December 22 2010

Ethanol: No End in Sight

Ethanol is the most widely used biofuel in the transportation sector. In 2010, the US government mandated the use of 12.6 billion of ethanol. From Reuters:

U.S. biofuels use is supposed to increase annually, rising from nearly 13 billion gallons this year to 36 billion gallons in 2022.

This increase is planned regardless of the economic and environmental harm that accompanies the production, distribution, and consumption of corn-based ethanol. On the bright side, the media is covering the issue much more widely, increasing public awareness of the stupidity that is the U.S. ethanol policy. NPR publishes a very informative 3-part series this week on the "green" fuel:

Part 1: Ethanol Gets A Boost; Will It Return The Favor?

Ethanol production creates few domestic jobs and these come at a huge cost. Ethanol also uses more fuel in its production than it creates. Nevertheless:

Lawmakers gave companies a tax credit - currently 45 cents a gallon, more than $5 billion a year - for blending ethanol with gasoline. The EPA forces fuel blenders to use billions of gallons of ethanol a year.  And there's also a high tariff on imports - giving ethanol triple support.

Part 2: Fuel Vs Food: Ethanol Helps Boost The Price Of Meat

When it comes to raising meat, eggs and dairy, feed is the biggest cost. And, most likely, that feed is corn.

For years, the livestock industry was the main buyer of cheap and plentiful corn. Then came the ethanol mandate in 2005. Ultimately, the government required that Americans use about 13 billion gallons of ethanol in 2010. And the way we make ethanol here? Yep, you know this one: corn.

To further boost using corn to fuel your car, Congress created subsidies paying gasoline blenders for every gallon they blend with ethanol.

Not surprisingly, since the ethanol mandate was enacted five years ago, the ethanol industry's corn consumption has tripled. Our cars now burn up a third of the nation's corn crop.

Part 3 will air tomorrow on the Morning Edition. How much worse can it get?

Update: 

Part 3: NASCAR Gives Ethanol Green Flag; Who will Follow?

For years, ethanol has been used as a fuel additive to boost octane. But at higher blends, Dreva says, ethanol makes engines knock. And, he says, "a gallon of gasoline will take your vehicle a lot farther along down the road than a gallon of ethanol will."

[...]

To test ethanol fuel efficiency, Dan Edmunds - director of vehicle testing for auto-research siteEdmunds.com - twice drove from San Diego to Las Vegas and back in a flex-fuel car. First, he fueled up with standard E10 gasoline.

"On gasoline, we made the round trip with 36.5 gallons of gasoline," Edmunds says.He then repeated the trip using E85, with 85 percent ethanol. The fuel is available in small pockets throughout the country."And on E85, it took 50 gallons - 37 percent more fuel to make the round trip," Edmunds says. "Same distance, same vehicle."

To sum it all up, the triple support ethanol receives is a bad idea. Corn-based ethanol:

  1. Burdens taxpayers
  2. Increases the prices of meat, eggs, dairy, and other foods
  3. Uses more fossil fuels in its production than it replaces during its consumption
  4. Might hurt your car's, or your gasoline-powered equipment's engine
  5. Gives you fewer miles for your buck than gasoline

Congress ought to not only scrap the whole darn ethanol subsidy, but it ought to end the entire ethanol-support-trifecta of subsidies, trade protections, and usage mandates.

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