The Twilight of Ethanol?


#1

The latest issue of Business Week magazine has some particularly interesting information in an article titled, “Corn farmers sweat as Congress threatens to cut its support of ethanol”.

It seems that The EPA has proposed that the amount of ethanol added to gasoline be CUT!
Simultaneously, Senators Tom Coburn (R–OK) and Dianne Feinstein (D–CA) are co-sponsoring a bill to ELIMINATE the requirement for ethanol to be blended into gasoline!

My God…Is an attack of bi-partisanship breaking out in DC?
Or, even more surprising, is common sense actually being used in the halls of Congress?

Of course, the governor of Iowa is threatening to sue, but–since ethanol has been a cash cow (albeit a highly flawed one) for his state, I guess that we shouldn’t be surprised if he does have his state file suit in order to continue to make everyone use ethanol.

What underlies this situation is the reality that The US is now a net exporter of crude oil, and an application has been filed with The Commerce Department to allow US oil companies to export gasoline. Since we now–and for the foreseeable future–appear to have a more than sufficient supply of petroleum, there is no reason for us to continue to be forced to fuel our cars with ethanol in any amount.

One of the “talking heads” whom I saw interviewed recently on Bloomberg TV stated that The US will achieve a positive trade balance w/in the next year or two, and this is due to both the greatly increased production of petroleum in this country and to a resurgence of manufacturing in some parts of The US. This is surely good news, and it just helps to buttress the idea that we no longer need to be handcuffed to the farce of corn-based ethanol.

I suggest that all of us write or call our US Senators to voice support for the Coburn-Feinstein bill!


#2

We can only hope.


#3

The US is NOT a net exporter of oil!!! It is still nearly 5 million barrels per day SHORT of that and will not likely ever be a net exporter again. North American self-sufficiency in oil is on the horizon, however, with Mexico and Canada supplying the 5 million barrel per day shortfall. A net exporter of ENERGY, expressed in Barrels of Oil Equivalent (BOE), YES. That’s counting all the BTUs in the COAL the US produces an exports, as well as refined oil products, natural gas and uranium.

There is an underlying reason for the softpedaling of ethanol; the truth is gradually dawning that land will be needed in the future to grow food, and ethanol production from corn is very inefficient. I attended a renewable energy workshop lately and no one endorsed plant based fuels as a viable future sorce of energy for motor fuels. One of the panelists is on Obama’s energy advisory committee. Generating power from agricultural wastes had has merit.

Many scientist are now echoing that biofuelss are a Crime Against Humanity. Politicians are sensible to public opinion.


#4

“The US is NOT a net exporter of oil!”

I am merely quoting one of the “talking heads” interviewed each day on Bloomberg TV.
These guys (and some women) are almost always analysts at a major brokerage firm or a money management firm who are supposed to be experts in the segment of the market on which they are commenting.

He may be correct, or you may be correct, and I don’t know who is correct.

But…in any event…I still think that it is a good idea to voice support for the Coburn-Feinstein bill to end the requirement that ethanol be added to gasoline in The US.


#5

The US department of energy is correct, as is the Internatioanl Energy Agency. Both will confirm that oil self sufficiency is not the same and overall energy self sufficiency.

Thes talking heads shoot their mouth of frequently since they are not experts in the energy business at the grass roots level.

Independence of Middle East oil is entirely possible for the US. Mexico has recently opened up exploration to foreign firms and this is good news indeed.

Very much agree with you on ending bio fuels support. Biodiesel use in Europe, for instance, is causing massive jungle deforestation in Malaysia and Indonesia.


#6

Not to worry. The lobbyists for the ethanol producers is powerful enough to block this good but ill-fated legislation. I commend Tom Coburn and Diane Feinstein for the attempt, however. There’s far too little actual common sense in the beltway.


#7

Unfortunately, how we got into the ethanol mess is often overlooked. Originally ethanol was a substitute oxygenator for MTBE, not a fuel source in itself until the ethanol industry realized it had a golden goose and everyone else forgot why ethanol was there in the first place: for smog control, not to replace gasoline.

So if the Senate rolls back the ethanol blend requirement, what’s the alternative for fuel oxygenation? can’t go back to MTBE. Do we just use less ethanol? i don’t know what the minimum ethanol content is for smog control.

Maybe there are parts of the country that don’t need oxygenates in order to meet EPA standards, but where I’ve lived (Denver, CA, etc) they do.


#8

I think another use for MTBE and ethanol are as octane enhancers, replacing lead. The pollution reduction benefits are minimal in modern cat-equipped cars, it’s the octane needs that will keep some level of ethanol needed. A recent study indicated zero overall air pollution benefits to adding ethanol.


#9

The US is an exporter of gasoline. Gasoline is in surplus but only because our imports from Canada and elsewhere allow us to. It’s good economics for the refineries. I just don’t like using crude from shale oil which I believe uses too much ground water to refine. I would rather see more research using other methods. Ground water is too precious. Otherwise…
I’m all in favor of not using ethanhol in gasoline, as long as we can continue to make transportation more efficient and slowly reduce our need for petro based fuel over time. A replacement can be economically found…or at least, used minimally as an oxygenate only. I don’t mind a healthy debate of scientific facts. I just don’t like it when one side or the other refutes science for their own cause.


#10

I’m not in favor of banning ethanol, just eliminating the required use. I’d eliminate MTBE (it’s not used much now, I think), so if it makes sense to use ethanol for octane, that’s fine.

This would be after they eliminate the ‘impossible’ requirements for cellulosic ethanol, something that can’t be economically made (so far), even though the regulations assume it can.


#11

“The lobbyists for the ethanol producers is powerful enough to block this good but ill-fated legislation”.
@the_same_mountainbike–I wish these lobbyists would have to start my 2 stroke rototiller or send me money to purchase the pre-mixed 50:1 non-ethanol fuel that costs about $5 a liter. I tried everything I could think of to start that tiller easily–new plug, etc. I didn’t remember having any trouble starting the LawnBoy mower we had back in the 1950s and its fuel/oil ration was 16:1. I finally concluded that it was the 10% ethanol mixture in the gas. I bought the non-ethanol fuel and the starting problem disappeared. Even though I have never had trouble starting my two stroke snowblower, I bought the premixed 50:1 fuel that doesn’t contain ethanol and it fired right up when I needed it last week after sitting all summer.
I also remember that my 1978 Oldsmobile which had been a quick starting car suddenly took a spell where it had to be cranked a long time to fire up when the engine was warm. My wife suggested that it might be the gasoline and that the station where we bought the fuel had just switched to a 10% ethanol mix. I began purchasing the fuel at a station that didn’t have the ethanol mix and the problem disappeared. In more recent years, all that is available is the ethanol mix (10%). It must have something blended in because the Oldsmobile didn’t have the starting issue. However, my little rototiller sure has the issues with the 10% blend.


#12

I wish the pols that pass these laws and the regulators that spend their lives generating more & more damaging regulations would pay for the damage they do. Ah, but there I go dreaming again. Forgive me.

Happy Holidays


#13

Recent Scientific American, science note: takes 1 unit of energy input o get 1.2 units of energy from corn ethanol. Ethanol from cane is more efficient.

Why Coburn (R-OK) because OK is the delivery hub for crude and products. Refiners, oil producers and auto users are by far bigger than corn and ethanol producers. Refiners and producers are being squeezed by declining liquid prices (oil abundance) and declining liquid use (higher efficiency cars/trucks/trains/airplanes.


#14

MS.Feinstein,is to be commended for a burst of common sense,hope she has the Presidents ear-Kevin


#15

Local gas station recently opened new bank of “E” pumps. E10, E15,E30, E85. I assume they are premixed? Why not have 1tank of pure ethanol and meter it into bulk gas? U can have any blend? Computers on car determine ratio and take it from there.


#16

@Cavell:

You could do that, but the “ethanol” tank would probably be E85, not E100. BATFE is particular about having all alcohol denatured to prohibit diversion. The simplest and cheapest denaturant is gasoline.


#17

Ethanol was originally substituted for MTBE as an octane enhancer. Underground storage tanks were leaking and MTBE was getting into ground water. MTBE is a stable chemical and would not break down, thus poisoning drinking water. I doubt that ethanol as an octane enhancer will stop, but at least we have good reason to believe that widespread use of E15 and E20 won’t be instituted.


#18

@longprime Can you expand on that? Is that total energy input, from seed planting to gas tank, or is it just the energy input at the ethanol plant?


#19

We still need an oxygenater in our gas. It can be either MTBE or Ethanol. MTBE is NASTY stuff and can easily get into ground water. Ethanol while also nasty evaporates or breaks down easily enough that it doesn’t seem to pollute our ground water.


#20

I don’t use ethanol gasoline in our cars when I can avoid it; fortunately have access to non-ethanol gasoline in farm country here in WI but keep in mind that distillers grain, remaining after the ethanol production process is done, is not wasted; is fed to farm animals.

Don’t worry about the corn farmer. Check out the following web site. I have found the names of well-to-do people who own farmland who neither own or drive a tractor who are on the gravy train. http://farm.ewg.org/www.ewg.org