Biofuel justifications are illusory

It’s time to really cut, cut, cut ethanol and other renewable fuel mandates – maybe to zero

Paul Driessen

The closest thing to earthly eternal life, President Ronald Reagan used to say, is a government program.

Those who benefit from a program actively and vocally defend it, often giving millions in campaign cash to politicians who help perpetuate it, while those who oppose the program or are harmed by it are usually disorganized and distracted by daily life. Legislative inertia and obstruction of the kind so graphically on display in the Senate over the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) also help to perpetuate program life.

The Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), created under the 2005 Energy Policy Act and expanded by the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act, is a perfect example. It has more lives than Freddy Krueger.

The laws require that refiners blend steadily increasing amounts of ethanol into gasoline, and expect the private sector to produce growing amounts of “cellulosic” biofuel, “biomass-based diesel” and “advanced” biofuels. Except for corn ethanol, the production expectations have mostly turned out to be fantasies. The justifications for renewable fuels were scary exaggerations then, and are now illusions.

Let’s begin with claims made to justify this RFS extravaganza in the first place. It would reduce pollution, we were told. But cars are already 95% cleaner than their 1970 predecessors, so there are no real benefits.

The USA was depleting its petroleum reserves, and the RFS would reduce oil imports from unstable, unfriendly nations. But the horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (fracking) revolution has given the United States at least a century of new reserves. America now exports more oil and refined products than it imports, and US foreign oil consumption is now the lowest since 1970.

Renewable fuels would help prevent dangerous manmade climate change, we were also told. This assumes climate is driven by manmade carbon dioxide – and not by changes in solar heat output, cosmic rays, ocean currents and other powerful natural forces that brought ice ages, little ice ages, warm periods, droughts and floods. It assumes biofuels don’t emit CO2, or at least not as much as gasoline; in reality, over their full life cycle, they emit at least as much, if not more, of this plant-fertilizing molecule.

Moreover, contrary to the hysteria, computer models and Al Gore’s new movie, humanity and planet are not experiencing unusual or unprecedented climate or weather. Inconvenient to Mr. Gore’s theme, in fact not a single category 3-5 hurricane has struck the US mainland since October 2005, a record 11 years, 9 months. He simply presents a seemingly endless stream of weather calamities – what Australian science writer Jo Nova aptly refers to as “primal weather porn” and suggests that these events are unprecedented and caused by humans. The claim reflects deliberate distortion of the truth, abysmal grasp of science (by a man who received a C and a D in his only two college science courses), or both.

To get far more complete, factual, honest climate science, see the Climate Hustle documentary instead.

Moreover, with China, India, the rest of Asia, Africa, Poland and even Germany burning more and more coal – and more gasoline and natural gas – total atmospheric carbon dioxide levels continue to rise. But meanwhile, Greenland just had the coldest July temperature ever recorded in the Northern Hemisphere, and global average temperatures are back to the 1998-2017 hiatus they had before the 2015-16 El Niño.

Regardless, the immortal RFS is still with us. However, the Environmental Protection Agency has issued a previously unheard of proposal: to reduce the RFS total target for 2018 below its 2017 level. It’s a tiny 0.2% reduction, and EPA is not planning to roll back the 15-billion-gallon obligation for “conventional” biofuel, mostly ethanol from corn. But it suggests that a little healthy realism may finally be taking root.

The reduction is for cellulosic biofuel. The federal statutory target is 4.25 billion gallons in 2018. (Set a target, it will become reality, is the mindset.) EPA proposes to reduce the regulatory target to 24 million gallons for 2018, down from 31 million for 2017. But actual production and use of this fuel in 2015 was a meager 2.2 million gallons. This minuscule reduction is a good first step, but far greater reductions in statutory and regulatory targets are realistic and needed, along with a full overhaul of the RFS program.

A little over 15 billion gallons of corn-based ethanol were produced in 2016 – but only 143 billion gallons of gasoline were sold. That means using all the ethanol would require blends above 10% (E10 gasoline) – which is why Big Ethanol is lobbying hard for government mandates (or at least permission) for more E15 (15% ethanol) gasoline blends and pumps. Refiners refer to the current situation as the “blend wall.”

But E15 damages engines and fuel systems in older cars and motorcycles, as well as small engines for boats and garden equipment, and using E15 voids their warranties. You can already find E15 pumps, but finding zero-ethanol, pure-gasoline pumps is a tall order. Moreover, to produce ethanol, the United States is already devoting 40% of its corn crop, grown on nearly 40 million acres – along with billions of gallons of water to irrigate corn fields, plus huge amounts of fertilizer, pesticides and fossil fuels.

Much of the leftover “mash” from ethanol distillation is sold as animal feed. However, the RFS program still enriches a relatively few corn farmers, while raising costs for beef, pork, poultry and fish farmers, and for poor, minority, working class and African families. Ethanol also gets a third less mileage per gallon than gasoline, so cars cannot go as far on a tank of E10 and go even shorter distances with E15.

Ethanol sales also involve the complexities – and sometimes fraudulent practices – of buying and selling Renewable Identification Numbers, or RINs: certificates and credits for ethanol. Large integrated oil companies blend more gasoline than they refine, so they collect more RINs than they need, allowing them to hoard RINs and drive up the prices they charge to independent refiners that must buy these RINs to comply with the law. Large retail businesses like Cumberland Farms, Sheetz, Wawa and Walmart blend fuel and collect RINs, but have no RFS obligation; they use RINs as subsidies and their large volumes to command lower prices from refiners, and thereby gain an unfair advantage over small gas station owners.

The net result is that small mom-and-pop gas stations are squeezed hard and often driven out of business. Small refiners, and those on the East Coast that don’t have large wholesale and retail businesses are forced to buy pricey RINs from integrated oil company competitors, which puts those smaller outfits at a disadvantage and threatens their ability to stay in business. That means steel and refinery jobs and employee benefits are at risk. All told, the RFS presents a lot of problems for illusory benefits.

All these hard realities almost persuaded the US Senate Environment Committee to vote on a recent bill that would have revised some of the outdated and outlandish RFS mandates. It didn’t happen, but the political machinations suggest that even some progressive Democrats are beginning to question the RFS.

Euthanasia and assisted suicide are becoming increasingly popular in some states and countries. To cite the perspective of “progressive ethicists” like Peter Singer, perhaps it’s time to apply the same principles to government programs that have outlived their usefulness or should never have been born.

At the very least, politically spawned, politically correct energy programs – founded on questionable, exaggerated or fabricated climate, environmental, consumer or security scares – should no longer get free passes on land use, habitat and wildlife impacts, environmental quality or consumer and employment issues. They need to be subjected to the same tough legislative, regulatory, activist and judicial assessments that we insist on for oil, gas, coal and nuclear programs

This should apply to wind and solar, electric vehicle and battery proposals, as well as to Renewable Fuel Standards. It would restore some much-needed integrity and accountability to our government.

(The opportunity for signing up to present oral testimony at EPA’s August 1 public hearing on the 2018 biofuel standards has passed. However, written statements and supporting information submitted to EPA by August 31 will be given the same weight as comments and materials presented at the hearing.)

Paul Driessen is senior policy analyst for the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow (www.CFACT.org) and author of Eco-Imperialism: Green power – Black death.

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108 thoughts on “Biofuel justifications are illusory

  1. The US still imports about 7 million barrels a day … where does Paul get his info on this “America now exports more oil and refined products than it imports”?

    • I wondered the same thing. We export thin/sweet oil; we import thick/sour oil. It’s just the way our refineries are configured. ie. they were designed to process heavy/ sour oil and you don’t get that via fracking.

      • >> refined products is the key …

        No. The statement is just wrong. Let look at crude + refined:

        We import 10 million barrels a day

        We export 5.5 million barrels a day

        Thus we are a net importer of 4.5 million barrels a day of crude oil + refined products

    • I think it means the US exports more than the 7 million barrels a day it imports, what did you think it meant?

    • Think about it: “America now exports more oil and refined products than it imports” That means that USA is a NET exporter, that is not incompatible with your ” US still imports about 7 million barrels a day”

      I have not checked out either claim but you seem to infer that you see a contradiction between the two statements which probably means you reading something into it which is not there.

      • Greg what is incompatible is the numbers …. look at the EIA data for 2016 & net imports were about 5 million barrels a day …. what has changed – in 2016, the United States imported approximately 10.1 million barrels per day (MMb/d) of petroleum from about 70 countries. Petroleum includes crude oil, natural gas plant liquids, liquefied refinery gases, refined petroleum products such as gasoline and diesel fuel, and biofuels including ethanol and biodiesel. About 78% of gross petroleum imports were crude oil. In 2016, the United States exported about 5.2 MMb/d of petroleum to 101 countries. Most of the exports were petroleum products. The resulting net imports (imports minus exports) of petroleum were about 4.9 MMb/d.
        Further US daily production is flat at 9.4 million barrels a day for the last 6 weeks … show me proof that imports are less than exports.
        Numbers from here https://www.eia.gov/dnav/pet/pet_sum_sndw_dcus_nus_w.htm

    • Net energy exports. Yes, we still import because types/grades reduce fungibility. For example, Valero Refining has the ability to use low grade crude like Heavy Maya (PEMEX) which imports at a discount to domestic WTI or the sweet Eagle Ford. All three are pipeline accessible to major Valero refineries in Texas so transportation cost diffs are nil.
      You have to compare export-import dollars and not barrels to visualize trade balance. And you also must consider all energy with coal and LNG exports growing.

    • The oil and gas industry reports some hydrocarbon gases — Ethane, Butane, Propane — as liquids because that’s the way they are shipped. These NGLs get added to heavier hydrocarbon liquids in some reports and are then equated by some folks to “oil”. NGLs aren’t useless but neither can you pump them into your gas tank.

      Also, some amount of Canadian petroleum is refined in the US and the refined products (which can have a somewhat different volume) get shipped back to Canada. That confuses things a bit.

      But no, the US is not self-sufficient in petroleum. Hasn’t been for many decades. BP says that if all goes well, we may be again in a decade or so.

  2. Why is it wrong to grow corn, feed it to a cow, then eat the cow, but okay to grow corn, feed it to an ethanol refinery, then burn the refined product?

    • Sheri, The EPA says ethanol is only 21% efficient. It takes a lot of energy to plant, grow, harvest and process corn.

      It’s not a competitive way to harvest energy from nature.

      • Yet the greens seem to like it, while eating meat is bad because we grow corn and feed it to cows which we then eat. Another case of green hypocrisy?

      • The original idea for ethanol was as an oxygenate for smog reduction and octane enhancer replacing MBTE. The blendwall was set at 10 % because that is about what LA requires for oxygenate in summers, allowing auto companies to implement one set of fuel system design standards nationwide. Pumps many places still say up to 10% ethanol because less is needed and blended in those places. Anything more than E10 is a boondoggle and should be done away with. Ditto cellulosic ethanol subsidies and mandates emerging from ESIA2007 (Bush’s switchgrass). Energy indepencemis coming from fracked shale, not ethanol.
        But the original motivations remain valid. The post is very incomplete in terms of background knowledge. See also my primary comment below for another example.

      • >> Ditto cellulosic ethanol subsidies

        Ristvan,

        Cellulosic ethanol is in the RFS D3 category:

        D3 – Cellulosic biofuel – it is truly 98% RNG (renewable natural gas) and the law doesn’t sub-incentivize beyond D3 as far as I know.

        The cellulosic ethanol incentive was less than $10 million for 2016. Basically the EPA isn’t sending any money that way, but the few people making it are getting some cash.

        You can see the D3 categories and monthly production data in the RFS law at:

        https://www.epa.gov/fuels-registration-reporting-and-compliance-help/2017-renewable-fuel-standard-da

        You can get a breakdown of all the 2016 qualifying fuels at

        https://www.epa.gov/fuels-registration-reporting-and-compliance-help/2016-renewable-fuel-standard-data

        Cellulosic ethanol only saw 3.8 million gallons registered in 2016. RNG was 194 million gallons. A combined 198 million gallons of D3 fuel for last year.

    • Forces up the world price for corn, the poor in Africa get less food for their money and either go hungry or starve, it’s not a difficult concept.

      • Not generally true. Only 13% of US corn is exported. Most US corn exports are to Japan, Mexico, and China as animal feed for hogs and poultry, not to Africa. Africa mostly grows its own maize.

      • Anything that decreases the food supply anywhere, increases the cost of food everywhere. If the Chinese buy less from us, that means they buy more from someone else.

      • According to the USDA, if you account for corn every where it appears in their food price index it represents less than 2 cents on a dollar. The largest contributor to their food price index is labor at about 38 cents on a dollar. So why are the people in Africa either hungry or starving?

      • Applying US food prices as a share of income to food prices in Africa is a silly excercise that seems to fit the logic of your other arguments.

    • Virtue signaling. Or virtue projection. I will have my steak rare with horseradish on the side.

    • If it is truly economic take the protection and subsidies of the product and see how much is made.

      I would suggest close to zero.
      It would be a jolt but the environment would be much improved as the intensity of agriculture and extent is reduced.

    • Cattle may be finished with grain corn, they are not raised eating grain corn.

      Corn silage can be used for feeding cattle.

      Cattle and many other ruminants are excellent at processing coarse grasses, fodder and silage into quality meat.

      Unlike force feeding internal combustion engines time consuming expensive fuels to engines designed for greater energy fuels.

    • Cows are not meant to eat corn. They need grass. Corn is just carbs/sugar, bad for them as it is bad for us.

    • Sheri.

      First of all, ethanol doesn’t burn all that well, although it probably could do better if vehicle engines were specifically designed to burn it.

      More important the energy required to grow it and separate it from the fermented mash is so high that there is virtually no net gain in energy. Essentially it’s just a way to convert natural gas into a not especially great fuel.while keeping a lot of folks employed and tying up a lot of land.

      Ethanol’s one great merit other than as a beverage is as an octane enhancer that allows gasoline engines to run a little more efficiently (i.e. with higher compression ratios). But most vehicles don’t take advantage of that because octane enhanced fuels sell at a premium.

  3. You can already find E15 pumps, but finding zero-ethanol, pure-gasoline pumps is a tall order.

    Varies enormously by location. In the metro Atlanta area there are several Quiktrip stations that offer E087 (Ethanol-free, 87 octane) gasoline. Lawn maintenance and tree trimming companies seek them out because E10 gasoline is hard on small engines.

    Strangely, Ethanol-free gas is available from multiple brand gas stations in Hawaii. I have no idea why.

    There is a site which tries to track Ethanol-free gas, but I have not found it completely accurate in the Atlanta area.

  4. Ethanol also gets a third less mileage per gallon than gasoline….I though Obaba said we had to get 50 mpg or some nonsense

    • The law doesn’t track gallons. It tracks BTU’s. But yes, ethanol is much less energy dense than gasoline/diesel.

    • Ethanol gets less MPG in a car designed for gasoline does, because ethanol has less energy. But a flex-fuel car can adjust its ignition timing to have a higher effective compression ratio (ratio of cylinder volumes, bottom dead center to ignition) to take advantage of the higher octane rating of higher-ethanol fuels.

      • While that might be true, it isn’t in the 2014 Silverado I own. If I go flex fuel, I notice a significant drop in gas mileage. Maybe it’s because it is a truck, and lighter vehicles make a better adjustment?

      • Jake,
        No, ethanol has less energy per volume than gasoline, so it will always deliver lower MPG. You can’t change the laws of physics with software.

  5. “It assumes biofuels don’t emit CO2, or at least not as much as gasoline; in reality, over their full life cycle, they emit at least as much, if not more, of this plant-fertilizing molecule.”

    My research show the EPA does a good job in that calculation.

    Ethanol – 21% reduction in CO2 over the life cycle including land use change effects

    RNG – natural gas from cellulosic sources – 90% reduction in CO2 when sourced from landfill biogas

  6. This reminds me of when Homer Simpson realized he could sell grease, so he bought up all the bacon he could find, fried it up, ate it, with visions of making a fortune on the residue.

    (It also reminds me of the type who will sacrifice a precious weekend day to drive across town, and rot idling in a three hour gas line to save 3 cents per gallon.)

  7. The madness of the situation with such “articles” is that there is absolutely no justification, proof, reference of any sorts to support any of the claims here. For instance, claim that “…over their full life cycle, they (biofuels) emit at least as much, if not more (of CO2)” is unashamedly wrong and misleading. Does Sun rotate around Earth as well? Pathetic really and SAD, in the words of one “great” president.

    • The answer is: Nobody knows. As with most statistics, it’s all in how you define the parameters. The study from the ethanol people will define one set, another group may use different parameters. I often find multiple calculations of how much fuel/energy is involved in producing energy a certain way. One might get close by finding multiple sources and sorting out individual factors measured, but it’s unlikely that information is readily available. No one knows and as long as they don’t, each side can create whatever scenario they want.

      • Dear Sheri, yet again, your reply falls entirely in the realm of science fiction. Biofuel science is firmly established in research community and, although emissions’ data varies, there is almost universal agreement that biofuel emits LESS CO2 than conventional diesel/petrol. So the article premise is misleading at least, and likely deliberatly deceiving to push the overal author agenda.

      • Translation: Anyone who doesn’t use the same assumptions and cherry picked data that I’m using, isn’t doing science.

    • One can find studies that say that biofuels are net positive or negative as far as CO2 emissions are concerned. The jury is still out.

      However, I find it grotesque that in South America and Asia that vast tracts of virgin rain forests are being clear cut and burned so that biofuel crops like sugar cane and palm oil are planted. It’s damn the forests and damn the animals that live within them – in the name of environmentalism.

      • The damage done to Earth in the name of capitalism and “civilisation development” caused global warming. Fighting it certainly needs guidance and control, but denying the very fact of anthropocentric cause of CO2 surge is not scientific and deadly dangerous

      • Rod L. July 30, 2017 at 1:56 pm
        The damage done to Earth in the name of capitalism and “civilisation development” caused global warming.

        Realy? When did this global warming start that you are referring to?

        …”denying the very fact of anthropocentric cause of CO2 surge is not scientific”…

        Who Just did this to prompt you to make this statement??

        …”and deadly dangerous”

        Please explain how “denying anthropocentric cause of CO2 surge” is deadly dangerous.

        SR

      • Rod.L, another fool who thinks that freedom is the problem, and putting others into slavery is the solution.

    • I measured mileage in my 2000 Geo Metro with regular gas, pre-ethanol: 44 to 48 mpg. I measured it with the new 10% ethanol: 31 mpg, or a loss of over a third. For this we are starving people in Africa who could really use the actual corn? I have strongly objected to the ethanol regime ever since it first appeared; I truly hope the EPA can stop it–cold turkey–very, very soon. I won’t even start on light bulbs . . .

      • I hope your buying 100% gasoline. It isn’t too hard to find around Atlanta. And I assume other cities.

      • I charge my Nissan Leaf from 100% renewable electiricity, so, although I agree with the fact that mistakes were made in pursuit of clean energy, there are no valid arguments to protect fossil fuels

      • No you don’t Rod. You can’t get 100% renewable electricity from any powerline anywhere in the US. Electrons don’t care about what moves them. Now you may subscribe to a plan to pay more for electricity based on some percentage of supplies the power company uses. So at least you are paying something for the disruption costs of the power company, but “renewable” electricity gets much more than what you pay in other subsidies from both the government and and other “renewable” sourcing requirements.

        So, WE all are paying a portion of your “renewable” electricity.
        Just like all here are paying for the subsidies on the “renewable” electricity from my solar panels- double the actual cost you are paying.

        Thanks all.

      • I charge my Nissan Leaf from 100% renewable electiricity

        No. You are using electricity off the grid like everyone else, and no one has figured out yet how to supply a grid with renewables only. You are just buying indulgences.

      • If I remember correctly in 2014 after satisfying all their obligations for ethanol and food, farmers had 12.3 million bushels of corn left over that they had no market for; which means they had to find new markets or store it. So how are people in Africa starving because of ethanol

  8. “The reduction is for cellulosic biofuel. The federal statutory target is 4.25 billion gallons in 2018. (Set a target, it will become reality, is the mindset.) EPA proposes to reduce the regulatory target to 24 million gallons for 2018, down from 31 million for 2017. But actual production and use of this fuel in 2015 was a meager 2.2 million gallons. This minuscule reduction is a good first step, but far greater reductions in statutory and regulatory targets are realistic and needed, along with a full overhaul of the RFS program.”

    I don’t really understand the the above numbers. They are off by a factor of 10 to 100 depending on the number.

    Cellulosic biofuel is categorized as D3 fuel by RFS.

    The D3 obligations / reality for the last several years have been:

    2014 – 33 million gallons / 33 million
    2015 – 123 million gallons / 142 million
    2016 – 230 million gallons / 190 million
    2017 – 312 million gallons (set by the Obama EPA)
    2018 – 238 million gallons (tentative/draft – set by Trump’s EPA)

    I for one am disappointed to see the 2018 number drop. The waste industry has claimed they are ramping up landfill biogas to RNG capability and had asked the EPA to set an ~600 million gallon obligation for 2018.

    May and June of this year were both over 22 million gallons, so 270 million for 2018 wouldn’t include the production from any of the facilities currently under construction. 238 million is a slap in the face.

    • The 40% of corn for ethanol in this article is deceptive, because it is gross not net. What gets returned is 27% distillers grain. The net corn ethanol consumption is only 13%. Distiller’s grain is an ideal (better than corn) food supplement for ruminants like dairy and beef cattle. On my Wisconsin dairy farm, we grow corn, soybeans, and alfalfa (with oats as a first year alfalfa cover crop in a 2-3 contour rotation). About 1/3 of the corn is chopped green for fermented silage (those big blue Harvestor towers– we add molasses and minerals to keep the cows in top form). The rest we used to harvest, store, crush and feed. Now all that gets sold for ethanol, and we buy back protein enhanced (yeast) roughage enhanced (hulls) distillers grain. That means we can feed less primary alfalfa to ruminants for equivalent milk quality. Which means we need less alfalfa/cow and can expand the herd. We went from just under 300 head to just over 350 on the same cropland. Did have to build a larger wintering shed and go from milking stalls to a new milking parlor (cuts labor/cow/milking) to handle the herd expansion. Nothing not to like all around.

  9. I think the story is much more complicated… EPA states that fast pyrolysis is burning, so I can not recycle through that process, yet I can crass bio oil, diesel, jet-a from paper, wood , thin filmed plastic bags, CDs and DVDs. Reduce and recover styrene and sell for close to $15 a gallon… but now are required to send to a landfill, because the process will not be approved. Or take recycling used oil, which is sent to refinery done that o is the only process accepted by the government and big business. I detest the ethanol crowd for their fiscal shenanigans… but it is a crop and no checks were put into place to ensure food cropl and weren’t being traded for fuel crop land.

  10. There is no real evidence that CO2 has any effect on climate and plenty of scientific rational to support the idea that the climate sensivity of CO2 is really zero. So the biofuel effort will have no effect on climate.

    Another concern is the amount of fossil fuel that is used to create and deliver a gallon of biofuel. We may be far beter off turning corn fields back into forests and wild grass lands rather than applying them to the creation of biofuel.

    What we really need is to develop a process where by any vegitation from wood to grass can be converted to biofuel without any use of fossil fuel. To my knowledge, such a process does not exist.

  11. The 40% of corn for ethanol in this article is deceptive, because it is gross not net. What gets returned is 27% distillers grain. The net corn ethanol consumption is only 13%. Distiller’s grain is an ideal (better than corn) food supplement for ruminants like dairy and beef cattle. On my Wisconsin dairy farm, we grow corn, soybeans, and alfalfa (with oats as a first year alfalfa cover crop in a 2-3 contour rotation). About 1/3 of the corn is chopped green for fermented silage (those big blue Harvestor towers– we add molasses and minerals to keep the cows in top form). The rest we used to harvest, store, crush and feed. Now all that gets sold for ethanol, and we buy back protein enhanced (yeast) roughage enhanced (hulls) distillers grain. That means we can feed less primary alfalfa to ruminants for equivalent milk quality. Which means we need less alfalfa/cow and can expand the herd. We went from just under 300 head to just over 350 on the same cropland. Did have to build a larger wintering shed and go from milking stalls to a new milking parlor (cuts labor/cow/milking) to handle the herd expansion. Nothing not to like all around.

  12. ” However, the RFS program still enriches a relatively few corn farmers, while raising costs for beef, pork, poultry and fish farmers, and for poor, minority, working class and African families”. According to the USDA, if you account for corn every where it appears in their food price index it represents less than 2 cents on a dollar. The largest contributor to their food price index is labor at about 38 cents on a dollar.
    “Ethanol also gets a third less mileage per gallon than gasoline, so cars cannot go as far on a tank of E10 and go even shorter distances with E15.” Ethanol has a much higher heat of vaporization than gasoline which increases thermal efficiency and reduces pumping losses both of which mitigate much of the btu content differences between ethanol and gasoline. According to the government cars get 3% less gas mileage on E10. GM’s said it was 4.8%. In Iowa, 87 octane E10 is made with 90% 84 octane E0 and and 10% 110+ octane ethanol. 84 octane E0 is between 20 and 30 cents a gallon cheaper to make compared to 87 octane E0 because it takes less energy to refine and you get more gallons per barrel of oil. The difference increases almost exponentially as you go up the octane ladder. At current prices you need to make 10 to 15 percent more gas mileage with 87 octane E0 compared to 87 octane E10 to make up for the difference in cost between the two.
    “Moreover, to produce ethanol, the United States is already devoting 40% of its corn crop, grown on nearly 40 million acres” If I remember correctly in 2014 after satisfying all their obligations for ethanol and food, farmers had 12.3 million bushels of corn left over that they had no market for; which means they had to find new markets or store it.
    You are obviously quite passionate about this subject but in my opinion your passion causes you to have only a superficial level of understanding that confirms your passion and not an in depth undertanding of the subject..

      • Industrial hemp will not get you high. It is grown legally everywhere in the world except the U.S. because of ignorance of what it really is.

      • Guess I forgot the /sarc tag. When I was a kid hemp was still listed on some maps as one of the mojor agricultural products in the southeastern U.S.

  13. This from a site with bias:

    “The U.S. ethanol industry leads the world not only in the production and use of biofuels, but also in exporting ethanol as well as livestock feed co-products such as distillers grains. Our success in the worldwide marketplace has helped to secure and sustain the growth of domestic ethanol production from all sources. While a stable and growing domestic market is an important priority for U.S. ethanol producers, the industry is increasingly focused on export opportunities for fuel and feed – especially because the U.S. market remains artificially constrained at 10% unless changes are made.”

    http://www.ethanolrfa.org/issues/exports-and-trade/

    What do we do well? Farm. Probably better than anyone else. There are arguments against ethanol, but people in other countries want it. If they wanted spring water with lemon flavoring, would we debate that or just sell it to them? We have a Midwest products that somebody wants to buy. Let’s go.

    I have been pro, then anti and am now pro-ethanol again. We don’t have a lot of oil wells in Minnesota and even a 10% reduction in gasoline imports is a good thing. We got the nice till ($6000/acre farmland), but no oil.

    Minnesota itself has decided to have its own 10% ethanol mandate. If the Democrats want half a chance to regain some of the corn districts, that’s not going anywhere even if the Feds get rid of the mandate.

  14. If all the cropland in the US only grew corn for ethanol, it would replace HALF of our fuel usage ( gas+diesel ) and then we would have nothing to eat. That’s why I always ask biofuel boosters if they want to burn their food or eat it.

  15. If I remember right, the use of Ethanol had several goals:
    1) Lower the dependence on petroleum imports (important in the 1980’s)
    2) Reduce pollution

    Now whether you agree with its effectiveness or not, if you require a 10% mixture of ethanol in gasoline, you need 10% less gasoline (except for the increase in additional gasoline for corn production that would not otherwise have been used). This equation only works if you can produce the ethanol very efficiently, or already have a large surplus of grain that would otherwise rot. Why we subsidize this is a mystery – economics should pick the winner.

    As far as pollution is concerned, I believe the outcome is better defined. Agreed that CO2 is not pollution, but the additional of an oxygenate into gasoline means a modern engine can burn at higher compression and cleaner, achieving almost the same power output (this is for E10, I am less sure E15 works). So unless you have a better solution for reducing exhaust pollution (such as increasing the octane rating of gasoline), ethanol still makes sense, but it should be based on market prices, not subsidies.

    The focus should NEVER be on the process but on the outcome. Regulate the exhaust (the pollutants in the exhaust per weight/mile) and do not pick how to achieve it – let economics pick the winner. If ethanol ends up being the best economic answer, so be it.

    • >> Why we subsidize this is a mystery – economics should pick the winner.

      Zero government money/taxes are used to subsidize ethanol.

      >> So unless you have a better solution for reducing exhaust pollution (such as increasing the octane rating of gasoline), ethanol still makes sense, but it should be based on market prices, not subsidies.

      It is. Sort of.

      == background or RFS

      The rules are that via RFS the EPA defines obligated parties, typically refineries, that have to turn in D6 RINs each year and exactly the number of D6 RINs they have to turn in.

      So Valero runs refineries and is an obligated party. Let’s say they are obligated to turn in D6 RINs equivalent to 10% of the gasoline they produce.

      – They can buy that amount of actual ethanol and turn in the RIN certs that come with it and pay the US gov’t zero. The US gov’t pays them zero. It’s a perfect match.

      – They can buy more ethanol than their obligation and earn surplus D6 RIN credits. They can then sell those excess RIN credits on the open market.

      – They can buy less ethanol than their obligation and buy someone else’s surplus D6 RIN credits.

      == The RIN market

      You can see lots of detail here:

      http://www.progressivefuelslimited.com/web_data/PFL_RIN_Recap.pdf

  16. Has the small contribution of US corn-based ethanol significantly contributed to a broken OPEC?

  17. In Oklahoma, ethanol-free gasoline is becoming more available. The big QuikTrip chain is putting in the pumps as they upgrade their facilities. The pure gas is pricier. I assume that is because the ethanol is subsidized heavily by good old Uncle Sam. I avoid ethanol if at all possible. What a ripoff

    • Ken, Uncle Sam isn’t directly subsidizing ethanol at all. They are using cap & trade style mechanisms to ensure it is used. Last I checked, it added $0.08/gallon at the pump to not use ethanol in the blend. The $0.08 went to other gasoline producers that were blending E15 as an example. They have excess ethanol RINs they sell to the producers making pure gasoline.

  18. “damages engines and fuel systems” No, the link says “could” and “might”.

    You are as guilty as the alarmist press in overstating a fact. And that link is plain wrong.

    Ethanol has been used for decades in Brazil, and is used in high performance drag cars. It requires a slightly richer mixture, hence the lower mpg, but can support a higher compression ration,k so reduces pinking.

    As a carbohydrate it also burns cleaner than petrol. It is also fully compatible with todays distribution systems for petrol, unlike electric cars.

    Ethanol is a no brainer for use in cars. It is decades old technology and merely requires industry to act.

    WUWT is becoming a contrarian/pro fossil fuel, tool. Shame, GW is a scam, a monstrous scam, but that doesnt mean every suggestion for preserving the environment, or reducing fossil fuel consumption (a politically excellent idea in that it defunds the ME).

    Please present the facts, and not some partisan policy WUWT.

    • Sorry Matt S if you burn only alcohol you will burn nearly three times as much fuel because alcohol is mixed at 4.5 to 1 or 5 to 1 whereas gasoline is mixed at 14 to 1 or 15 to 1. And I am very sure they use methanol in drag cars not ethanol.

      Matt

      • Then I guess I should tell all of the top alcohol dragsters and funny cars that they don’t know what they are putting in their fuel tanks. :-)

      • I am fully aware you need a richer mixture for alcohol, as I clearly stated “It requires a slightly richer mixture, hence the lower mpg”

        Now you can try to argue what ‘slightly’ means, I am not interested, this wasn’t the thrust of my post.

        The fact is alcohol makes an excellent fuel. Cleaner, more power, even if the mpg is lower, and compatible with todays technology and distribution. It has been used in Brazil for decades at all sorts of concentrations, from 20% to 100% and many car manufacturers already produce ethanol compatible cars, so the introduction of this technology globally is simple. All it needs is to produce the stuff.

        This link suggests ethanol has been used in drag cars: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethanol_fuel#Motorsport

      • more power, even if the mpg is lower

        You don’t realize that makes no sense, do you?

        “damages engines and fuel systems” No, the link says “could” and “might”.

        Swing by your nearest marine mechanic and ask him about ethanol. There is no “might.”

    • @Another Doug

      It makes perfect sense. Power per CC, or cubic inch, is increased with alcohol because of its ability to withstand a higher compression ratio.

      And your assertion that a ‘marine mechanic’ is somehow proof that alcohol damages cars is ridiculous. Fiat have been selling a pure ethanol car in Brazil since the 70s.

  19. Why corn?
    Why not potatoes or sugar beet?
    Surely you get more ‘fuel’ for your biofuel process with those crops.

    Why liquid motor fuel. Are not electric cars the way forward. Simply burn the entire plant/crop is somewhere like Drax to make electricity. Why perpetuate internal combustion. with all the ‘mess’ it makes and in such a convoluted and expensive manner?
    Is is just so crazy.

    And I sincerely pray for Rud.
    What he describes really is too good to be true. He has made a pact with the Devil to my mind.
    And also, in 10 years+ time and after a severe rain event sees 3 or 4 inches fall inside 24 hours on his farm, lets just hope his farm has not completely washed away.
    There is precedent.
    Someone please think of the dirt.

    Certainly (now) the US has epic amounts of Natural Gas.
    It’ll burn inside (only slightly) modified diesel or gasoline engines. It burns inside jet engines to make one he11 of a lot of the UK’s electricity.
    Its only (real) problem is that it’s a gas – bit tricky to store in a vehicle.

    But surely, acetylene (a very useful gas) was a ‘tricky’ substance to store but a way was found to compress it massively and store it safely in metal bottles.
    Why not put some effort into storing methane similarly?

    Me and you, Europeans especially know the answer – Tax.

    Motor fuel creates huge tax revenue in Europe and the use of methane, available as (relatively) untaxed home heating fuel would scupper that revenue stream.

    Its all so greedy and hypocritical innit.

    • Peta from Cumbria, now Newark July 31, 2017 at 2:01 am
      Why corn?
      Why not potatoes or sugar beet?
      Surely you get more ‘fuel’ for your biofuel process with those crops.

      Because Bob Dole needed to support his home state farmers (and AMD). In the days of carbureted engines oxygenates were advantageous in reducing engine emissions, MTBE was initially used but the ensuing contamination induced the shift to ethanol, Bob Dole wanted to make sure that the ethanol came from his mid-west farmers.
      From his election campaign: “As a national leader on agriculture policy, Sen. Dole is a longtime supporter of this clean-burning all-American renewable fuel to promote new markets for American grain, jobs for our nation’s farm belt and energy self-sufficiency.”

  20. Biofuels are disgusting morally. A tank full of biodiesel could have fed a child for a year.The poor of the world suffer with higher food prices

    • According to the USDA, if you account for corn every where it appears in their food price index it represents less than 2 cents on a dollar. The largest contributor to their food price index is labor at about 38 cents on a dollar. So why are the poor of the world suffering with higher food prices?

  21. Ethanol’s greatest value over time has been to benefit candidates visiting Iowa for political positioning in key primaries at the starting gate. Since small engine owners and economic purists don’t measure up in the political calculus, the ethanol lobby continues to win in campaign headquarters and party leadership.

  22. Concentrated benefits, distributed costs.
    Those who benefit from government programs benefit big. For many, it’s the sole source of their wealth. So of course they will defend it with everything they have.
    Those who pay for government programs, typically only have to pay a few dollars per year. It just isn’t worth their while to spend the time to write their congress critter, much less donate to his/her campaign just over that one program.
    As a result, government programs rarely end.

  23. Assume mandate = subsidy.
    Wind and solar still not dispatchable.
    Ethanol is dispatchable.
    Storage hardly exists for wind and solar.
    Storage for ethanol already paid for.
    Wind and solar have a long ways to go before we are using them to power a significant number of our vehicles.
    Ethanol is helping power our vehicles.

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