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Is ethanol a scam?

If you think so, tell us where and when it becomes one.

I’ll start: Ethanol in the USA has been oversold. It helps corn farmers make more money, but I doubt that it is a cost effective replacement for gasoline, even as E85. The cost of E85 vs. the reduced mileage doesn’t do anything but make money for ethanol distillers and corn farmers that participate.

I think the story is different in Brazil, where they can grow sugar cane densely enough and cheaply enough that it can be a reasonable replacement for gasoline. When it becomes feasible to extract ethanol from plant stalks on a large scale, then it may be an attractive option here.

If producing ethanol uses farm land and valuable water then yes – the third world starves while we drive cars. Corn or sugar beat ethanol requires a huge amount of water to produce.

Algae-based bio diesel is another story. IT uses desert land that can not be used to grow crops and is closed-cycle to minimize water usage.


I agree completely that corn-based ethanol is one of the biggest scams of our day.

If we already had the technology for cellulosic-based ethanol (utilizing prairie grasses), or if we had the ability to produce sugar cane-based ethanol like Brazil, things might be different.

However, as things stand right now, IMHO, corn-based ethanol is no more and no less than a boondoggle that is supported by weak-willed members of both political parties simply to pander to the voters of Iowa and other corn-producing states.

P.S. Don’t use E-85 in your Bentley Brooklands, Mr. Sanders!

Ethanol production uses a valuable resource, water, increases the price of a basic subsistence food product, decreases gas mileage, and may be ungreen in opposition to no ethanol in gas.

Agree; the scam part is misleading citizens that it really does reduce net CO2 emissions. Corn growing absorbs CO2 from the atmosphere, so it must be good. The real driver is farm votes.

The net energy balance for ethanol in the US and Europe is not very good. Between the fertilizer used, the fuel for farm vehicles, fuel used for irrigation and transporting the stuff in trucks (there are no ethanol pipelines) the ratio is about 75 units of energy used for every 100 produced.

Ethanol from sugar cane as used in Brazil has a very high net energy return, since the whole plant is used, no irrigation is needed, and very little fertilzer is used. The waste product is a combination of cattle feed, boiler fuel, and organic matter being returned to the soil.

The Brazilan program was not driven by farm votes, but by the 1974 energy crisis, which nearly bankrupted Brazil and made them look for doemestic sources of fuel. As luck would have it they also discovered a lot of oil offshore and Brazil’s fuel mix is now 40% ethanol (pure) and ther rest gasoline, natural gas, propane and diesel. It’s fascinating to pull up to a “gas” station there, since you have a choice of 5 different fuels. Most cars are dual fuel, and can run on ethanol or gasoline. My taxi ran on CNG, compressed natural gas, which the government pushes for downtown, short trip, applications

I know the initial intent was to get the fuel we use, here at home AND be renewable.
So they ran with the ethanol idea.

Now we see how much trouble it really is in actual daily practice and how un-green it can result ( ie; excessive water usage to produce , highly different operating systems for the equipment to use it , taking up valuable food producing acreage. )

Then politics got involved ! :frowning:

Just because an alternative is DIFFERENT doen’t make it BETTER.

You could ask the same question about many “alternative forms of energy”. I always wonder if politicans hear themselves when they say “we are going to try it all, wind, solar, geo, nukes, etc”? you can’t put full effort in trying every form to its maximum, some forms need to be ruled out at the “brainstorm sort out level”

Yes, it’s a scam. I’ve believed this from day one.

I’ll copy from a recent post from one of our new posters, Goldwing. Goldwing, I tip my hat to you for your post and beg that you take my plagerism as a compliment.

David Pimental, a leading Cornell University agricultural expert, has calculated that powering the average U.S. automobile for one year on ethanol (blended with gasoline) derived from corn would require 11 acres of farmland, the same space needed to grow a year’s supply of food for seven people. Adding up the energy costs of corn production and its conversion into ethanol, 131,000 BTUs are needed to make one gallon of ethanol. One gallon of ethanol has an energy value of only 77,000 BTUS. Thus, 70 percent more energy is required to produce ethanol than the energy that actually is in it. Every time you make one gallon of ethanol, there is a net energy loss of 54,000 BTUs.

Mr. Pimentel concluded that “abusing our precious croplands to grow corn for an energy-inefficient process that yields low-grade automobile fuels amounts to unsustainable subsidized food burning”.

Not only is it a scam, it’s the same OLD scam we dealt with back in the 70s gas crisis era. Ethanol from corn was claimed to be the solution back then, lots of distilleries got built, lots of taxpayer money wasted, they all went bankrupt, just like many have today. Proof? My close relative helped design those old plants, moved on to a new job, was hired back by the same firm this go round to help design the SAME plants, with minor improvements.

And yes, algae will hopefully be an improvement, but it’s a long way from reality at this point.

The scam part of this whole endeavor, is not the ethanol inclusion as an alternative energy source, but that other alcohol based fuels including methanol, are not part of the overall mix and that flex fuel cars are not part of the norm, but the exception. If the public realized the possibilities of an entire cottage industry potential, that exists right under their noses that would make petrol competition with more viable alternative energy sources, they would be less reluctant in the use of ethanol. Ethanol is a reasonable alternative, but not under todays rules.

“P.S. Don’t use E-85 in your Bentley Brooklands, Mr. Sanders!”

Only premium for this twin turbo!

I would not call it a scam, nor would I support it.

I am a big believer in giving every possibility a chance. Frankly I doubt if ethanol is the answer. I believe it is time to end it as an experiment, by phasing out all direct and in-direct government support.

Only if someone can make a good logical case for continuing support it is time to get out. BTW I don’t believe that “It helps the farmers” as a logical reason.

Same goes for hybrids etc. They are doing well and I believe they may find a part in the market mix after the phase out of government support.

It may well take the kick in the pants of a disappearing support, to get them going mainstream.

As for the original question, I would not call it a scam, but is not proving to be a viable direction at this time. Maybe different in a few more years.

What about switch grass Ethanol? It doesn’t require watering and can be grown on land not used for crops.

That’s a great point. The corn (farm) lobby is impeding progress in this area. However, where my mother grew up in Illinois, it is amazing to see all the corn fields where the corn is not a type that is made for human consumption. This corn was always the type that is not meant for human consumption, so I don’t think it competes with food supplies. It was either used for animal feed or corn byproducts before it was used for Ethanol.

Here’s my reply to the original question.

Corn-based Ethanol has become a scam because of the powerful farm/corn lobby. However, Ethanol itself isn’t a scam. The Brazilians have proven it can be done, if you are willing to do it the right way.

Those of you who fail or refuse to distinguish between corn-based Ethanol and other types of Ethanol are getting tunnel vision. You are starting to believe your own press.

Like many issues, I refuse to throw out the baby with the bathwater. The answer to bad government isn’t no government. The answer to bad government is good government. We have seen what happens in the Gulf of Mexico when companies are left to do business unregulated or under-regulated. We have known this since Teddy Roosevelt busted the trusts more than 100 years ago. Similarly, if we could make a course correction in Ethanol production, and ignore the corn lobby, we might just get it right.

Well, I still would call that a food source, for the cows, then us, or for the byproducts which we eventually consume. The amount of gasoline and diesel and other petuoleum products needed to make a BTU of ethanol is close to a BTU of oil. Really next to zero net gain to speak of.

For every gallon of ethanol burned, one less gallon of imported oil is burned…That, by itself, makes it worthwhile…The money stays HERE. Growing corn is MUCH safer then drilling under 5000 feet of water…

Nope, we burn somewhere between 0.8 and 1.2 btus worth of oil for every btu of ethanol, in fuel to run the farm, make fertilizer, ship the grain, etc. Very little, if any reduction in oil use. One reason grain prices spiked (besides the artificial demand for grain created by making ethanol) was the big runup in fuel prices. Where’d I hear this? The very ethanol boosters who were arguing for ethanol.

Yup. The big energy demand in producing ethanol is the distillation process which is mostly fueled by domestically produced natural gas, not imported oil…Efficient, no…

Every year, the “Farm Bill” cost taxpayers $280 Billion dollars in agricultural subsidies…So when you pull up to the pump, you are getting some of your money back…

I don’t think anyone is going to starve if we have to use a substitute for high-fructose corn syrup, or if there aren’t as many bags of Doritos on the shelf. As for feeding the cows, they aren’t all corn-fed.