the objective if our number one priority is freeing ourselves of foreign oil the best and easiest option is to drill for our own. We have plenty of oil in Alaska and off the American coast. Environmentalists have that oil tied up and it sits now, wasted and unused beneath a mountain of fear and threatened lawsuits.
But about ethanol.
It is a biofuel created by fermentation. Essentially, you take something with some sort of sugar in it and you let yeast do its magic and voila you have something that can be coaxed into being a pretty good fuel.
The two biggest producers of ethanol for fuel in the world are the United States and Brazil. In Brazil its made from sugar cane and in the United States its made from corn.
Thats because Brazil has lots of sugar cane and the United States has lots of lobbyists.
Seriously. America makes its ethanol out of corn because corn farmers and corn-state politicians have lots of pull. If ethanol is made out of corn, the demand for and price of corn goes up dramatically and corn farmers and giant corn-processing companies make lots and lots of money.
The downside is that that lots and lots of money comes right out of the family budgets of lots and lots of people.
Thats because people eat corn.
And because some of the most productive farmland in America and, consequently, in the world is growing corn.
Right now, corn is an elemental staple of the American diet. We eat it processed in myriad ways. It is all through our food supply. And it is all through the food supply of the animals we eat.
So if the price of corn goes up because the ethanol-driven demand for corn goes up then the price of a large portion of the American diet will go up. Everything from corn flakes to soda pop to ground chuck will cost more.
And that will hurt.
But that wont be the end of it.
As demand for corn increases, farmers will move increased acreage into corn production. You grow on your land the crop that will bring you the highest rate of return. Excluding marijuana. With ethanol demand, corn will pay better than most anything else a farmer can plant.
So fields that might otherwise be in other vegetables, grains and fodders will be pushed into corn production. The impact of that on the family food budget is that with fewer acres being planted into those other vegetables, grains and fodders, their supply will be decreased and their price will be increased.
That means corn-based ethanol bites your familys budget in two ways.
And thats exactly why great political pressure is being brought against our government to get it to continue to emphasize corn-based ethanol. Thats too bad because it is diverting attention away from alternative sources of ethanol.
Instead of using a prime food commodity for fuel, we should explore ways to generate ethanol from lower-value sugar and cellulose sources. Certain types of seemingly valueless grasses can be processed into ethanol. Advancing the technology to do that makes more sense than tapping into our food and food-producing topsoil.
Brazil uses sugar cane to make ethanol, and Brazilian biofuel is considered better than American biofuel. And while we may not want to put too many eggs in the sugar cane basket, its success is proof that theres more than one way to skin a cat and more than one way to grow fuel for our cars.
So, ethanol is a great idea.
But corn-based ethanol is a terrible idea.
I love farmers, and appreciate what they do. But making farmers rich cant be the priority of our national policy that policy should be focused on making fuel and keeping family food budgets in line.
Until 80 years ago, most of our transportation was fueled by the soil it came in the form of grass and hay that fed our horses. In the future we may go back to the soil again for our fuel.
But we will be better off if that is from low-value grasses instead of high-value corn.
It cost me $ to fix my older car because some gas station are less than honest about their ethanol content.
It cost me more at the feedstore because corn is so friggin’ high.
It cost me $ because every 2 years I have to buy a new lawnmower, despite near OCD-like maintenance. (Never had that problem until recently.)
The MPG leaves a lot to be desired as well.
Cost, cowboy, the stuff costs me dearly.
Thanks - another fact that is always ignored. In fact I know of one company which has created new jobs by processing DDGS from an ethanol plant into a high-value hog feed that is being exported almost exclusively to China, where hog production is huge.
Unfortunately, ethanol is one of those things on FR were internet meme and the echo-chamber are seen as substitutes for independent research and analysis.
One of you chemists/engineers do the math for the rest of us.
How much energy does it take to produce a unit of ethanol? I think that cost is the big hidden item. Until someone posts a useable figure, let’s say ethanol costs (in terms of gallons of gasoline or BTU equivalents) oh, maybe .5 gal gasoline/per gallon ethonal, then we can create an equation that shows just how much MORE ethanol costs than just 40% less efficient than a gallon of regualr gasoline....
I’d be interested in the overall utility cost of ethanol per gallon from bare ground to end-state MPG in a E85 burning vehicle....
I will bet though, that it is much, much more than a gallon of gasoline costs to produce-even from our overseas monopolistic sources....
let us know, petro chemist!
I have a chemistry background but you don't need that to do the math.
People never knew or they forgot that the ultimate goal was not/is not to produce ethanol from corn.
The goal is to produce cellulosic alcohol, which requires new technology.
The decision to kick off with corn alcohol was to get cash flow to defray R and D costs.
The math on producing alcohol from switch grass or corn stalks is different from alcohol from corn.
This has been a hot topic in the last couple of weeks because one of the corn alcohol producers has developed cellulosic technology and Obama wants to give them a loan guarantee to build the plant.
The only reason we even have that now is because the corn growers literally invented a market for their excess produce.
And they continually lobby their representatives to "protect" their interests.
Ethanol contains energy that may have a market. For example a tractor may be designed to run on ethanol, or a water heater, space heater. This will make some consumers independent from the world oil prices. But to mandate it was a mistake.
Every thing likes water. Right now 14% of your exhaust is water. I have yet to see an unvarnished breakdown on the cost of producing ethanol. I have seen costs on producing ethanol blended gas. And imo it's full of politics and spin. The blender gets ~$2 a gallon while the producer gets a ~$0.10 credit. And the farmer is painted as a gouger.
All told, it takes a barrel of oil to produce a barrel of ethanol.
Can you break it down into components? I like detials, a bit at least.
This has been posted many times. the latest is ...
Study: Ethanol Production Consumes Six Units Of Energy To Produce Just One
.........According to his research, more fossil energy is used to produce ethanol than the energy contained within it......