Inconvenient Study: Biofuels not as ‘green’ as many think – may be worse than Gasoline

From the “road to hell is paved with good intentions” department:

Biofuels not as ‘green’ as many think

Go back to basics when calculating the greenhouse impact and carbon neutrality of biofuels, researchers urge

Statements about biofuels being carbon neutral should be taken with a grain of salt. This is according to researchers at the University of Michigan Energy Institute after completing a retrospective, national-scale evaluation of the environmental effect of substituting petroleum fuels with biofuels in the US. America’s biofuel use to date has in fact led to a net increase in carbon dioxide emissions, says lead author John DeCicco in Springer’s journal Climatic Change.

The use of liquid biofuels in the transport sector has expanded over the past decade in response to policies such as the US Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) and California’s Low-Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS). These policies are based on the belief that biofuels are inherently carbon neutral, meaning that only production-related greenhouse gas emissions need to be tallied when comparing them to fossil fuels.

This assumption is embedded in the lifecycle analysis modelling approach used to justify and administer such policies. Simply put, because plants absorb carbon dioxide as they grow, crops grown for biofuels should absorb the carbon dioxide that comes from burning the fuels they produce. Using this approach, it is often found that crop-based biofuels such as corn ethanol and biodiesel offer at least modest net greenhouse gas reductions relative to petroleum fuels.

Field data for assessing the net carbon dioxide emission effect of biofuels has been available since the Renewable Fuel Standard was passed in 2005. DeCicco’s team evaluated the data up to 2013, using the Annual Basis Carbon (ABC) accounting method he previously developed. It takes a circumscribed look at the changes in carbon flows directly associated with a vehicle-fuel system, and does not treat biofuels as inherently carbon neutral.

Instead, the ABC method tallies carbon dioxide emissions on the basis of chemistry in the specific locations where they occur. The system takes into account motor fuel consumption, fuel processing operations and resource inputs, including the use of cropland for biofuel feedstocks. Unlike lifecycle analysis, ABC accounting reflects the stock-and-flow nature of the carbon cycle, recognizing that changes in the atmospheric stock depend on both inflows and outflows.

DeCicco’s team found that the gains in carbon dioxide uptake by feedstock, such as corn, were enough to offset biofuel-related biogenic emissions by only 37 percent, rather than 100 percent, during the period 2005 to 2013.

“This shows that biofuel use fell well short of being carbon neutral even before considering process emissions,” says DeCicco.

In this regard, the researchers concluded that rising US biofuel use has led to a net increase rather than a net decrease in CO2 emissions. This finding contrasts with those of lifecycle analysis models which indicate that crop-based biofuels such as corn ethanol and soy biodiesel lead to a modest reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

DeCicco’s work demonstrates that it is possible to empirically evaluate the necessary condition for a biofuel to offer carbon dioxide mitigation benefits.

“Doing so provides a bounding result that suggests a need for much greater caution regarding the role of biofuels in climate mitigation,” DeCicco concludes.

Reference: DeCicco, J.M. et al. (2016). Carbon balance effects of U.S. biofuel production and use, Climatic Change. DOI 10.1007/s10584-016-1764-4


Over at Climate Central, they interviewed the lead author. And they had this to say:

“The question, ‘How does the overall greenhouse gas emission impact of corn ethanol compare to that of gasoline?’ does not have a scientific answer,” DeCicco said. “What I can say definitively is that, whatever the magnitude of the emissions impact is, it is unambiguously worse than petroleum gasoline.”

Ouch! That’s going to leave a mark.

Predictably, the Renewable Fuels Coalition files an “Is too!” response while doing some “big oil” labeling:


200 thoughts on “Inconvenient Study: Biofuels not as ‘green’ as many think – may be worse than Gasoline

  1. And that is before you factor in the environmental damage that palm oil plantations have created, helping to drive the orangutan to the brink of extinction, all in the name of bio diesel.

      • Older engines that use natural rubber for certain components such as fuel lines, yes. More modern engines, no so much.

        Most modern engines can handle the 10% ethanol currently used in some areas without issues. Then there are flex fuel engines designed to handle a gas/ethanol blends at up to 85% ethanol.

        Yes, E85 will yield lower millage, but with gas prices where they are and E85 running 50-60 cents a gallon less than 87 octane E10, I’m not so sure it isn’t worth the loss in millage.

      • This is for MattS
        E85 yields less mileage – yes. E85 is cheaper – not in the real world, and that doesn’t include the fact that E85 at the pump is subsidized to get where it is at in price. It may be in California or the rest of the west coast, but like I said, not in the real world. When gasoline runs under $2,00 a gallon, E85 is still over that unless you can buy cash. The Federal government doesn’t use cash at the pump for obvious reasons, but Obama REQUIRES all flexfuel vehicles use E85. I pay at least 10 cents a gallon MORE for E85 and lose 10% of the mileage the vehicle is capable of on gasoline, in theory to lower CO2, and now I see that that isn’t even happening. Slick. The whole reason for taking away food for people and converting it to E85 was to produce less CO2, so we are potentially starving people for nothing.

      • @Matts and A. Scott – Wrong, wrong, absolutely brimming over with wrongability.

        My 2013 Yamaha WR-250 states, in BOLD ALL CAPS, in a label on the fuel tank as well as the Owner’s Manual that using fuel with an alcohol content greater than 10% will damage the engine and void the warranty. My 2015 Yamaha FZ-7 – same thing. My 2011 Husqvarna mower – same thing.

        At every race track I regularly go to, there’s a gas station not too far from the track that advertises that there’s “no alcohol” in their fuel. Guess where all the poor amateur racers (like myself) stop to get gas on their way to the track?

        You want that stuff in your fuel? Go ahead, knock yourself out. You wanting to feel all huggy/feely about how green your gas is shouldn’t force that choice on me. Let the market decide. Me – I don’t want ANY of that contaminant in my fuel.

      • TomB,
        Ah… how things have changed. Years ago, when I ran SCCA we always looked for a Sunoco station on the way to the track. My little 1900 cc engine loved Sunoco 260 (around 105 octane if I remember correctly) and most of the stations carried it. It was street legal back then.

      • @Tom O.

        I am in Wisconsin. Right Now, the state wide average price at the pump for 87 Octane is $2.14 and the average price for E85 is $1.59.

        So what if it’s subsidized. It’s not like me not buying it will stop the subsidy.

      • @Tom B.

        Apparently you have reading comprehension. I said modern engines will handle up to E10 without a problem. I am not aware of anywhere in the US where they are selling anything other than clearly labeled E85 with more than 10% ethanol.

      • Apparently, there are some marinas now that offer alcohol-free gasoline so that people who go out on the ocean and have to DEPEND on their engine TO NOT BE RUINED BY THEIR FUEL can come back alive and healthy.

      • @ Wayne Delbeke

        Looks like a fairly old engine. I assume from the looks that it’s an outboard. A little research shows that the current generation of outboard motors can handle E10 Gas. Maybe it’s time for an upgrade.

      • TomB … “At every race track I regularly go to, there’s a gas station not too far from the track that advertises that there’s “no alcohol” in their fuel. Guess where all the poor amateur racers (like myself) stop to get gas on their way to the track?”

        I have raced car for over 30 years … from local SCCA events in the 80’s to spending many years in the IndyCar series. IndyCar has used ethanol since the mid 2000’s … and that use continues today: “Both engine manufacturers will use a uniform Sunoco E85R fuel in 2016.” Prior to that IndyCars had used methanol for decades – since the 60’s.

        NASCAR uses ethanol as well … Sunoco’s “Green 15” … an E15 product. NASCAR uses essentially 1970’s technology – comparatively simple carbureted engines.

        Ethanol provides a myriad of advantages in a racing motor.

      • Depends on the comparison, cheap bio-diesel is lower in price the sulfer free Diesel #2, but B100, which has about 6-7% less energy content than Diesel, and runs between 20 and 30% higher in price than Diesel #2. My “ball park” numbers are based on DOE retail price estimates, as well as the fact that I directly purchase 60,000+ gallons of Diesel a year for a family farm. If bio-diesel was a better deal I’d be all over it.

      • Maybe on the west coast, but probably no where else. And did you subtract the subsidy to get that “costs less?”

      • “Ethanol subsidies were eliminated years ago.”

        And they were replaced by the Renewable Fuel Standard, which guarantees ethanol farmers even more profit than the subsidies.

      • Subsidies were eliminated, but in their place we got the Renewable Energy Standard. which guarantees ethanol farmers even more income.

      • Looking at current Futures contracts for October delivery, Ethanol is $1.465 and Gasoline is $1.505.

    • Ethanol and ethanol blends cost LESS, and numerous studies have shown the appx 10% of our transportation fuels that ethanol supplies drive costs of all transportation fuels lower.

      Ethanol does have less BTU, and thus slightly lower MPG (appx 25% based on BTU), but when factoring ethanol costs, the cost per mile is equal or often lower than gasoline.

      • Ethanol does have less BTU, and thus slightly lower MPG (appx 25% based on BTU), but when factoring ethanol costs, the cost per mile is equal or often lower than gasoline.

        – 25% isn’t sightly lower.
        – ethanol is subsidized in the US so you need to add back the subsidy to the cost.

      • When you lower the energy content of a product, it does not lower the cost of transportation. And now it seems we are lowering it for no value. When you substitute a subsidized fuel for a non subsidized fuel, then you are not evaluating the equivalent things. Again, west coasters may find E85 lower because their states have turned vampire when it comes to gasoline with taxes, but that is their choice, not mine.

      • Scott,
        Ethanol has 2/3 the BTU content of normal gasoline, less than you claim, and has a shelf life that causes significant problem in small engines and boats that are stored in the winter. I just spent $1100 having the junk drained from my boat because ethanol loves water and this expense does not include the cost of fuel thrown away and disposal fees that can be enormous. Boaters hate ethanol and it also is a problem in small engines not used year around.
        I would like to have the government mandate my competitor products contain 10% of mine in all their sales. It is a leach on the gasoline fuel and often poisons the host.

      • Thanks Menicholas

        Your charts show that the prices of ethanol and gasoline are similar. Given that ethanol has a heck of a lot less energy than gasoline, it is obviously not a ‘good deal’.

        It says above that ethanol is no longer subsidised, while it also says that it is. The mechanism is via what tax or subsidy deal farmers for growing corn to turn into ethanol. It also includes subsidies that might be involved in the construction and operation of ethanol plants. I have no idea what the total ‘relief’ is involved on that score. I trust the carbon auditors which in the case of the article above, conclude that biofuels are net energy and/or cost and/or carbon negative.

        For those reading the news, Singapore is once again under a cloud (literally) from the burning forests of Indonesia. The direct cause of this devastation is the subsidy of biofuels in Europe which requires blending, by law, of vegetable oil-derived content. That comes from palm oil. Those palm trees are monocropped in the far east, and that takes place on land previously occupied by tropical jungle. Europeans have passed laws that directly subsidise the destruction of the jungles of Malaysia and Indonesia. You could call it the Law of Unintended Consequences.

      • If you take into account the damage to the engines, ethanol/gasoline is clearly more expensive. When you consider ALL OF THE COSTS from field and machinery to manufacture to mixing to burning to engine wear and mileage, it is a clear BOONDOGGLE no matter how you cut it (honestly).

      • Well you shouldn’t be running a boat with a built in fuel tank without using an effective water separating fuel line filter.

        Gas yanks, particularly in boats, and specially in boats left overnight on the water, are diabolical traps; the equivalent of a carnivorous pitcher plant.

        The gas tank not full to the brim. fills during the warm day with warm moist air off the water. At night that water condenses on the cold lid of the gas tank, and then trickles down the side of the tank into the gas, where it promptly sinks to the bottom.

        Now it is insulated from the air by the gasoline (including oxygenated gas), so now the water cannot evaporate, and escape from the tank next day.

        So the cycle goes on unabated until your engine quits on you while you are 25 miles out to sea or some such place.

        So add that gas line filter and watch it slowly fill up with water, that you can drain out of the bottom.


      • Corn, CBOT Symbol CZ6, is currently running around $3.25 a bushel.

        Each bushel of corn can be fermented and distilled into roughly 2.7 gallons of ethanol.

        $3.25 ÷ 2.7 equals approximately $1.20 basic commodity cost in corn per gallon (3.79L) of ethanol.

        Selling ethanol as an additive at $1.43 when the feedstock cost alone is $1.20 does not make business sense, unless there are substantial subsidies, tax penalties, tax avoidance monies involved.

        Each gallon of ethanol requires “Natural gas requirement of 34 cubic feet per gallon of ethanol” for distillation costs.
        Roughly $0.0029 cents per cubic foot, for a total of $0.099 cents per gallon of ethanol.

        This is without handling, storage, denaturing, transportation costs.

        While it has been claimed that ethanol has reduced the price of gasoline [23, 24], what is reported is the cost per gallon, but what is relevant is the cost per mile driven.

        Ethanol has less energy per gallon than gasoline.

        A gallon of gasoline contains about 125,000 BTUs while ethanol contains about 84,300 BTUs [25], or about 67% that of gasoline.

        When the price of ethanol is between 67% and 100% of the price of gasoline, which it often is, ethanol is cheaper by volume but more expensive by energy.

        The cost per gallon of gasoline with ethanol is lower, but it is as if the gasoline is watered down – the cost per mile driven is higher.

        This means that in addition to the government subsidy of $20 billion from 2005 – 2011 [26], every gallon of gasoline with ethanol bought is an extra subsidy from consumers to the ethanol producers.”

      • George,
        Once the ethanol laced fuel gets water in it, the phase that exists cannot be filtered with the filter or a water separator. Invent one and you will be rich. Similarly the water/ethanol/gas mixes and the water no longer separates in the bottom of the tank like the good old days when one could siphon the water out of the tank bottom, which boaters often had to do, although I never had to siphon my tank.
        Wish it was as easy as you say, but soured ethanol clogs carbs with a viscous mess that requires re building to clear even if the hoses are good for 10% ethanol.
        Another factor if you boat in a dry climate the problems are less as opposed to a very humid climate.

      • Ethanol has 76,300 BTU per gal
        Gasoline (conventional summer blend) has 114,500 BTU per gal.
        E10 – 10% ethanol – has appx 110,680 BTU
        E85 – 85% ethanol – has appx 82,300 BTU

        Today I paid $1.57 per gallon for E85. E10 was priced at $2.14 at the same station. These are reflective of a normal price split in my area.

        E85 cost me 26.6% less. Ignoring my real world mileage, and using only the BTU related differences above, E85 has 25.6% lower energy than E10.

        On that basis my cost per mile driven is slightly LESS using E85 … my savings are greater than the decreased mileage per gallon.

        Reality is different though. I have a 2003 Tahoe 5.3L flex fuel vehicle. I average appx 13.9mpg using E10. I average appx 11.4mpg using E85. My actual MPG using E85 is appx 18.8% lower than using E10. But I pay 26.6% less for the E85 … meaning my cost per mile driven is significantly lower using E85.

        Modern flex fuel vehicles onboard engine management systems can adjust to and take advantage of E85 blends. That ability lessens the straight BTU gap between E10 and E85.

        I live in MN. We are a big corn producing state, with a decent (not great) ethanol refining and distribution system. A number of stations offer flex fuels – with new blender stations offering E10, E15, E30, and E85 blends.

        These are the facts …direct, current, real world data.

      • Catcracking … phase separation is a straw man. It ONLY occurs in vehicles left sitting for long periods of time. It can easily be addressed with fuel conditioner/stabilizers.

        Gasoline has similar problems in vehicles that sit as well. Except there the gas turns to sludge and varnish. Which is why vehicles being stored – even with a full tank of gasoline – are recommended to have fuel stabilizer added as well.

      • Catcracking … if you just “… spent $1100 having the junk drained from my boat ” becasue of ethanol blended fuel you have no one to blame but yourself. The ONLY way that problem occurred was if you left fuel in the bottom for a long period with having added a fuel stabilizer.

        Or if you have a very old boat with fiberglass tanks and or extensive rubber fuel lines. Which have been KNOWN to be an issue for at least 15 or more years now.

      • A Scott

        Your ethanol energy content must be the HHV because ethanol is normally considered to have a bit less than 30 MJ/kg.

        In other words the practical energy available is 19% less than cited. It is not a great ‘additive’ because to take advantage of what energy it has and it’s higher octane rating, an engine should be redesigned here and there. Ethanol runs cooler so the expansion is not as great, etc.

        It doesn’t make economic sense as you pointed out, and it certainly doesn’t make energetic sense. The same land put into walnut trees would make a lot of money, sequester carbon and take far less work.

      • Scott,
        As always your facts are wrong. You must live in a dry climate to make such wild claims or get paid to defend and distort the problems with ethanol fuel in boats and small engines.
        To correct your misconception or distortion, I always use and am forced to buy expensive fuel conditioner made for boats which every marine store sells, but it does not always prevent the problems, everyone who has a knowledge of the subject knows full well there is always risk especially during winter layup. When I had severe problems I also spent a lot of $$$ on conditioners that claim to fix the problem without success. Just talk to any boat mechanic in the North East if you want more facts or join Boat US and learn about the problems. Some have even had the ethanol react with the tanks and destroy the engine in high end boats.

        Boat US represents numerous boaters and is always advising congress to not require E 15 be sold which will further aggravate the problem, although the Ethanol Lobby does not care about the consumer when they Lobby for more content in the gasoline which the Administration also supports, even to the extent of subsidizing the expensive adding another pump and another fuel tank to the stations, yes there are still subsidies. Of course much of the expense of adding ethanol was born by the fuel distributor since expensive tank removal and replacement was required. Why don’t the ethanol producers pay that cost rather that the oil companies or the independent supplier. Many went out of business because they could not afford the modifications, I’m sure they don’t appreciate the government mandates as they lost their business.
        No customer oriented enterprise would tell their customer what they did wrong when they have no facts. If ethanol was so great for small engines why would home depot be selling ethanol free fuel at $20 to $30 per gallon. Your claims are offensive just like any company that has a defective product, blame the customer!
        Also You seem to lack an understanding of what BTU’s is all about. It is an absolute measure of the available energy in the fuel, while some engines may use the fuel more efficiently than others there is only 2/3 the energy in ethanol and the adjustments you talk about cannot violate the laws of thermodynamics regardless of the numerous claims otherwise. Of course if one goes to an ultra high, very expensive compression ratio in the engine then the efficiency can be significantly improved with ethanol over gasoline.
        Please be more considerate of those who have spent a fortune fixing their equipment because there are actual problems created with ethanol in the fuel, it is real, don’t blame the consumer claiming they did not handle the defective product properly, it is offensive.

      • Everyone forgets it the burn ability, of the fuel that counts. Alchols do not have the flammable range or rate of fuel oils or gasolene. Alchols absorb waters from the fuels, changing the compounds ability to produce flame. That doesn’t help the production of power at the generator or the rear wheel.but does mean, that flooded holding tanks can be recovered for use. And why, my 01 pickup won’t run if I use King oil company. They say a minimum of 10 % alchols. If, that’s all available, I have to use premium,
        As it is the hottest year already declared, even though the Midwest, only had one 100 degree day this year, I wonder how the engines will react to a -20 degree this year? We haven’t had one in a while.

      • For Catcracking :

        Yes Cat, I will admit to total ignorance of the effect of alcohol in the gas on the effectiveness of water separating gas filters.

        I used to own a 20 ft. center console offshore fishing boat with a built in 70 gallon gas tank, running twin 80 HP four cylinder Mercury Outboards.

        I had a separating filter in the fuel line, that held about a half pint of gas, with a glass container you could see through. It was in an accessible enclosed location and it took 30 seconds to drain any visible water from the bottom. Well I had to install that myself, but I also installed everything else including some fancy hydraulic overpressure protection to protect the trim/tilt hydraulics from lower unit collisions.

        But that was back in the late 1970s before ethanol gas.


      • A. Scott August 27, 2016 at 3:43 am
        “I average appx 13.9mpg using E10. I average appx 11.4mpg using E85. My actual MPG using E85 is appx 18.8% lower than using E10. But I pay 26.6% less for the E85 … meaning my cost per mile driven is significantly lower using E85.”

        Stating the difference in mpg is misleading. Based on your figures, you are saving around 10% cost per mile on gas by using E85 over E10:
        E85 gives you 0.0877 gpm @ $1.57/g = $0.138/mile.
        E10 gives you 0.0719 gpm @ $2.14/g = $0.154/mile.

        E85 cost/m = 89.6% E10 cost/mile, effectively a 10% reduced cost of gas per driven mile to you. Then you need to factor in additional trips to the gas station, maintenance costs, vehicle cost & subsidies – a cost you are imposing on everyone else.

        I wish I had your fuel prices though, here (North Queensland, Australia), E10 is $AU1.20/L and no ethanol gas is $AU1.24/L. I think that converts to $US3.52/Gal for no ethanol gas (91 octane). And I’m pretty sure prices in England are a lot higher.

      • If ethanol/gasoline blend problems for boat and small engine users are the fault of the owners and not an inherent problem with the blended fuels themselves, then riddle me this; Why don’t you see aviation gasoline (avgas) using blended fuels?

        The answer: There would be so many wrongful death suits from the families of pilots killed when their engines failed due to the sludge (the result of the ethanol in the avgas combining with the water) clogging the fuel system, or suits filed by aircraft owners against the fuel companies and the FBOs because of the damage to their aircraft from those fuels. Hence, no ethanol blends in avgas.

        Why anyone thought using ethanol blended gasoline in boats was a good idea escapes me.

        A hydrophilic fuel (ethanol) that pulls water from the atmosphere blended with gasoline that will be used in a humid marine environment seems pretty stupid to me. Like catcracking, I too have had to deal with all kinds of ethanol-related problems with my boat.

        My boat doesn’t sit idle for days or weeks at a time, but is used almost every day. I rarely let the fuel level in my tank get much below 1/8th of a tank unless I am using the boat all day (it will be filled before I tie up at my slip at the end of the day). I never had to be that diligent (or paranoid) before the ethanol blend days.

        The fuel separators work fine for removing water from fuel, but not the yellowish sludge that results from the water and ethanol separating out in the gas tank. I’ve had to remove and blow out or replace portions of my boat’s fuel system more than once during a boating season when the system got clogged due to the sludge. From what I understand, it’s an even bigger (and more expensive) problem for boats with fuel injected engines. The so-called fuel stabilizers I’ve used only help to a point.

        So tell me again just how wonderful the blended fuels are in a marine environment? So far I’m not seeing. Nor are a large number of my fellow boaters.

    • One of the Bigoil outfits; I believe Exxon, has said publicly, that they can meet ALL of the requirements of California Reformulated Gasoline standards for emissions with absolutely NO oxygenate of any kind; just an ordinary hydrocarbon petroleum product.

      Oxygenated gas (ether or alcohol) is equivalent to putting a water molecule into each fuel molecule, essentially replacing an H with an OH. And the resultant heat of combustion is; you guessed it, lower by the heat of combustion of H2; hence the built in lower gas mileage.

      You can add water to your gasoline yourself, using a water injector that injects water into the intake manifold or port, and get better performance out of the engine, than oxygenating the fuel.

      So now we pay Bigoil and MoonBrown to put water in our gas.


  2. “The question, ‘How does the overall greenhouse gas emission impact of corn ethanol compare to that of gasoline?’ does not have a scientific answer,” DeCicco said. “What I can say definitively is that, whatever the magnitude of the emissions impact is, it is unambiguously worse than petroleum gasoline.”

    I come from a small farm town in Kansas. And when I think about how fossil fuel intensive modern farming is, tractors, grain haulers, combines, irrigation, trucks, and on and on, this is intuitively obvious. Oh, and what about all of the natural gas used to make ammonia based fertilizer? Ammonia is the second largest chemical product in the world, only behind sulfuric acid.

    • Ethanol is a rural development program that has saved many farmers and small towns. CO2 is irrelevant.
      Would you rather pay your $2 to a farmer in Indiana / North Dakata or give it to a Saudi prince to fly around with one of Osama’s kids in his private A320?

      • I would crank down some of the eco-regs and invasive federal (and state) bureaucratic oversight, allowing farmers to make a living without it.
        And I would also drill on American soil/assets.

      • Then grow food, they say there are many still hungry in the world. Stop growing food that is made to burn, pollute the air and cause more taxes, instead of feeding people.

      • Due to ethanol subsidies, corn pricing has increased substantially. Relatives of mine in NW Iowa made so much money on corn that they drove the land price up from roughly $3000/acre 15 years ago to north of $20,000/acre. This made many people millionaires. Typical of liberal governments. Reward the wealthy, hurt the poor. All in the name of saving the environment. Just ask AlGore.

      • You got that right Dr. Bob.
        Even with historic high yields, the price is higher than ever, even after adjusting for inflation.
        If anyone tells ethanol is saving us money, tell them they are lying or woefully misinformed.
        It is costing us at the pump, in the supermarket, in small motor repairs and lost gas mileage…in fact, everywhere you look.
        It is a policy which benefits a very few and costs everyone else a bundle.
        BTW, it is so much more now, it has put upwards pressure on other grain prices, as substitutions are made whenever possible at these process.

      • No I would rather give it to some Yankie or Texas Reb Fracker for good old USA gasoline.


      • Winipeg boy
        You raise a false straw man, the same people pushing biofuels are trying to prevent developing our oil and natural gas fields, working with Iran and other dictators in the middle East seems to be preferred by the Administration over those nasty oilmen. The EPA is constantly pushing 15% or more biofuel which pushes out fossil fuels.
        If you haven’t noticed our energy independence in North America has dramatically improved where OPEC no longer holds the cards despite US Government interference in oil and gas development.

      • Menicholas … “The price has been coming down recently though, although it is still very high by historical norms” … where do you guys come up with some of this silliness?

        Corn prices were as high as $8 a bushel in 2012. They are now less than half that – at appx $3.24/bu. The same price they were in 1995.

        Corn prices are not by any stretch of the imagination “high” not by “historical” or any other standards. Current corn prices are well below the cost to produce.

        And the current low corn prices, and the steep drop by more than half over the last 5 years, occurred while we continue to use nearly 40% of the corn crop for ethanol.

      • A. Scott,
        As the three charts show, there are wide variations in the price from year to year, but the longer term trend is very clear.
        2012 was a drought year, and the price spiked wildly, costing everyone a great deal of money.
        1995 was another price spike, so pointing out that the current price is the same as 1995 is not exactly a point in favor of what you are trying to say.
        The price is way down, but still as high as the previous highest price ever prior to the ethanol mandate being enacted.
        As with long term atmospheric temperature charts, one must look at the trend average to get a sense of what is happening long term.
        The price is up, despite more acreage planted than ever, and greater yields than ever.
        Do you want to see those charts as well?

      • It should also be kept in mind how much the cost of corn has impacted food prices, from everything that includes corn itself, to eggs and beef.
        The price of these items soared as the price of corn spiked several times over the past 8-10 years. But even when the price of corn and other grains went back down some, the price of finished products barely budged.
        For many consumer products, portion sizes were reduced by manufacturers to lessen the sticker shock of price increases, and these sizes have remained, and the higher prices have remained as well. higher consumer prices have a lot of stickiness, much more so than the prices of the underlying commodities.
        We have all been paying for the ethanol mandate every single time we eat, not just when we buy gas for our cars, and this amount of money we have all been fleeced of far exceeds any imagined benefit from using corn to make motor fuel.

  3. Of course, the entire premise of this article is based on the notion that carbon neutrality is worth pursuing at all, instead of just a very expensive and destructive new brand of Emperor’s Clothing.

    • “…the entire premise [ ] is based on the notion that carbon neutrality is worth pursuing at all.”

      Indeed. THIS is the core issue. Anthropogenic CO2 represents only a trivial amount (~4%) of the total emitted each year, and the principle greenhouse gas, water vapor at 25 to 100 times the amount of atmospheric CO2, is rarely considered.

    • That is not at all the premise of the article. The article is an investigation as to the carbon neutrality of biofuels. Look at the last statement by the author.

  4. With RINs being forced on refiners at artificially high prices, the consumers pay for the reduction in refiner margins over time.

    The standard political story line to is to blame George Bush and Congress and make no mention of the increased volume mandates since then or the continuance itself when the need for the policy subsequently fell away. That’s a standard tactic by the way.

  5. Biodiesel only made sense when it was using waste oil from the food industry. The oil had already served its primary purpose and served a final one rather than simply degrading as waste. It went to heaven as french fry smelling automobile exhaust.

    • Even then, it depends on the price of oil. And there are the costs of collecting it, filtering, etc. If used locally, maybe, only maybe, it might make sense.

  6. The amount of fuel it takes to plant, fertilize, weed control, harvest and transport a gallon of ethanol can push the fuel economy of the end product down into the single digits when it reaches the average vehicle. Tractors don’t run on ethanol, they run on diesel.

    • Meanwhile all of this activity goes un-taxed in most states, leaving such burden as the tax base for others.

    • The net energy balance of ethanol from corn is now appx 2.2 units of energy produced for every one unit of energy expended in production. This is for conventional straight ethanol from corn production. More efficient versions of this standard process, including use of corn stover and waste products in the ethanol process, are pushing the EROI’s much higher yet.

      Cellulosic ethanol processes are finally starting to come online after languishing during the downturn, with significantly higher EROI’s.

      • I have read the USDA reports in the past they make many flawed assumptions and I would not trust them at all.
        Professor Pimentel has long pointed out the USDA errors, now another is confirming his science:
        “The MIT press release summarizes researcher Tiffany Groode’s research thusly:

        Based on her “most likely” outcomes, she concluded that traveling a kilometer using ethanol does indeed consume more energy than traveling the same distance using gasoline.

        Nor does Groode parrot the Pimentel-relies-on-ancient-data line. Here’s how the the press release quotes her:

        The results show that everybody [including Pimentel, mentioned by name] is basically correct … The energy balance is so close that the outcome depends on exactly how you define the problem. [my emphasis]

        This is precisely what Pimentel has long argued: that most ethanol energy-balance studies omit key factors like the energy required to manufacture farm equipment.

        In our interview, Pimentel told me that his methodology is consistent with life-cycle net energy studies of other fuels. I’m not competent to comment on the accuracy of that statement, but the MIT researcher doesn’t challenge it.”

      • Catcracking … outright BS. Patzek & Pimental’s silly claims have been repeatedly and thoroughly refuted – by a large number of credible main stream papers … shown for the oil funded fraud they are.

    • Does anyone have any numbers on just how many gallons of diesel it takes to produce an amount of Iowa corn to make a single gallon of 100% ethanol? Just to grow the corn from start to finish and truck it to the distillation plant.

  7. Been saying this for 15 years. Boone Pickens nailed it when he said that the only reason that corn biofuels were even in the market is that 33 Senators are from farm states.

  8. If even a fraction of that government support had gone into larger Prius batteries over the past 10 years, there would have been 10 times the benefits they were seeking for the environment and foreign imports. Instead we got low end batteries with limited impact.

    • Nothing wrong with Prius batteries. They do the full hybrid job and last better than 10 years. My MY 2007 Ford hybrid Escape with AWD and class1 tow hitch is still going strong. Still 32 city and 28 highway at 70mph. Even with gas at $2/gal (Atkinson cycle I4 uses regular) we still save about $1000/year compared to the equivalent power V6 non-hybrid. 120 hp gas plus 80 hp electric. Idle off, electic only under 20 mph unless accerating, and 80% regenerative braking. Sanyo NiMN cells in air cooled Ford battery pack.
      All electrics or range extended electrics do not make sense. Weigh more (volt is +450 pounds), capacity limited, range limited, nevermind the cost. And there is no battery breakthrough to fix those problems.

      • I’m not ashamed of my pretty little ’92 Honda Civic VX which, despite 240k miles (!) on the engine, still gets 40+ mpg around town, and ~50 mpg on the highway. Best part: I picked it up for only $500, leaving plenty in the piggy bank for gasoline. Show me another practical commuter, hybrid or otherwise, with a lower TCO.

      • @brians356

        My ’94 VX with 340,000 miles has a wiring problem now so is parked waiting for me to have time to rewire it, but was getting 40 around town and 48 to 55 on the highway (depending on where – on coastal interstates I have gotten in excess of 60, but if there are hills it is only high 40s.) I love that little car.

      • At least coal gives more energy out than it takes to produce it . This is where corn base ethanol fails. If ethanol was so great why don’t the farmers who grow corn use it in their tractors.

      • They are. Since the CO2 in coal has been locked away for centuries, it now has been released to increase the atmospheric fertilization effect of added CO2. In addition, it also aids in reducing the amount of water needed for plants to grow more robust since the stoma on the leaves decrease in area with increased CO2 concentration reducing evapotranspiration. IN a sense, more CO2 has a negative feedback. It reduces the amount of H2O released into the atmosphere from plant respiration and since H2O is a much more prevalent and potent GHG, this may actually be a negative feedback.

        Hmmm, I think there is a grant application in there?


      • catcracking: “At least coal gives more energy out than it takes to produce it . This is where corn base ethanol fails. If ethanol was so great why don’t the farmers who grow corn use it in their tractors.”

        One more time – the current US average net energy balance for conventionally processed first generation corn based ethanol is appx 2.3 units of energy produced for every one unit of energy expended. In more efficient ethanol areas – like IOAWA and MINNESOTA – with decent distribution, and local supply of corn and local refineries, the net energy balance if above 4 units of energy produced for each to 1 unit of energy expended.

        Refineries using 2nd generation processes including increasing using ethanol byproducts including corn residuals and corn stover and greatly increasing the net energy balance. A plant using corn stover and residuals for just 50% of their power, will see net energy balance significantly increase – to more than 25 units of energy produced for every 1unit expended.

        Your claims that it takes more energy to produce ethanol than is created are outright, 100% false.

        And many farmers DO use bio fuels in their tractors. The primary reason they do not use ethanol is becasue they are DIESEL tractors. And unless you know of some new diesel engine that can burn ethanol, your insinuation is simply ridiculous.

    • I doubt that. They have been researching batteries for over 100 years. Most improvements have been incremental for decades.

  9. There are two nonclimate reasons that a small amount of ethanol in gasoline makes sense. First, it replaces toxic MBTE as an octane booster. (MBTE replaced ‘lead’). Second, it is an oxygenate that reduces ‘smog’. The amount needed depends on regular or premium gas and location; LA summer fuel is the highest and that is why the natiomal blendwall was set at 10%. It is also why pumps are labeled ‘up to 10% ethanol’. Varies by season, by gas grade, and location.
    Anything more than 10% is pure farm lobby nonsense.
    The original plant to convert to cellulosic ethanol (e.g. from corn stover or switchgrass) has pretty much foundered on technical and economic issues. The two scale plants are heavily subsidized and both have operating problems despite using different technologies. Everybody else (Range fuels, Coskata) went belly up.

    • You certainly don’t need 10 percent ethanol to replace MBTE for that function. Beyond that the blend and grade complexity in places like the Chicago market are dumb. A targeted effort to put larger batteries in hybrid cars would have done more for air quality over a 10 year period.

      • I certainly agree about full hybrid cars. Idle off city picks up 5-7%. Regen braking picks up 10-12 percent. Atkinson cycle picks up 15%. Downsized engine picks up 10%. Net efficiency gain on order of ~40%. But you don’t need bigger hybrid batteries. They float between 45-55% charge to max lifetime, unlike Volt or Tesla. They are sized to accept regen braking more than for power boost.
        Prius is now in its fourth generation of electric machine, electronics, and battery as of MY2015. Steady reductions in size, weight, and cost. Ford is in its second (Escape=>Fusion). Nobody else yet has a first generation full hybrid worth talking about.

    • MTBE is not particularly toxic. It’s a hundred times less toxic than gasoline or diesel fuel. The main problem with it was that it has a very nasty taste that is very apparent just a couple parts per million and was being dumped into old, leaky, rusty fuel tanks in service stations. Once the leaks got into the water lines(most have many leaks) or an aquifer it caused an immediate, justified ruckus in neighborhoods, towns, and cities. Was a dumb move, but MTBE was the cheapest effective substitute they could find. Something like tertiary butyl alcohol works just as well, isn’t nearly as obnoxious, but is more expensive.

      • Methyl tert-butyl ether is also highly mobile in aquifers.
        Although the new rules for gasoline storage tanks should have solved the problem if they had not done away with it.
        MTBE is still widely used outside the US.
        And they actually put quite a bit of it into some formulations of gasoline, depending on season and location.
        It was as much as 15% by volume here in the US.

    • Amoco on the East coast sold high octane fuel w/o lead, I used to buy it all the time. It is a matter of the Refining processing, lead was cheaper unless one already invested in processing hardware that produced more high octane fuel. We especially used it in our outboard engines.

      • Ristvan,
        I am not an expert in the the economics of gasoline production and you may be more knowledgeable than I am on the specifics that subject. However there are numerous means to get more gasoline out of a Barrel of crude at the expense of less heaver fuel products. In fact Catcracking is probably the most widely applied process which was developed during WW II in a high priority wartime effort and played a significant role to keep our fighter and other planes in the air.
        If one is more interested watch the URL below.

        Other process that produce high octane fuels include:
        In the years since then, many other versions of the process have been developed by some of the major oil companies and other organizations. Today, the large majority of gasoline produced worldwide is derived from the catalytic reforming process.

        To name a few of the other catalytic reforming versions that were developed, all of which utilized a platinum and/or a rhenium catalyst:

        Rheniforming: Developed by Chevron Oil Company.
        Powerforming: Developed by Esso Oil Company, currently known as ExxonMobil.
        Magnaforming: Developed by Engelhard and Atlantic Richfield Oil Company.
        Ultraforming: Developed by Standard Oil of Indiana, now a part of the British Petroleum Company.
        Houdriforming: Developed by the Houdry Process Corporation.
        CCR Platforming: A Platforming version, designed for continuous catalyst regeneration, developed by UOP.
        Octanizing: A catalytic reforming version developed by Axens, a subsidiary of Institut francais du petrole (IFP), designed for continuous catalyst regeneration.

        Given a choice I am not certain that the Refiners would use much ethanol given it’s many drawbacks.

    • I actually preferred MBTE over Ethanol. I thought that Gasoline was toxic also and the solution should have been to replace the leaky tanks.

  10. Purely anecdotal and personal: In 1991 I bought a new Geo Metro station wagon type car, which got 55 miles per gallon of regular gas. In 1999 I bought a new (used 17 miles–long story) Geo Metro sedan type, which got 48-52 MPG. A few years after the switch to ethanol, I got suspicious and rechecked the gas mileage. The 1991 Geo now got 38 mpg, and the 2000 (purchased late 1999) got 33. I asked the mechanic where I get my car work done, and he said, “Oh, yeah, gas mileage suffers. And that’s not all–watch your exhaust system (plus several other things).” A couple of weeks ago, I took the 1991 Geo in for its annual inspection. It still ran perfectly well, maintaining the 38-40 mpg, but I got a call saying the exhaust system was shot and would need replacement; however, he had searched everywhere, including junkyards, and could not find the parts. One merchant told him, “If you can find [that part] any closer than Israel, please let me know.” Upshot: After 25 years, I finally had to junk that car, and I strongly suspect the culprit was ethanol.

    • I recently got my old mower out and cleaned it up… All the elastic plastic parts had turned brittle. I suspect I was getting Ethanol in the gas I was using back when I used this equipment (not on purpose, I was supposedly buying non-ethanol treated gas but who knows).

      I remember this mower was a devil to start and had trouble with sputtering and dying when in use at random intervals, so I was not looking forward to using it again. Went to look for gas – I can find nothing but E10 for sale around here. Finally I found REAL gasoline at Lowe’s, for $20 per gallon. OMG!

      So I setup a chemistry process to separate the alcohol out of the gas. Made a few liters of improved gasoline minus the ethanol (costs me around $2.70 per gallon). The mower runs like new, I barely tug at the pull cord and it starts. It never sputters or dies. WOW what a difference getting the ethanol out of the gas has made.

      Now this is on a 2-cycle engine, but I have to imagine any engine will run better on non-ethanol infected gasoline, assuming the octane level is correct.

      I also recently started working on a car I had not started in 12 years – still REAL gas in the tank. Pulled the gas out and looked at it in a glass jar – no water visible – it was in a tightly sealed gas tank. Then I looked at newer gas stored in a plastic gas can (about 4 years old) – this was E10. There was like a 1/2 inch layer of water and alcohol in the bottom.

      So the morale of this story – E10 absorbs water and separates if left for more than a month or so. Alcohol can ruin certain plastic parts. When the water separates, it can rust metal parts. So over and above the so-called Carbon Cost of the product, their is an increase in RISK the buyer assumes that could lead to extra expenses they would not otherwise have incurred. I was fairly neutral on E10 until this latest round of personal experiences. Now I am a REAL GAS (i.e. no alcohol) fan!

      • I just spent $1100 getting ethanol laced gas out of my boat because it caused stalling and frequent Carb cleanings. That does not include the cost of the ethanol laced gas or it’s disposal which can be expensive.
        Tell us how we can separate the gas/ethanol to avoid this expense.

      • Cat:

        There’s really no alternative but to buy ethanol free premium. My wife is in the boat business, (she does custom outfitting for people with way, way, way too much money), and when they get around to cost of operation issues she just tells them, “premium gas is part of the cost of having a boat.”

      • Mark, Ethanol free gasoline is not available in New Jersey except for airplanes and now $30/gallon in certain stores for small engines, which tells one something about safety for aircraft, does not matter if your boat stops running in the inlet.

      • Here in Fort Myers, they recently started opening Wawa food markets/gas stations, and they sell ethanol free gas at the pump!
        I love that place…they also sell Philly soft pretzels and Herr’s potato chips, and have the best coffee bar.
        But the gas is the best part…I use a boat everyday at work and the ethanol free stuff makes it run so much better…I love it.
        Oh, and the price…about $2.70/gallon.
        They must use Robert’s process.

      • Don’t know about the US, but I buy Shell Premium ethanol free fuel for all my small engines – chainsaws, mowers, 1988 quad, and sometimes for my SUV when the premium/regular price differential is close as I get 15% less fuel consumption with the ethanol free premium versus the ethanol enhanced regular. I have checked the fuel consumption over the same 800 km route several times. The ethanol free is always a way better for fuel economy but the price for distance ends up about the same.

      • You can go on for a list of ethanol free gas in the U.S. and Canada. It’s mostly airports and racing shops. It’s usually sold in 5 gallon cans and 55 gallon drums and I know the racing shops will not put it in your gas tank.

      • Mark from Midwest, is premium really ethanol-free? I thought the octane rating was raised by adding ethanol?

      • There are a few products which can ameliorate the effects of Ethanol. I’ve used one called PRI-G for years in all my gas engines (2 and 4 cycle). 1 oz for 20 gal. Everything starts immediately and runs smoothly, either at 0F or after 6 months sitting in the shed. I only use premium high octane and fill up small tanks by putting some in the auto tank first, in order to drain out the crud in the line.

        Haven’t had to un-gum or clean anything in years.
        Combined with synthetic oil, the engines now seem to have an unlimited lifetime…

      • Yes, ethanol stabilizers are widely available and recommended for small motors, especially if left unused periodically, and for marine applications, as well as places like Florida where the humidity is very high most of the time.
        They do stabilize the ethanol, seeming to prevent absorption of water and preventing the damaging effects, but they do nothing to increase the energy content of ethanol. Good idea to use one, but stabilizers do not ameliorate all of the detriment of the ethanol mandate.

  11. I fail to see how anything on our planet can be “carbon neutral”. Carbon is the essence of life on Earth and the useless “scientists” who shove “rhubarb” in order to gain money for questionable research, should be given a standard for discussion that has credence within our knowledge.

    Political comment must be flagged up as such, savaged by the honest scientists.

    I do hope I have stirred something.

    • When I was in college, I went to see ‘Total Recall’ – one of the sub-plots was that the evil director of Mars was ‘price-gouging’ the oxygen under threat of cutting it off. I remember laughing the time, ‘boy, if they could find a way to take it away from us, they WOULD charge us for air.’

      Turns out they didn’t even have to find a way to take it away from us. They just charged us anyway.

      Yesterday’s absurdity…

  12. Both the article “is not” and the highlighted “is too” response miss what to me seems to be a key question. Can biofuels be produced using only land and biofuels produced by that land? In other words, can we grow some crop, corn, switch grass, trees, etc. and use the harvested biomass to produce more “fuel” than is used in producing that “fuel”. Or to put it another way, can green plants produce a harvestable source of fuel sustainably?

    To mind the answer is no. Photosynthesis is a low efficiency process. Only 1-3% of the sunlight is converted to plant mass. That is a very small margin to work with to process the harvest and produce an excess of liquid fuel for other uses. All multi-step chemical processes have significant losses at every step. When you stack the 60-70% yields in a multi-step process you can see any yield vanishing quickly- harvest(.85) * milling(.9) * fermentation(.17) * separation(.85) * storage and handling(.05)=.55 yield. Then subtract seed, fuel for planting, maintainence, harvest, drying, milling, fermentation, separation, storage, transportation, capital costs for land, capital for equipment, interest, miniucule profit and it’s easy to see where producing only 1% or so of the total crop mass produced as fuel would be the outcome. And that would be using a totally integrated operation.

    A better option would use a modified Fischer-Tropsch reaction to both produce electricity and oils directly from biomass and/or algae. The Air Force has contracted several projects to test and certify bio JP-8 which will cost around $30 a gallon in production. That price doesn’t include the CO2 costs of producing the biomass or algae. A combined reactor(which needs very high temperatures) could also produce electricity with very little overall CO2 output. The electricity production makes the whole mess economically viable, perhaps without subsidies. But I give it little hope. Our local city, Harrisburg, PA, lost millions trying to get a trash-> electricity waste plant going. It’s now running after 10 years but will never pay off the debt incurred from design through a much delayed startup.

    • No wonder the military can no longer afford the maintenance on their equipment with government mandated $30/gallon biofuel from the administration

      • Excellent point, Ethanol is playing havoc with the water tables which may have significant impact.

    • The proof of the pudding is in the price. You can model costs all you like, with or without tractors, silos, distillation columns, etc. but it all comes down to price. You need to buy about 25-30% more ethanol to drive the same miles. If a vendor can bring a gallon of ethanol to your tank for 0.75x or 0.70x the cost of a gallon of gasoline (not accounting for taxes) and no subsidies, then the process is a winner. No if’s, and’s, or but’s. Every cost along the way is going to be accounted for in the final price.

    • philohippous – The point never emphasized is the fact that fossil fuels (coal, oil, and the products derived from them) have had thousands if not hundreds of thousands of years to accumulate the dispersed solar energy that hits the earth. That concentration of chemical energy is a VERY tough thing to try to compete against when trying to make that same energy from current sunlight. It is not at all surprising to find very low energy yields. The fossil fuels that a [huge] energy head start. That is precisely what makes them so valuable – the concentration part is mostly already done when they come out of the ground.

      [Please reserve square brackets for the mods’ use on this site. .mod]

    • philohippous

      A farm needs to have about 15% of its area planted in sunflowers to produce enough oil to run the farm tractors. That has been the case for 40 years.

      Now, can the fertiliser needed to have modern production be produced on that same farm? That is the $64,000 biodynamic question. So it could be done (at all), but would one make a living doing so? If the farm was far less productive it might require a fraction of the tillage and transport so that is a gain. Can it survive on solar input alone?

      Bringing energy to the farm from, say, five other parcels of land not devoted to food production makes sense because the equipment can be used more intensively on the first parcel. If it can be shown that permaculture or biodynamic farming are energetically superior as energy efficient systems we should not be surprised if that is where the trends point.

      Labour intensive gardening is extremely productive if the system is well designed. The entire planet’s population could eat from gardens equal in area to Uganda, a small country.

      A related question to your very good first one is ‘can a windmill be produced with energy only derived from other windmills? 1 for 1? That means, can 30 windmills produce another 30 within their working lifetimes? With any energy to spare or not?

      Apart from the huge workforce needed to make millions of windmills, would those mills produce enough power to run the rest of society over and above their own replacement energy needs?

      If a windmill produced 10% more energy that it took to make it, all things considered, I would be surprised.

  13. Clearing a forest, taking up CO2 12 months a year. For methanol corn, with CO2 uptake half the year.

    Regardless how CO2 impacts climate.

    • You have wonderful forests…mine drop their leaves in late October and leaf back out in early March. After dropping the leaves the little fungus and bacteria then convert the leaves into CO2. There are about 30% of the trees that are evergreen, so maybe they can compensate.

      • Owen, during the 90ies from Portugal to Indonesia the TV broadcast’ smoke and fumes global due to ‘climate change’.

        That was criminal environmental surge of power, clue ‘CO2 prevention’ – burning forests for methanol corn and riding on Lehmann brothers housing-related assets bankruptcy.

        Of course, that same ‘climate change’ alarmism wasn’t true then, how can it be true now.

    • “More than 40% of U.S. corn is now consumed in the production of ethanol. With
      the United States by far the world’s largest producer and exporter of corn, this represents
      an estimated 15% of global corn production. A recent survey by the National Academy of
      Sciences estimated that globally biofuels expansion accounted for 20-40% of the price
      increases seen in 2007-8, when prices of many food crops doubled. ”

      Why we do this to ourselves and our neighbors is befuddling. Now if we could get the cellulosic ethanol working with waste products, how far behind could a Mr. Fusion be???

      • Cellulosic ethanol is a total failure and will never work without massive tax payer subsidies as the Administration is subsidizing failure after failure. Some people will not learn as long as it is not their money.

      • Complete rubbish Robert B. These silly claims about corn used for bio fuels and food prices are proven outright false both by looking at the whole historical record, and more so by recent history and data.

        Corn was as high as $8.00/bu over the last 5 years. Today it is $3.18/bu. In 1995 it was $3.24. Corn used for ethanol has remained virtually the same for the last 5 years.

        Please explain how corn used for bio fuels has caused food and feed prices to increase when the truth is corn prices have DECREASED by over HALF in the last 5 years, even while corn used for bio fuels has remained steady, at nearly 40% of total US production?

        And a BIGGER question, IF an increase in corn prices as a result of corn used for bio fuels DID increase food costs, then … how come food prices have not decreased dramatically with the 50% drop in corn prices over the last 5 years?

      • And wasn’t one of the reasons behind the Arab Spring said to be the result of this increase in the cost of food leading to local unrest.

        If so, then bio-fuels have a lot to answer for, and have come with massive expense and consequence. Pity Europe who are just beginning to feel this consequence.

      • RV, it was wheat prices, not corn, that helped trigger Arab Sping. In Egypt, Mubarak went after wheat went up 66% in two years thanks mainly to poor Russia/Ukraine harvests.

  14. Do any of these studies include the carbon footprint of all the extra bureaucrats needed to implement and enforce the regulations?

    • Ah, but the emissions are in Indonesia while the green palm oil biodiesel virtue is in Europe. And, your obervation also shows how and why orangutangs are threatened by climate change–Um, the green fear of climate change.

      • The Greens just can’t stop killing wildlife in their efforts to conquer CO2. Collateral damage, I guess.

  15. “the “road to hell is paved with good intentions” department”

    Good intentions, my @ss. More like lies to cover up the graft and corruption.

  16. This pretty much DOES say it all about this report and author. He has no scientific clue what the emissions effect of ethanol is, but he absolutely, positively and with certainty knows it is worse than gasoline.

    “The question, ‘How does the overall greenhouse gas emission impact of corn ethanol compare to that of gasoline?’ does not have a scientific answer,” DeCicco said. “What I can say definitively is that, whatever the magnitude of the emissions impact is, it is unambiguously worse than petroleum gasoline.”

    What a complete load of ridiculousness. This is a study – and author – that have continually regurgitated this same flawed work, which he admits has no scientific basis. This is highly similar to the thoroughly and repeatedly refuted silliness from Patzek & Pimental.

    Who were, like DeCiccio, directly funded by the oil industry.

  17. When NASCSR moved to their Green racing fuel, they at first got about 2 laps less on a tank full of fuel. We used pure alcohol in Sprint Cars but we needed a high capacity alcohol fuel pump which pumped alcohol into a fuel log. That which the engine did not use was routed back to the tank. The alcohol was very powerful and allowed the engine to run cooler but we used a great deal more of the fuel.

  18. Everyone conveniently forgets to scale up biofuels. A high school student, armed with a few basic questions, an excel spreadsheet, the Internet and nothing more than basic arithmetic could determine in a matter of hours that biofuels are a total scam and grossly inadequate.

    If 100% of the arable land in the U.S. were planted in biofuel crops, and those crops spontaneously seed, sprout, grow, mature, self-harvest, sun dry, and burn in place (without human intervention), and 100% of the stored energy is mysteriously captured for beneficial use as transportation fuel, it would supply only 46% of U.S. transportation fuel demand. If one includes in these calculations the energy inputs for crop production, processing, marketing and distribution, biofuels would only supply about 5% of U.S. transportation fuel demand. If we really wanted to “go bio” by planting ALL U.S. farmland, rangeland and forest land in biofuel crops, it would supply maybe 10% of transportation fuel demand.

    And there is no silver bullet crop (e.g., algae or switchgrass) that would appreciably change this dismal picture. Of course, I should not need to mention that implementing this grand plan would leave us with no domestic food or natural fiber supply, our national ecosystems would be destroyed, and there would be dramatic species extinctions.

    Biofuels? Move on. There is nothing to see here.

    • Good point – biofuels are not scalable because they are a function of Earth’s surface area. Same with solar and wind.

    • I did a back of the envelope calculation years ago, and basically you needed to plant 6X the acreage in corn you have now to replace all gasoline in vehicles. That didn’t include diesel. I don’t know if there is that much suitable corn acreage in the US.

      • And even if there was, you’d need massive use of hydrocarbons anyway, for fertilizer. Corn is a nutrient hog.

  19. So many factors here. Greenhouse gas emissions are not one of them.

    Corn ethanol was initially sold as a way for the US to become energy independent. False advertising. The corn lobby and agricultural interests in Washington have great power(and money) and they have written the script for corn ethanol in the US by controlling policies/politicians. Stark realities of corn ethanol, like many ruinous policies don’t matter…….if the people that control the system support them.

    So lets talk about real pollution. Corn is the most polluting crop that we grow. Fertilizer, from runoff after locally heavy rain events gets into local streams and rivers and settles into larger bodies of water, by itself greatly contributing to the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, Lake Erie and many other places in the US. When the fertilizer feeds algae growth, it poisons the water for other life.

    There are other chemicals used to fight insects/weeds/disease to boost corn yields.
    When compared to unleaded gasoline, corn ethanol results in much more pollution and MUCH more environmental damage.

    Irrigated corn, especially in states like Nebraska, that is 50% irrigated uses a tremendous amount of water. In the Plains states, irrigating corn grown for ethanol with water from the(drying up) Ogallala Aquifer has to be one of the most blatantly stupid things that humans have done in the history of natural resources. Ethanol plants also use up massive amounts of water.

    There are something like 35 million acres of corn grown in the US that goes to making ethanol. That’s 35 million less acres of the most fertile land on the planet not being used to grow other crops(or corn to feed animals), some of them food crops.

    On the small engines. My local garden center service manager told me a couple of years ago that half of his business is to repair issues caused by ethanol. They recommend and sell ethanol free gas.

    There are financial benefits to farmers, who get a higher price for their crops……..while others pay a higher price of course. Massive record breaking crops in recent years because of near ideal conditions…… and higher CO2 levels, actually allows for the additional production to grow crops for biofuels and still have plenty left over for food and other uses. However, increasing the demand base this much to grow fuel causes huge price shocks in the years when adverse weather strikes and curtails supply/production. When the inevitable droughts hit, the price spikes higher will be much worse because of bio-fuels. We are complacent, mainly because of the best growing conditions in history during the past 3 decades.

    Corn yields, much more than any other crop are determined by how much nitrogen fertilizer you can dump on. There have been tremendous advancements with technology to increase yields, including hybrids that are more heat and especially drought tolerant. However, they will never breed in genetics that cause corn to need very little nitrogen fertilizer. This also uses a tremendous amount of natural gas.

    There are strategies now being employed(forced on) by farmers to lessen fertilizer runoff. However, if you stopped growing corn for ethanol, it would have a bigger positive environmental impact than any other action………by a wide margin.

    This will never happen though. Maybe in some alternate universe where the government bases policy on good judgement in deciding what’s best for the environment based on authentic science and environmental impact, along with what’s best for all the people………not just the select few who control the rigged system to benefit them and their wealthy/powerful puppet masters.

    • The ethanol versus food argument is largely spurious. I own a dairy farm so know the facts. 41% of US corn goes to ethanol. But this returns 27% distillers grain, a roughage and protein (from yeast) enhanced excellent feed for ruminants (beef and dairy cattle). So we sell all the corn that isn’t chopped green for silage to ethanol plants, and buy back distillers grain. That lets us free up some alfalfa acreage for more corn. And corn prices are down by more than half despite ethanol thanks to two successive years of good harvests everywhere in the US.

      • Ristvan is correct … every bushel of corn produces appx 2.2 gals of ethanol and numerous other co-products including appx 17 lbs of Distillers Dried Grains – a high quality animal feed – better than the orig corn – which offsets nearly half (by nutritional value) if the corn originally used for ethanol production.

        In effect ethanol only actually uses a little more than half of the total amount of feed corn that goes to ethanol production.

        Corn Ethanol production also creates residuals that can be used for the enrgy to run the process, along with corn stover (the stalks etc left over after harvest) which also can be used both to create ethanol from cellulosic processes, but also – more easily – to be used to provide power to operate the ethanol process – thus greatly increase net energy balance.

    • Sorry Mike … much of that is simply not accurate …

      ONE – corn based ethanol DOES significantly contribute to US energy independence. Without the 10% of US transportation fuels corn based ethanol provides we would not have been able to break the Middle East stranglehold on oil prices.

      TWO – the pollution claims are old, refuted and as you note being addressed thru significant reductions in nitrogen based fertilizers. But none of that really matters – ethanol haters claim we should be growing that corn for food – not fuel. EXACT same inputs to grow food corn as to grow bio fuel corn.

      THREE – the top 5 corn producing states are Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska, Minnesota and Indiana … together comprising the majority (appx 62%) of all corn production in the US. Of these only Nebraska has any appreciable irrigated corn. And Nebraska represents just 12.5% of the US corn crop and just 15.2% of the irrigated crop production acres in the US. Only appx 24% of the irrigation water use is for corn.

      Of the water used for irrigation more than 50 percent of the water used is eventually returned to the environment where it replenishes water sources (water goes back into a stream or down into the ground) and can be used for other purposes. Irrigation withdrawals have continued to decline in the US — down by about 30 percent from peak withdrawals in 1980 to 2010.

      Irrigation water use for corn is simply not a significant issue. The majority of corn is grown is not irrigated, and in Nebraska – the one major corn producing state that does irrigate, the water use, especially when considering more than half of irrigation water is returned to the environment, is simply not a significant issue.

      Regardless, OTHER crops would still be grown on these acres using similar amounts of water.

      FOUR – corn for ethanol consumes nearly 40% of the US corn production. Mike claims using those “fertile acres” for corn for ethanol means they are “not being used to grow other crops (or corn to feed animals), some of them food crops.” Every part of that claim is wrong.

      The US is the worlds corn supplier. We have supplied the majority of our own and the world demand for corn for nearly a century or more. And we continue to be the worlds largest corn supplier – by far. US export is larger than all the other top producers combined.

      The US corn producers meet 100% of the US demand for corn for food, feed and fuel. We also meet 100% of the export demand for corn – of all types; food (sweet & white corn), feed and fuel (seed/feed corn). And we still add to the US corn reserves every year.

      There is already a GLUT of corn being produced in the US and the world. That is why prices have plummeted – by more than HALF – in the last 5 years. The US and the world has all the corn we need, and more, even after the corn used for ethanol.

      FIVE – the cries about impacts on small engines, boats, old cars and the like affect a minute segment. It is a tiny problem – affecting boats, cars and small engines that are 25 years old and older. The issues are easily addressed and extremely well known. If you have a problem with any of these today its a result of your own stupidity and nothing more.

      SIX – the claims that increased corn used for ethanol will create more severe price spikes in bad years is simply silly as well. And disproven by facts. You WILL have price spikes in years like 2012 – where serious drought affected the US. But ethanol did not exacerbate those spikes – it hugely moderated them. The US ethanol industry cut back corn use by nearly the entire amount of the corn production shortfall due to drought.

      In effect the corn ethanol industry has created a massive corn reserve – that can and has been used to moderate shortages. In times of plenty the corn ethanol industry uses that corn production … when times are bad they step back and allow that corn to be used to make up a large share of the shortage. The claim corn used for ethanol increases volatility is simply false – demonstrably false by recent experience.

      SEVEN – there have been significant changes in nitrogen use for corn production. It is simply not true that dumping more nitrogen increases yields. The Mississippi River/Gulf of Mexico Watershed Nutrient Task Force was established in 1997 to coordinate activities to reduce the amount of nutrients used. The states bordering the Mississippi all have developed their own required nutrient reduction programs. A huge share is simply employing best mgmt practices with runoff and tilling of the soil to reduce nutrient loads entering the watershed.

      Once again all of this is immaterial though. The haters want this land to continue to be used to produce crops. Which requires nutrients.

      EIGHT – IF use of corn for ethanol was responsible for the massive hikes in corn prices and an alleged resultant increase in food costs, as we keep hearing … then how do these people explain the FACT that corn prices have dropped by over half in the last 5 years, despite corn used for ethanol remaining at nearly 40% of the US corn production?

      The answer is this claim is simply ridiculous. It is wholly unsupported by the long term historical data – which shows virtually no effect on corn prices – not in the early years as corn used for ethanol rapidly increased and absolutely not in recent years – where corn prices have dropped more than half, all while ethanol production continued to use nearly 40% of the US corn crop.

      Each of these usual claims are outdated, mostly false, and not remotely supportable if you include the last 5 to 10 years historical data.

      • ristvan/A.Scott,
        Thanks for the comments. There are some items that I failed to mention. Feel free to make additional posts.

        DDG’s. You are correct ristvan. This is a significant contribution from the corn used for ethanol that goes back to feeding animals. It’s especially used feeding cattle.

        I have numerous farmer friends and have interacted with 100 producers in the last decade. I have yet to find one producer that can acknowledge realities about corn ethanol that I stated. I don’t hold crop farmers responsible, you just happened to be lucky and am along for the financially beneficial ride, doing what you/they do best, growing the crops which make you the most money.

        I am very much in favor of the free market determining the price and viability of products(with minimal government intervention and supports). I am all for the farmers who are only supplying the current market for ethanol with what it wants. The US farmer is incredibly efficient. They don’t make the rules. They take tremendous risks every year, never knowing if a drought or flood or even a freeze is going to kill their crop(crop insurance is an issue for another day). My views are with great respect in mind for US producers.

        You must have forgotten things like, when December corn(new crop) spiked to $8 in June of 2008 because of flooding in Iowa. Without the corn demand from the ethanol industry having recently ramped up then, I estimate that the price spike would have not exceeded $4. Incredibly high prices for years because of corn ethanol hurt the animal producers tremendously, especially the small guys. Rotten deal for them. A close friend, who’s family raised hogs for 3 generations in southwest Indiana, tried to hold on. Feed costs were killing him. The last time he went to the bank to borrow more money, 5 years ago, the bank told him “no, be a crop farmer”. Our government turned their backs on the livestock industry and gave the crop growing industry a gift…….favored one over the other because of political agenda.

        With regards to all the information you supplied, none of it negates anything that I stated, some even bolsters my statements. Corn is the most polluting crop by a wide margin and uses the most natural resources, including billions of gallons of water from the rapidly depleting Ogallala Aquifer. If a person wants to honestly and objectively evaluate corn grown for fuel based on its environmental impact alone……’s a one sided street.

      • “A close friend, who’s family raised hogs for 3 generations in southwest Indiana, tried to hold on. Feed costs were killing him. The last time he went to the bank to borrow more money, 5 years ago, the bank told him “no, be a crop farmer”

        Forgot to finish. He liquidated and now is doing well as a crop farmer. However, when he was losing the most money ~6-8 years ago, from the high price of feed(caused by corn grown for ethanol) while the price he got for his hogs was still low the man never complained once to me.

        Crop farmers, who are the biggest cheerleaders for corn ethanol, can remember what it was like not that long ago……….when corn at harvest was under $2/bushel. If corn ethanol was taken away, no doubt we would go back to those days, which featured extremely unfair/low prices for crop farmers, who deserve to be rewarded for their hard work and risk. I understand the position and would probably share much of it if I made a living as a crop farmer. Corn ethanol will not be going away however and after 2 record smashing crop years in a row(with more than enough corn for everyone-for now), the policy will not be getting any serious scrutiny.

      • This comes across like marijuana advocacy talk. For No. 8, all commodity prices have been beaten down in part from a strong dollar and a no-growth global economy sucking air with zero or negative interest rates.

  20. Argonne National Laboratory is the definitive source for bio fuel information. Their GREET model is the most extensive and highly developed source for data on bio fuels. Their Wells to Wheels articles provide direct insight into the data.

    They review “life cycle energy consumption and GHG emissions” for each different biofuel feedstock. Their findings (from 2012 report) show corn ethanol reduces life-cycle GHG emissions by 19-48% comapred to gasoline. Incorporate corn stover and residuals into the mix and the reduction in life-cycle GHG emissions increases to 40-62%.

    DeCiccio’s claim “the overall greenhouse gas emission impact of corn ethanol compared to that of gasoline does not have a scientific answer” is silly and ridiculous. Numerous studies have shown exactly that – and Argonnes GREET model is one of the most highly developed and refined of them all. His comment shows his work for exactly what it is.

    “This article presents results from our most recently updated simulations of energy use and GHG emissions that result from using bioethanol made from several feedstocks. The results were generated with the GREET (Greenhouse gases, Regulated Emissions, and Energy use in Transportation) model. In particular, based on a consistent and systematic model platform, we estimate life-cycle energy consumption and GHG emissions from using ethanol produced from five feedstocks: corn, sugarcane, corn stover, switchgrass and miscanthus. We quantitatively address the impacts of a few critical factors that affect life-cycle GHG emissions from bioethanol. Even when the highly debated land use change GHG emissions are included, changing from corn to sugarcane and then to cellulosic biomass helps to significantly increase the reductions in energy use and GHG emissions from using bioethanol. Relative to petroleum gasoline, ethanol from corn, sugarcane, corn stover, switchgrass and miscanthus can reduce life-cycle GHG emissions by 19-48%, 40-62%, 90-103%, 77-97% and 101-115%, respectively. Similar trends have been found with regard to fossil energy benefits for the five bioethanol pathways.”

    • It can also reduce consumer wealth, government coffers, and skew the economy even further from market equilibrium. We are even exporting tax incentives and related farm subsidies.

    • Why are they using a model? The government has tons of information on all the inputs and outputs for the processes involved. What are the inputs into a farm? Fertilizer, seed, irrigation, harvesting, drying and more they are pretty well known. Average over several years to even out the yield fluctuations. Do the same thing for the ethanol plant. They’ve been running for quite awhile now and have sufficient numbers.

      That is apparently what DiCiccio is doing and found that the overall process shows that more CO2 is produced by the process than the models(presumably GREET) show, resulting in less CO2 offsets being produced.

      It sounds reasonable to me, although I’ll have to take a closer look at his methods, but working with actual data, rather than models of a process is always a better engineering solution.

      • philohippous … I encourage you to learn about what the GREET “model” is. It is EXACTLY what you describe. A MODEL directly based on extensive hard actual real world DATA collected on ALL aspects of the entire bio fuels process.

        Diciccion (and Patzek & Pimetal from Berkely in years past) are both funded by big oil. And the work of each of them are equally unsupported by the data, and extreme outliers compared to large bodies of work by credible main stream sources. Places like Argonne natl Labs.

  21. Ah, the specter of unintended consequences rears its ugly head once again. But fear not! It’ll only require a miner change in the modeling constants to make E85 California friendly once again… Just remember, “War is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength.”

  22. We can argue all day about efficiency of biofuels, GHG reductions, etc. We can even invoke the Argonne GREET model if we like. None of this addresses the potential for biofuels as a replacement for petroleum. Just like the problems with wind and solar energy, biofuels are another low density and inefficient means of capturing and converting incident solar energy, requiring VAST areas of land to produce a paltry amount of usable energy.

    Arable land area of the U.S. = 407,739,283 acres
    Average annual crop yield in the U.S. across all candidate biofuel crops = 3 dry tons/acre/yr
    Average energy content of these crops = 10.25 MMBtu/dry ton
    Total annual gross energy potential of biofuel crops [ASSUMING: 100% of arable land cropped, with yields magically harvested, dried, and direct-fired in place with no active farming, processing or other human intervention] = 13 Quadrillion btu/yr
    Total annual U.S. Transportation Fuel Usage = 28 Quadrillion btu/yr

    Add in production, processing and distribution inputs, and the NET production drops dramatically.

    And this reveals how the biofuels lobby hides the pea. Never scale it up or compare it to demand.

    • No Pflash – that is how the critics hide the truth.

      And that truth is corn based ethanol is not, and never has been planned, projected, or portrayed to replace any major share of US transportation fuel needs. It can and does however, do an excellent job of replacing a respectable and important share.

      Enough of a share that when combined with gains from fracking and similar, that we have been able to break the Middle East cartel’s stranglehold on energy prices.

      Current EROI’s (net energy balance) for conventional corn based ethanol production are in the appx 2.2 units of energy produced for every 1 unit of energy expended range. Second generation processes – including simple improvements to conventional corn based ethanol processes such as significantly increased use of corn stover and corn residue,

      Net energy balance increased to appx 4.1 units of energy produced for every 1 unit of energy expended when biomass (stover, corn residuals etc) is used to supply just 50% of the power. With no other changes this would represent almost a 2 times higher energy yield from the same amount of corn.

      Based on actual observed survey inputs, the energy balance for a hypothetical case of 100 percent biomass power would be large, in excess of 50 units of energy produced for every 1 unit of energy expended. Suddenly ethanol production – using the same amount of cropland as today – would become a major part of all US transportation fuel needs.

      “Adoption of biomass power would improve energy and carbon accounts because an external
      fossil fuel would be replaced by a fuel grown with existing energy inputs for corn. Also, the
      carbon removed from the atmosphere while the corn plant grows is returned to the air when the
      corn stover is burned for power–the atmospheric carbon removal and return cycle with biomass
      power is environmentally superior to the continuous atmospheric carbon return associated with
      fossil fuels.”

      A dry grind ethanol plant that produces and sells dried distillers grains and uses conventional
      fossil fuel power for thermal energy and electricity produces appx. 2.3 times more energy
      in the form of ethanol delivered to customers than it uses for corn, processing, and transportation.

      In areas like Iowa and Minnesota that use the lowest cost corn energy, with local ethanol plants that market Distillers Dried Grains to local livestock industry, and sell ethanol locally, the net energy balance ratio is 4.0 of slightly higher.

      Increasing use of biomass (corn stover, crop and corn residuals etc.) to provide power for the ethanol process can increase the net energy balance exponentially – to more than 50 units of energy produced for each unit of energy expended.

      That is what the facts show.

  23. To put it another way, if corn ethanol had to be used to fuel the production of corn ethanol, it would take 10 acres of corn to fuel each acre’s worth of ethanol at the pump. There are not enough acres of farmland in America. Corn is a food & feed crop, not a fuel crop. Soybeans are a little better, while cellulosic crops (e.g., switchgrass) are worse. But again, back to my original point, No matter the crop, there is not enough yield potential on available acreage to make a dent in meeting fuel demand.

    An unintended consequence of such folly would be a global increase in food cost, worsening poverty and leading to malnutrition and starvation in some places.

    The down-sides are almost endless. I haven’t even touched on ecological effects.

    • Not a shred of what you just said is factual Pflash.

      Your claim makes zero sense.

      The most recent (aug 2016) USDA Crop Production report indicates corn is estimated to yield an average 175.1 bushels per acre. Your “10 acres” of corn would generate 1,751 bushels of corn. Each bushel of corn generates appx 2.8 gals of ethanol. Your “10 acres” of corn would generate 4,903 gallons of ethanol.

      Your claim that it would take 10 acres of corn to “fuel” 1 gallon of ethanol is patently ridiculous and wholly refuted by the facts.

      At appx 76,300 BTU per gal of ethanol, that 4903 galls would represent 374,083,640 BTU’s. Each gallon of ethanol requires appx 8,708 BTU’s of “energy” to produce. This includes all energy from the diesel and gasoline for growing, harvesting and transport, plus the LP, Natural gas and electricity to process corn into ethanol.

      Those 374+ million BYU’s would be enough power alone – the energy – to “fuel” the production of just under 43,000 gallons of ethanol.

      If we take the total BTU equivalent of ALL inputs – incl seeds, fertilizer, energy, chemicals, drying, water and hauling … it took 37,666 BTU per gal of ethanol produced in 2010 (today’s total BTU per gal is far less) – the 374 million BTU’s in the ethanol produced from your “10 acres” are enough to cover the BTU equivalent of ALL inputs for just under 10,000 gallons of ethanol.

      I’ll repeat – your claim is simply silly – unsupported by any shred of factual basis …

  24. Biofuels – a big green con?
    Inconvenient to whom??
    22 January 2008
    The UK’s largest environmental groups have launched an advertising campaign attacking environmentally destructive ‘biofuels’.

    Adverts (PDF†) appeared in the Guardian, Times and Independent on 8 May 2007.
    The adverts, supported by campaign partner, call on the Government to reconsider it’s approach to biofuels.

    Biofuels are touted as being ‘green’ fuels, but the Government’s dash for biofuels could:
    Destroy forests and valuable habitats.
    Produce more greenhouse gases than they save.
    Threaten the food supply and livelihoods of some of the worlds most vulnerable people

    Biofuel farms make CO2 emissions worse
    · Land conversion increases greenhouse gases – study
    · Carbon debt may take centuries to pay off
    Alok Jha, science correspondent

    Friday 8 February 2008 00.14 GMT
    Transforming ecosystems into farms for biofuel crops will increase global warming and result in net increases in carbon emissions, according to a study.

    Scientists have found that converting rainforests, peatlands and grasslands can outweigh the carbon savings made from biofuels and produce “carbon debts” which could take centuries to pay off.

    The study will add to concerns about the ability of biofuels to replace fossil fuels. The EU is reviewing its pledge that biofuels such as bioethanol and biodiesel should make up 10% of transport fuel by 2020. Britain has a separate target of 5% biofuels in petrol and diesel by 2010.


    • Smueller … a report based on 2007 data is literally worthless today. And that is the problem with the continued claims – such as that corn used for ethanol is driving up corn prices and thus increasing food costs.

      Which is absolutely and completely refuted by the historical data from 2008 to present.

  25. Soils store Carbon over time and plowing accelerates the loss of carbon by aerating the soil, supplying Oxygen to aerobic bacteria which feed on the stored C, thus producing CO2.

    Water condensation in gas tanks is a problem in Winter and a little Ethanol fuel can help prevent gas line freezing by blending with any water in the fuel, if the engine components can take it.

    Doing the math for energy content, 10% Ethanol gas is cheaper around here than 100% gas. My ride is built for multi- fuels, but won’t let Ethanol near my small engines, especially the two- strokes.

  26. Do I read this correctly? That the CO2 that say corn absorbs during the plants growth is less than the CO2 emitted from the burning of corn based ethonal that plant would produce?

    • That is the paper’s assertion, but it doesn’t make common sense. See following comment that puts rough quantitative numbers on the logical problem.

  27. After read the paper, did some research. The ABC accounting method depends on assumptions buried in the SI that may not be correct. Ignore secondary factors like tractor and truck fuel and fertilizer for the moment Just think about the main boxes in the paper. It cannot be correct.

    In pure biological terms, the entire corn plant by weight is essentially photosynthetically captured CO2 plus water. By dry weight, ~55% corn grain and 45% stover. Stover is harvested for bedding then plowed in, or just plowed in. Mostly Soil carbon capture in that farm year. The starch/sugar in the corn is fermented by yeast producing one mole of CO2 to one mole ethanol, leaving 2/3 by weight (27 dg/41 corn) distillers grain used as ruminent feed. Some of that is oxidized by animal metabolism, some is converted to milk and meat. Dairy is o.8#feed per pound milk. Beef is 10# feed per pound usable meat. (1200# steer=>750#carcass=> 490# trimmed boneless beef). Take 5:1 as average. When burned, that mole ethanol produces two moles CO2. So net is 3 moles CO2 per mole ethanol. Per mole, 132g CO2 per 46g fermented ethanol combustion. 2.8x say 3 for simplicity.
    So 100%corn plant carbon capture => 55 corn * (1-27/41) = 24 starch=> 12 ethanol +12 CO2 => 24 CO2. Fo the 27% distillers grain, 5/6 CO2 from animal metabolism so ~ 22CO2. Total CO2 produced is 12+24+22= 58% of what the plant captured. Say 60. Net CO2 reduction ~40%. Many other studies I looked at add in fuel and fertilizer and come out ~80, which a net GHG reduction of about 20%. This study seems wrong, just using its own ABC style accounting method.

    • Ristvan- a couple of things. These I believe currently most of the corn stover is simply left on the field, where it has to decay at roughly the same rate as it is produced or the field would get higher and higher. Plus the soil needs certain ratios of clay/sand/organic for best growth so excessive amounts of stover have to be dealt with either by composting or burning, but still produce CO2 at the same long term rate as the stover is produced.

      The other thing is that all of the distillers grain is metabolized one way or another within the two year window of production use of a field. Virtually 100% of the cow is processed and eaten and or used up. Some of survives as leather(another CO2 producing process), but replaces by old leather goods that are incinerated/burned/decomposed. Even stuff that goes into landfills has to be considered “in process” since almost all the carbon will be returned to the air as CO2.

  28. I love this site and enjoy reading it daily, but I can’t express how disappointing it is to see the ignorance on display when anything related to ethanol or biofuels is discussed here.

    Dr. Bob, you’re full of b.s., Iowa farmland prices are not even close to $20,000 per acre. Never have been and won’t be for a very long time.

    Concerning Ethanol Subsidies… GOOGLE IS YOUR FRIEND… Before making statements that people clearly know nothing about, try using Google. Ethanol subsidies were eliminated years ago, yet the oil industry continues to receive subsidies and special tax breaks from our government. Again, GOOGLE IS YOUR FRIEND

    I’ll make one last comment. When anything related to AGW is posted on this site it’s scrutinized with a fine tooth comb, especially if it supports the alarmists position, but when anything is posted about biofuels it’s uncritically accepted as gospel. All of you should look in the mirror, because when it comes to biofuels, one can’t distinguish a difference between AGW alarmists and biofuel haters. Case in point: when AGW research mentions modelling, all of you are immediately skeptical, yet the research mentioned above uses modelling and it’s unquestioned. It’s a clear double standard.

  29. The main problem with biofuels is that they don’t make a dime’s worth of difference. Ten years ago I got the following analysis published in Oil and Gas Journal. Today we use a little less petroleum and we grow a little more corn, but otherwise the analysis remains applicable.

    “As the price of crude oil continues to rise, political leaders and public officials have called for increased reliance on biomass-based fuels, such as ethanol made from corn and biodiesel made from soybeans, as substitutes for petroleum-based fuels. What is the potential contribution of biomass-based fuels to relieving America’s dependence on petroleum (of which 60 percent is now imported from foreign sources)?
    To answer this question I calculated the amount of ethanol and biodiesel that could be produced from the 2004 US corn and soybean crops and compared it to our nation’s annual consumption of petroleum. Crop totals are from the USDA, the biofuel potentials of corn and soybeans are from industry sources.
    The 2004 US corn crop totaled about 11.7 billion bushels, the largest ever. One bushel of corn yields 2.66 gallons of ethanol, so hypothetically the 2004 crop could be converted into 31.122 billion gallons of ethanol. However, a portion of the energy in the ethanol represents energy invested in growing, harvesting, transporting, fermenting and distilling the corn. According to the corn ethanol industry, the energy yield is 1.67 btus for each btu consumed in production, or a net yield of about 40.1 percent of total ethanol produced. Multiplying the hypothetical 2004 production of corn ethanol by this factor leaves a net yield of 12.48 billion gallons. But ethanol has less energy content than petroleum. One gallon of crude oil contains about 138,100 btus, while a gallon of ethanol contains about 84,100 btus, or about 60.9 percent of petroleum. So on an energy-equivalent basis, 12.48 billion gallons of ethanol would equal about 7.6 billion gallons of petroleum.
    Using the same methodology one can calculate the potential contribution of soy-based biodiesel (soybeans constitute about 90% of the total US oilseed crop). The 2004 US soybean crop was 3.15 billion bushels, also an all-time record. One bushel of soybeans yields about 1.4 gallons of biodiesel. The energy yield of biodiesel is about 3.2 btus for each btu consumed in production, or a net of 68.75 percent, a much better rate than ethanol from corn. The energy content of a gallon of biodiesel is much higher, 128,000 btus, about 92.7 percent of petroleum. The 2004 US soybean crop converted to biodiesel would equal about 2.81 billion gallons of petroleum (3.15 billion bushels times 1.4 gallons of biodiesel per bushel is 4.41 billion gallons; adjusted for net yield, 4.41 billion gallons times 68.75 percent is 3.032 billion gallons; in terms of energy equivalency, 3.032 billion gallons of biodiesel would equal 2.81 billion gallons of petroleum).
    The entire 2004 US corn and soybean crop, converted to biomass fuels, could replace about 10.41 billion gallons of petroleum (7.6 billion as ethanol and 2.81 billion as biodiesel). Petroleum is measured in 42-gallon barrels; the 10.41 billion gallon biofuel total would be equivalent to 248 million barrels of petroleum. The US consumed about 7.49 billion barrels of petroleum last year, or about 20.5 million barrels a day. This means that the total biofuel potential of the record 2004 US corn and soybean harvests would offset about 12 days of US petroleum consumption, or about 3.3 percent of our total yearly petroleum consumption. Given that most of the US corn and soybean crop is already committed to other uses, this analysis indicates that biomass-based fuels will have a negligible role in reducing US petroleum consumption, which in turn underscores that replacing petroleum in the US economy will be a monumental challenge.

    • Ted … the analysis is not remotely applicable or similar to today. Ethanol provides more than 10% of US transportation fuel consumption.

      Ethanol was never, as I have noted, promoted, proposed or intended to replace a major share of US energy needs. It DOES provide a significant small share, which when added to the fracking and other domestic resources, has allowed the US to break the Middle East cartels stranglehold on energy prices.

      In 2015 the US produced appx 13.601 billion bushels of corn. A less than 1% annual increase in corn production over 12 years. And those years saw the initial major ramp up in corn used for ethanol – from less than 1,500 million bushels in 2004 to more than 5,000 million bushels by 2010 (and 5,200 bushels in 2015).

      • Scott,
        Ethanol only provides10% because it is mandated by the government, not because the customer wants it!
        Isn’t it wonderful for the ethanol folks to have the government mandate ethanol content in another’s product, make the gasoline suppliers include it in their product, make the gasoline suppliers spend capitol to
        accommodate it, let the gas suppliers responsible for handling it including being responsible for problems, cleaning tanks, etc.
        What a free ride normally only available in a Communist world, then criticizing the host calling them dirty oil, etc. Kill the host, your product is dead meat too.

  30. Back in the day of the Late ’80s, Toyota warned about using “bio” gasoline mix in their engines and suggested only high lead gasoline.

    Boaters, with small combustion engines found out the hard way using the new “Bio” gasoline.

    Their boat engines were quickly ruined!

    An just like many Toyota Truck owners!

    Well Toyota warned us !

  31. Don’t forget the plowed up virgin prairies that had been part of conservation easements. Sure, destroy what the enviros fought and paid for with your tax money to save. Kind of like the bird choppers and whooping cranes, eagles, and other such birds in need of “saving”. Nothing really matters to enviros except money, money, money. For them, not you, silly.

  32. We’ve seen plenty of studies that turned out to be a load of dingo’s kidneys. Perhaps best to moderate the enthusiasm about this one until it gets a 97% consensus.

  33. Just imagine this; you go to the supermarket and after weighing your produce, they add 10% by weight, of broccoli, and charge accordingly. Now I like broccoli on occasion, and it’s good for you. But what if you didn’t want the broccoi? Too bad. It’s mandated by law. That’s what they’re doing with ethanol.

    • Good analogy, now they want to push it to 15% with the Worst Lobby in Congress.
      What happened to choice in a free country.

  34. From the Climate Central link included:

    “They rejected years of work by other scientists who have relied on a more traditional approach to judging climate impacts from bioenergy — an approach called life-cycle analysis.”

    “The research was financially supported by the American Petroleum Institute, which represents fossil fuel industry companies and has sued the federal government over its biofuel rules.”

    Even if we assume his claims are correct … :

    “Lifecycle analyses assume that all carbon pollution from biofuels is eventually absorbed by growing crops. DeCicco’s analysis found that energy crops were responsible for additional plant growth that absorbed just 37 percent of biofuel pollution from 2005 to 2013, leaving most of it in the atmosphere, where it traps heat.”

    … his OWN claims shows crop based ethanol removes 37% of the “bio fuel pollution” (what a blatantly stupid term) – ie: removes 37% of the carbon from the atmosphere. With gasoline and other fossil fuels 100% of the carbon, and at a significantly higher rate than with ethanol, goes directly into the atmosphere.

    The claim that ethanol is worse for the atmosphere is simply ridiculous .. AND wholly unsupported by even his own claims.

  35. Further … DiCicco says “The question, ‘How does the overall greenhouse gas emission impact of corn ethanol compare to that of gasoline?’ does not have a scientific answer” … how preposterous … we most certainly DO know the greenhouse gas emissions of gasoline. AND we know quite well the emissions of ethanol and other biofuels.

    He himself admits ethanol based fuels remove 37% of the “carbon pollution” … vs gasoline’s 0% … there absolutely is a “scientific answer.”

    A very large body of work shows a similar finding as DeCicco’s 37% reduction – that the life cycle impacts of corn based ethanol show a reduction of up to 50% in carbon compared to gasoline.

    “Analyses by scientists who have studied the life-cycle impacts of growing corn and other crops to produce ethanol have generally concluded biofuels can create between 10 percent to 50 percent less carbon dioxide pollution than gasoline.”

    This is oil industry sponsored PR hype – not science. It is the exact same kind of flawed, bad science as Patzek and Pimental.

    Argonne Natl Labs GREET model uses extensive data – real world data collected thru surveys of actual inputs for each stage of the full lifecycle of the corn growing and ethanol production process. That is science. This cherry picked, industry funded, unsupported by even their own findings, nonsense is anything but science.

  36. This WUWT story notes the Renewable Fuels folks response – and paints it with a ‘predictable’ label. This however, IMO belittles the credible, cogent, factually based, and scientifically supported CONTENT of their response.

    The points they make are 100% relevant and accurate:

    “DeCicco’s methodology entirely fails to account for this key distinction between biomass and
    fossil fuels. He attempts to justify this fatal omission by suggesting that only carbon
    sequestration that is “additional” to the existing sequestration performed by bioenergy crops
    should be counted. Scientists from Purdue University, Argonne National Laboratory, and the
    Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) have called DeCicco’s “additionality” approach

    In response to a similar paper published by DeCicco in 2015, the Purdue, Argonne, and FAA
    researchers highlight the fact that his “additionality” approach completely ignores the
    fundamental differences between fossil fuels and bioenergy and incorrectly omits carbon uptake
    by biomass:

    Fossil fuel carbon comes from the underground fossil carbon stock created a few million years ago. In his proposed analytic framework, DeCicco did not take into account the avoided CO2 emissions from
    the fossil energy displaced by bioenergy, even though he casually pointed out the avoided fossil CO2 emissions in his discussion.

    The Renewable Fuels response is entirely legitimate and supported by documented references and sources. We know – with certainty – that biomass based liquid fuels DO reduce carbon emissions. DeCicco admits this – noting a 37%reduction in carbon emissions. This is well supported by science … one simple example is that a share of the carbon absorbed by plants during the growing becomes sequestered in the soil in the growing and tilling process.

    DeCicco’s claims, that corn based ethanol is worse regarding ‘carbon pollution’ than gasoline … are demonstrably refuted … by his own statements, findings and claims. And soundly refuted by the extensive work of many professionals over the course of many years.

    This is junk science – nothing more. Just as Patzek & Pimental “cooked the books” by purposely excluding – refusing to include – ALL components of corn ethanol production … he simply ignored the inconvenient parts.

    DiCicco does exactly the same thing here – ignoring and dismissing key, highly relevant, data – glossing it over with specious and outright false claims, such as; ‘there is no scientific answer to the question of how the overall greenhouse gas emission impact of corn ethanol compare to that of gasoline.’

    the claim there is “no answer” is simply false. It is a purposeful charade intended to obfuscate the facts. And the facts are clear and well documented with real, credible science – using corn based ethanol for transportation fuel generates a much smaller carbon foot print than burning fossil fuel based gasoline.

    And despite their hype, The author of this junk science – DeCicco – agrees … using ethanol as a transportation fuel results in 37% less emissions than using fossil fuel based gasoline.

    • There is no credible science supporting the extensive use of Ethanol, it is all BS and payola from the ethanol lobby.

      • Another fact free comment from catcrack … with not a shred of credible documented evidence to support it.

      • Scott,
        Since you claim to love data, here is a partial list of environmental and criminal violations from companies that claim to clean up the air, etc., while polluting the air and waterways, and committing criminal actions.

        September 1, 2005
        FACT SHEET: Clean Air Act Settlement With Cargill, Inc.
        Over the past several years, the Justice Department and EPA have taken an industry-wide approach to environmental law enforcement, by targeting industries with significant compliance problems, including those that have been major sources of air pollution. A chief component of these enforcement actions is compelling companies in violation of the law to install state-of-the-art pollution controls and to build new facilities with controls in place. Recent successes include major settlement agreements with the wood products industry, refineries, and coal utilities sectors. With today’s landmark Clean Air Act settlement with grain industry giant Cargill, Inc., 81 percent of uncontrolled ethanol production capacity-those facilities without controls already in place-will now be under federal consent decrees.
        Read more

        Federal, Multi-State Clean Air Act Settlement With Cargill, Inc. Secures Major Pollution Reductions
        The Department of Justice and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today announced a multi-state Clean Air Act settlement with Cargill, Inc. (Cargill), which will result in a reduction of approximately 30,000 tons of pollution a year and set new standards for limiting harmful emissions from specialty oilseed plants. Cargill is a multi-state agribusiness that owns and operates 27 plants which process corn, wheat, soybeans, and other oilseeds into value-added products used in the food, feed, and ethanol industries.
        Read more

        WASHINGTON, D.C. – MGP Ingredients of Illinois, Inc. (MGP)—an ethanol producing company—has reached a settlement to resolve claims that it violated the Clean Air Act (CAA), which will result in a reduction of over 1,700 tons of air pollutants a year at its ethanol production plant in Pekin, Illinois, the Department of Justice, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the State of Illinois announced today. With today’s settlement, approximately 83 percent of the ethanol production capacity nationwide will be under consent decrees requiring new pollution controls.

        In Iowa 11 of the 34 plants have been fined by the EPA, there were 276 violations for spillage into waterways

        Then we have a large Ethanol producer paying the largest anti-trust fine ever in1996.


        Largest Criminal Antitrust Fine Ever

        WASHINGTON, D.C. — Archer Daniels Midland Co. today has agreed to plead guilty and pay a $100 million criminal fine–the largest criminal antitrust fine ever–for its role in two international conspiracies to fix prices to eliminate competition and allocate sales in the lysine and citric acid markets worldwide, the Department of Justice announced today.
        “This $100 million criminal fine should send a message to the entire world,” said Attorney General Janet Reno. “If you engage in collusive behavior that robs U.S. consumers, there will be vigorous investigation and tough, tough penalties.”
        MEDINA — An ethanol production plant was fined after illegally disposing of industrial waste on its property, the state Department of Environmental Conservation announced Monday.

        Earlier this month, Western New York Energy LLC was ordered by Shelby Town Court to pay an $87,000 fine for violating state environmental conservation law.

        In 2013, an investigation by the DEC’s Police Bureau of Environmental Crimes Investigation determined that Western New York Energy and Hydro-Klean LLC, an Iowa-based ethanol industrial cleaning operation, had disposed industrial waste at the rear of the ethanol plant.

        DEC said the waste, a wash water applied on evaporators in the plant, contained trace amounts of ammonia and diesel range organics. The wash water was loaded into a vacuum truck and transported to the rear of the property for dumping in the ground.
        MASON CITY | The Iowa DNR has ordered a Mason City-based ethanol production facility to pay $10,000 for air-quality violations.

        The Department of Natural Resources in an administrative consent order says Golden Grain Energy LLC has violated numerous air quality construction permits and its Title V operating permit by:

        • Exceeding permitted emission limits and failing to properly maintain required records.

        • Failing to properly maintain equipment.

        • Failing to continuously operate an emissions monitoring system.

        • Failing to continuously monitor thermal oxidizer temperature.

        The DNR says in the order the company adjusted equipment so lower emission rates were observed during required testing in 2012 and 2013.

  37. It never has seemed to occur to anyone in the great fuel debate, that we throw 85-90% of the energy from any fuel away in any infernal reciprocating combustion engine.

    Whether it’s bio or fossil based is largely irrelevant.

    Our whole obsolete civilisation is based on throwing away vast amounts of energy in the pursuit of not very much of value, and that’s peanuts compared with what happens when you fire up the average fighter jet engine and use it to bomb innocent people into the next world as in Syria.

    • Dai,
      Lots of mistakes in your post starting with the 85-90% of the energy being thrown away and ending with the claim that ISIS or the Syrian Leader are innocent.

      • so you are talking the total bollox about engine efficiency and rolling friction right?

        The 10-15% fuel efficiency of the motor car becomes absymally lower the moment it enters city traffic.
        Sitting for hours on end wasting all but a tiny fraction of the engine torque to move forward a few inches every 5 minutes..
        Do you actually KNOW the average speed of traffic in central London by day?
        Top gear went ahead to prove a cyclist could beat a car and it was pretty much dead evens.

        Did I mention horses?

        Did I mention you swallow the Putin propaganda of fighting ISIS when in fact all they are doing is killing 1000s of innocents and destroying hospitals on a daily basis.

        I was simply illustrating a point, that as a civilisation we are utterly hopeless in the energy use debate, and clearly blind people like you can’t see war as the most completely hopeless waste of resources of all.

        I don’t really give a damn what side of the ISIS debate you stand on.
        They all use whatever the fuel they can find to bomb, and kill pointlessly in an industrialised fashion, just like we all did 100 years ago in VERDUN, or did you forget Verdun too?

  38. If you have to subsidize and propagandize something to within an inch of its life, it may not be an inherently good idea.

  39. To be perfectly green, biofield producers should not be allowed to make use of fossil fuel related goods and services.

  40. If ethanol is the next best thing to the marijuana advocacy miracles list, then why force it down the throats of everyone, including the fact checkers of efficiency and cost benefit analysis?

  41. Paper or plastic? Sorry, the rules state you only get ethanol super container wonder bag and no other choice. Move along or get out of the line.

  42. Here is you free guide to the advocacy over reach policy manual.
    1) Ethanol is a contrived non-market mandate for the benefit of the farm lobby packaged as sustainable bio fuel.
    2) Carbon taxes are a non-market, major revenue source policy play packaged as saving the world out of the abundance of caution. (Such large over reach steps for revenue will be ingrained in the budget and social spending by the time cyclical cooling becomes obvious that “good public policy” will be pushed to keep the revenue coming to avoid financial catastrophe…in the midst of global cooling.)
    3) Excessive tax credits for non-market products like ethanol, all electric cars, and rooftop solar are for the benefit of lobby groups and donors at the expense of the common budget. This excess is best seen in the preferential treatment at the expense of low bid processes and deferral of consumer protection at regulated utilities for the benefit of high cost variants. Rooftop solar and its mining of tax credits comes alongside utility scale solar with one fourth the LCOE of large scale solar. Likewise government sponsored demonstration projects in solar CSP and cellulosic ethanol are orders of magnitude more costly than the competitive options available already within each segment of the industry.
    4) Cellulosic ethanol was a joint government and lobby group effort to distract the public on the inefficiencies of ethanol with a hyped alternative and untested technology that wasted public funds on industrial scale projects that subsequently failed. The distribution of these projects looks a lot like Congressional district vote buying, again at taxpayer expense.

  43. Make that 4x the LCOE of utility scale solar, unless someone is trying the advocacy ploy of pointing to averages instead of cost leaders and lowest bids.

  44. I would guess the market for ethanol would shrink with out the mandate. The idea of saving the environment by farming millions of acres of land is completely retarded. I have not seen any evidence government intervention has resulted in a reduction of carbon emissions. Shifting manufacturing overseas has resulted in a great reduction in the energy needed here. China’s 2 billion tons of burning coal every year helps us look pretty.

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