No end in sight for the biofuel wars

Biofuels are unsustainable in every way, but still demand – and get – preferential treatment

Guest post by Paul Driessen,

The Big Oil-Big Biofuel wars rage on. From my perch, ethanol, biodiesel and “advanced biofuels” make about zero energy, economic or environmental sense. They make little political sense either, until you recognize that politics is largely driven by crony-capitalism, campaign contributions and vote hustling.

Even now, once again, as you read this, White House, EPA, Energy, Agriculture and corporate factions are battling it out, trying to get President Trump to sign off on their preferred “compromise” – over how much ethanol must be blended into gasoline, how many small refiners should be exempted, et cetera.

This all got started in the 1970s, when publicly spirited citizens persuaded Congress that “growing our own energy” would safeguard the USA against oil embargoes and price gouging by OPEC and other unfriendly nations, especially as our own petroleum reserves rapidly dwindled into oblivion. Congress then instituted the Renewable Fuels Standard in 2005, when the Iraq War triggered renewed fears of global oil supply disruptions. The RFS requires that almost all gasoline sold in the USA must contain 10% ethanol – which gets a third fewer miles per gallon than gasoline and damages small engines.

But, we were told, these fuels are renewable, sustainable, a way to prevent “dangerous climate change.”

It’s all bunk. In recent years, the horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (fracking) revolution has given America and the world at least a century of new oil and natural gas reserves. America has become the world’s largest oil and gas producer and within five years could be producing far more oil and gas than any other country in the world. Terminals built years ago to import fuel from distant lands are being reconfigured to export abundant US oil, liquefied natural gas and refined products to distant lands.

Average global temperatures – as actually measured by satellites and weather balloons – are now almost a full degree Fahrenheit lower than predicted by climate models (the average of 102 IPCC computer model forecasts) that also foretell the daily litany of climate and weather cataclysms. However, hurricanes are less frequent and intense than a half-century ago, and Harvey was the first Category 3-5 hurricane to make US landfall in a record 12 years. Violent F4-5 tornadoes have also been less frequent over the past 34 years than during the 35 years before that, and not one F4-5 tornado hit the USA in 2018.

Over their full life cycle (from planting, growing and harvesting crops, to converting them to fuel, to transporting them by truck or rail car, to blending and burning them), biofuels emit just as much (plant-fertilizing) carbon dioxide as oil-based gasoline and diesel. Those biofuels also require enormous amounts of land, water, fertilizer, insecticides and energy. None of this is renewable or sustainable.

In fact, corn turned into E85 fuel (85% ethanol/15% gasoline) and grown where rainfall is insufficient requires irrigation – and up to 28 gallons of water from rivers or groundwater supplies per mile traveled!

US ethanol production utilizes 38% of America’s corn and 27% of its sorghum – grown on cropland the size of Iowa: 36 million acres, much of which would otherwise be wildlife habitat. And the fertilizers used to grow those crops, especially the corn, result in nutrient-rich runoff that increases nitrogen levels in the Gulf of Mexico, causing deadly algal blooms. When the algae die and decompose, they create low and no-oxygen zones the size of Delaware – killing marine life that can’t swim away quickly enough.

In short, biofuels have huge downsides and do nothing to address the scary scenarios that have either shriveled amid the winds of history – or were wildly exaggerated or imaginary to begin with.

But once these biofuel programs were launched, they became permanent. They created a biofuel industry that wants to get bigger every year, and supports politicians who want to get reelected year after year. That brings us back to the Executive Branch biofuel battles – and to issues that I myself struggle to comprehend, amid the morass of acronyms and conflicting policies and mandates.

Congress and the Environmental Protection Agency require that refiners blend “conventional biofuel” (mostly ethanol) into gasoline – and also meet various “advanced biofuel” and biomass-based diesel requirements. However, too much ethanol in gasoline damages engines in older cars, generators, garden equipment and boats; that puts a limit on how much ethanol can actually go in the fuel supply (the “blend wall”). As a result, while ethanol blending continues to increase gradually, American motorists have never been able to consume enough ethanol to satisfy applicable Renewable Fuel Standards.

However, biofuel interests want the government to keep mandating even more ethanol – a desire that faces multiple problems. Gasoline demand is decreasing, as people drive less, in more fuel-efficient cars, and in electric and hybrid vehicles (that are heavily subsidized under other laws).

Tariff wars with China and other countries have hurt corn and sorghum farmers, who want to be “compensated” via more biofuel mandates under the Renewable Fuels Standard – even though beef, pork and poultry farmers get hurt by higher grain prices resulting from so much corn devoted to ethanol.

Declining fuel demand and the blend wall mean refiners cannot mix all the mandated 15 billion annual gallons of ethanol into gasoline. They are thus forced to over-comply with the “advanced biofuel” part of the RFS mandate by buying expensive foreign biodiesel and “renewable” diesel. Refiners that do not control the point where biofuel can be blended into gasoline (eg, large distribution terminals or local gas stations) must buy “credits” called Renewable Identification Numbers (RINs) that show (or pretend to show)  the required (foreign) biofuels were mixed with the gasoline they make domestically. 

This all gets really expensive, really fast, which is why the law allows exemptions to small refiners that  face “disproportionate economic hardship” from costs that have gotten so high that courts have ordered the EPA to grant more “small refinery exemptions” (SREs) – waivers from the RFS mandates.

However, biofuel has been blended into the fuel small refiners make anyway. This situation resulted in ample supplies of RFS compliance credits, and RIN prices have dropped from over 90 cents apiece to 12 or 20 cents over the past two years or even lower at times. Of course, this all angered the biofuel lobby, which has attacked the Administration for issuing SREs, falsely claiming the exemptions are   “destroying demand” for biofuel and “hurting American farmers.” 

They levied these attacks on EPA, despite the fact that the Trump Administration granted the biofuel industry its biggest request in 20 years: an air quality waiver that allows E15 to be sold year round. So some in the Administration have proposed to “reallocate lost biofuel gallons” the biofuel industry says were caused by SREs. But there’s nothing to reallocate, since ethanol is being blended despite the SREs.

The reallocation proposal thus has the practical effect of increasing the biofuel mandate by over 700 million gallons above the 15-billion-gallon statutory ceiling on ethanol. That brings us back to the fact that America is not producing enough advanced biofuels, biodiesel or renewable diesel. That means refiners have to buy more foreign supplies of these fuels, from Argentina, Brazil, Indonesia, et cetera.

Of course, that does nothing to help American farmers. It just turns the Renewable Fuel Standard into a big foreign biofuel mandate. It also means President Trump is caught between trying to placate two of his core constituencies: farmers, primarily in the Midwest, and the oil and refining industry with all its jobs.

This is mind-numbingly complicated. But the bottom line is pretty simple: Every time Congress gets involved in trying to fix complex energy and economic problems – instead of letting free market industries and innovators sort things out – it creates a legislative, regulatory, legal and lobbying mess. Every attempted additional fix makes things worse. And trying to justify all the meddling, by claiming we’re running out of oil or face manmade climate cataclysms, just makes things worse.

We should end this crazy-quilt biofuel program. But anyone who thinks that will happen in Washington, DC or Des Moines, Iowa is smoking that stuff that’s now legal and widespread in Boulder, Colorado. But President Trump and his EPA should at least reduce – and certainly not increase – any biofuel quotas.

Paul Driessen is senior policy analyst for the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow ( and author of books and articles on energy and environmental policy.

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B d Clark
December 15, 2019 2:07 pm

There was a bit of a battle with bio fuel in Scotland the farmers dont want it, it damages machines

It doesn't add up...
Reply to  B d Clark
December 15, 2019 3:13 pm

Higher biofuel content will likely damage many diesel engines in time. Part of the programme of getting diesel off the road, I suspect – unless more people join the farmers in protesting. Diesel is of course also being demonised with highly dubious medical studies on NO2 emissions and their consequences. Any rational consideration of these would imply that we would have had a real epidemic of NO2 related deaths when levels were more than three times the present levels in the 1970s when statistics were first gathered – for which there is no evidence.

Reply to  It doesn't add up...
December 16, 2019 10:02 am

While driving to Vancouver Washington in my diesel 1 ton crew cab 4 wd pickup, I was getting over 20 miles a gallon at interstate speeds. I was running low so used Gas buddy to find a station, the cheapest diesel was over 10 cents lower and I went there. As I was pumping I notices that it was #5 diesel, biodiesel. I stopped pumping and hit the road. My instantaneous MPG droppes almost immediately by 4 MPG, thus per mile price went UP substantially. I will not use that crap again, and will pay better attention. The station was in Oregon, I had never seen that crap in my travels that cover more than 20 states since I got the truck in July of 2018.

There ought to be a law that requires a “Standard” determinge MPH for each fuel ON THE PUMP. It would list the MPG for some specific vehicle for that octane of PURE Petroleum fuel and then the milage for whatever the diluted mixture being sold is, so buyers would know what they are getting with E 85 or biodiesel or just plain “oxegenated, i.e. 10% ethanol fuels. Giving this information would, I think, allow for informed consumers, what every Democrat politician and trial lawyer says they want. Haven’t seen any notice of such a bill having been proposed in the Democrat House of Rep.


Bryan A
Reply to  Drake
December 16, 2019 2:20 pm

Drove the family from Santa Rosa, Ca. to Seattle, Wa.
California gas from SR to Redding 21mpg.
California gas from Redding to Ashland, Or 22mpg.
Oregon Gas from Ashland to Southerlin Or 26mpg.
Oregon gas from Southerlin to Seattle 34 mpg

Once I cleared most of the Ca gas out my mileage increased by just about 50%

David Wolcott
Reply to  B d Clark
December 15, 2019 4:01 pm

Before buying an expensive new brushcutter I read up on fuels used in garden machinery. I found out that the different components of gasoline evaporate at different rates, changing the composition over time and eventually affecting machine performance, especially through pre-ignition firing. So don’t leave the fuel sitting in the machine over winter. I also read a lot about 10% ethanol, how it is hygroscopic (absorbs water) and can clog up carburettors and corrode fuel lines, so I’m not a big fan.

B d Clark
Reply to  David Wolcott
December 15, 2019 4:27 pm

Farm machinery in the UK runs on diesel, bio diesel, did you read the article

David Wolcott
Reply to  B d Clark
December 15, 2019 6:53 pm

Oh gosh, I’m sorry. Is it forbidden to say something slightly tangential? That would cut out the majority of comments in these columns.

B d Clark
Reply to  David Wolcott
December 16, 2019 12:20 am

Yes your comment was not really about the article I linked to, however I did reply again agreeing with you bio fuel is hygroscopic, particularly with chainsaws and the like, my internet dropped out,so it never made it.of course your comment was relevant.

Carbon Bigfoot
Reply to  David Wolcott
December 16, 2019 2:33 pm

We have a gas station sells only gasoline w/o ethanol. 50 cents more than the 10-15% crap every other gas station sells in SE PA.
The news is we have only a 30 day supply of corn due to 19 million acres under water. The USDA is hiding the fact. There may be no ethanol in the INN come February.— Problem solved.

December 15, 2019 2:21 pm

The short version of the story: Fracking changed everything.

Greg Cavanagh
Reply to  commieBob
December 15, 2019 3:59 pm

The other side of the short version: The original predictions were based on linear models, and did not take new inventions into account.

The wrong prediction was inevitable.

Reply to  Greg Cavanagh
December 15, 2019 8:16 pm

The pessimistic futurologists now claim that fracking doesn’t count because it’s “non conventional” hydrocarbon exploitation. Their predictions were for the “conventional” stuff – whatever that is.

John McClure
Reply to  commieBob
December 15, 2019 4:32 pm

Actually the story is incomplete.

Several years ago, Obama years, the DOD announced the amazing ability to create jet fuel from sea water on aircraft carriers.

It was nothing short of brilliant as there would no longer be a need for refueling at sea.

The Obama Administration killed it in favor of preferred “biofuel” alternatives at nearly 10 times the cost per gallon.

The same Administration killed DOE breakthroughs related to Hydrogen.

Technology has never been the issue!

Reply to  John McClure
December 16, 2019 12:13 am

“the amazing ability to create jet fuel from sea water on aircraft carriers.”

I remember that. I thought it amazing, magic almost. I never followed up on how they actually achieved this. I guess a lot of things have been “killed” by democrats over time, that don’t support whatever orthodoxy they have hitched themselves to at the time.

Any recommended and worthwhile links on the subject?

ps: Given the size of the DoD budget, I suspect that they USN could easily fund further research and productisation. Did the Obama administration specifically prohibit the USN from pursuing the idea?

John McClure
Reply to  DrDweeb
December 16, 2019 4:53 am

It wasn’t fast tracked at the time. However, it requires retrofitting new hardware, processes and procedures to aircraft carriers. Not a simple task.

John McClure
Reply to  John McClure
December 16, 2019 6:38 am

This does raise an interesting issue(s).

The zealots want to sequester CO2. A really dumb idea but top of mind for them.

Why not allow the Oceans to do the job and then use this process to create fuels for remote areas around the world which require fuel transport?

I realize there’s negative ROEI yet isn’t this a simple solution for their perception of Zero Carbon Footprint?

It’s also a fairly cheap solution in the face of idiotic carbon taxation?

December 15, 2019 2:32 pm

The biofuel disaster in SE Asia is a criminal act of climate science. A case of science gone bad. There should be lawsuits.

Reply to  Chaamjamal
December 15, 2019 5:00 pm
December 15, 2019 2:47 pm

I may be wrong…but it’s my understanding that corn used for bio….and not feed of any kind…you can use different insecticides, fertilizer, etc…cheaper things….and guaranteed it will be bought also

Reply to  Latitude
December 15, 2019 3:19 pm

Distillers grain, a byproduct of corn ethanol, is used in livestock feeds.

John McClure
Reply to  Latitude
December 15, 2019 4:52 pm

One could also genetically engineer a corn plant to produce the fuel.

The fundamental problem, corn is a greedy crop. It’s expensive to plant, feed, and harvest. It also has a long growing season.

It’s the least valuable for fuel as there is no return on investment. It consumes more than it produces.

The only reason it’s variable today is because farmers are lazy and grow too much of it and because ADM likes to turn it into a Climate product.

Reply to  John McClure
December 16, 2019 12:15 am

Yeah, corn eats CO2 like it’s going out of fashion!

Kerry Eubanks
Reply to  John McClure
December 16, 2019 7:17 am

I’ve lived in the midwest my entire life. The last thing farmers are is “lazy.” They’re business people trying to meet a demand. If ethanol for fuel had never come along, they would still be busting their butts everyday to grow whatever the market was looking for.

Reply to  Kerry Eubanks
December 17, 2019 6:37 am

Thanks to Bob Dole of Kansas who pushed to make sure that ethanol used as an octane rating enhancer came from corn grown by his constituents.

Tim Collins
December 15, 2019 2:53 pm

Can I presume you have excluded un economic fracked oil?
What are your assumptions for this?

Ron Long
December 15, 2019 2:58 pm

Using corn for fuel and letting wind turbines chop up our flying friends, what is the limit for this nonsense? All of the worlds corn should be sorted into animal food and human food and distributed accordingly. Geez! Greta, How Dare You? chop up our flying friends? COP25, the latest boondogle to burn up tax monies, a total failure if you don’t count the scores with prostitutes. Geez!

Zig Zag Wanderer
December 15, 2019 3:04 pm

Both of my cars are diesel, mainly because I can’t stand that 10% (or more) of impotent and damaging alcohol in my fuel tank.

Save the alcohol! (for drinking)

Ill Tempered Klavier
Reply to  Zig Zag Wanderer
December 16, 2019 8:28 pm

Yep, the only good point about bio-fuels is the humor in trying to run the world on corn likker. 🙂 🙂 🙂

Clyde Spencer
December 15, 2019 3:13 pm

It should be obvious that industry and society can make changes rapidly as the economic conditions change. However, once policies are codified in laws, it becomes difficult to overturn the laws. Thus, laws impacting the economy should be last resort efforts. Government should resist the temptation to get involved in areas that are best regulated by common sense.

Dr. Bob
December 15, 2019 3:21 pm

One point not mentioned in the article, which is mostly factual although a bit misleading in some areas, is that the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 also mandated 16 Billion gallons of Cellulosic Ethanol (CE). This was to be produced from waste cellulosic biomass such as corn stover or forest products/waste. The DOE did a study that said that 1 Billion tons of biomass was available for CE production. California Air Resources Board also is relying on CE to meet its Low Carbon Fuels Standard (LCFS), part of the AB32 bill to reduce GHG emissions in the state. CARB cannot meet the LCFS targets of a 20% reduction in Carbon Intensity (CI) of all transportation fuels used in the state unless there is an ample supply over very low CI fuels such as those derived from using cellulosic feedstocks. So far, after 20 years of research, there are no commercially viable CE processes running right now and none look viable for at least the next 10 years or more. It is simply too hard to hydrolyze cellulosic feedstocks into fermentable sugars that can be biologically converted into alcohols (Ethanol, butanol, and other alcohols).
Right now, the only way to convert waste biomass into fuels is via gasification followed by catalytic conversion into hydrocarbons or alcohols. Fulcrum Bioenergy is building a plant to convert municipal solid waste (MSW) into hydrocarbons in Nevada. This plant should be up and running in 2Q 2020. It will be the first one to use MSW for producing fuels instead of heat or power. There are benefits to utilizing waste biomass such as MSW or forest residues which help reduce fire danger and help meet Sustainable Forest Management Practices which help keep forests healthy. I support these efforts but do not believe CE processes will become commercially viable or cost competitive anytime soon.
Another problem with CE is that the product, ethanol, will have to fit into the existing market for ethanol fuels and there simply isn’t enough room in the declining fuels market to fit more ethanol. So researches are looking into conversion of ethanol into hydrocarbon fuels via dehydration to ethylene and oligomerization into distillate range products such as jet fuel and diesel fuel. This takes an already expensive process and adds more steps and equipment to the plant further increasing CapEx and OpEx for the process. But the airlines are under intense pressure to reduce their “Carbon Footprint” and are supporting these efforts with off-take agreements and actual investment in projects.
So this is becoming a nightmare of options all that need government subsidies and research dollars to support.

Fred Harwood
Reply to  Dr. Bob
December 15, 2019 3:57 pm

Thanks, Dr. Bob.

Reply to  Dr. Bob
December 15, 2019 4:09 pm

I see no problem with recovering the energy content of used cooking oils, rancid fats from animal rendering or grease collected in drain traps, etc. Very good biodiesel can be produced from these wastes and jet fuel by various hydroprocessing methods. Hell, even fat from dead people could be made into fuel, though the supply of fat assess might keep prices too low.

I don’t support wholesale destruction of rain forests and planting palm/coconut to produce these biofuels.

Reply to  Dr. Bob
December 15, 2019 10:54 pm

“But the airlines are under intense pressure to reduce their “Carbon Footprint” and are supporting these efforts”

What will “offset” the “Carbon Footprint” of these projects?

Sweet Old Bob
December 15, 2019 3:28 pm

Nutrient rich runoff is just as likely to be from urban sources as from ag ….
farmers don’t waste money by over application of materials .

December 15, 2019 3:35 pm

I have a basic disagreement about E10, although agree anything more is farm politics nonsense (especially E85), as are all other biofuels (see essay Bugs, Roots, and Biofuels, and Salvation by Swamp, in ebook Blowing Smoke for more). My E10 (only) disagreement is based on two omitted important facts previously voiced here at WUWT and in my ebooks. The devil is in the details.

First, ethanol as a fuel additive replaced groundwater polluting MBTE as an octane enhancer, enabling more useful gasoline gallons refined per barrel of crude. (MBTE replaced tetraethyl lead, a worse environmental contaminant, which also poisoned catalytic converters.) That is a good thing.
And, ethanol ALSO provides fuel oxygenate, meaning less summer smog. The original E10 blendwall decision was science based: what was the maximum ethanol needed for premium gasoline in worst summer smog prone Los Angeles? And that is why gas pumps say ‘up to 10% ethanol’, because it varies by season and region, and is seldom actually full E10 except in LA in summer.

Second, ethanol has nothing like the negative food impact often bruited by skeptics. On a weight basis assuming standard ‘dry’ stored corn <=~15% moisture to prevent fusarium mycotoxin) , ethanol consumes about 41% of the US corn crop (perhaps the posts 38% is volume?). But it returns to US ruminant farmers (dairy and beef) 27% by weight distillers grain, the roughage and yeast protein enhanced ethanol fermentation dewatered leftover. A good trade. On my Wisconsin dairy farm, we cut back on growing main feed alfalfa hay, planted more corn, sold all the corn for ethanol, then bought back the residual distillers grain as a better than alfalfa feed supplement. Both my dairy cows and my bank account were happy with E10.

Reply to  Rud Istvan
December 15, 2019 4:56 pm

Good comments. Modern catalytic converters are a marvel. With today’s fleet, there really is no need for oxygenates in gasoline except for in those rare cases in which it is used to boost octane. I’d rather take higher energy content for the fuels I purchase.

Reply to  Rud Istvan
December 15, 2019 5:10 pm

I agree Rud with your basic premise, but I don’t know enough about the science of ethanol to make any kind of proper analytical opinion. Yet. I just bought your e-book Blowing Smoke you mentioned for part of my winter reading on the beach, so will have a better knowledge of this subject. I am going to take your word for a lot of it in forming my opinion when done studying this issue.

The one thing I do know, is let’s not make too big a fuss about this before the 2020 election. We need every farmer to be voting Republican so as Trump can block the Marxist/socialist left from destroying the western world as we know it. It is well on its way south in Euroland, Oz, Canada and other various hotspots of leftist domination. I fear it is inevitable given global demographics, even USA demographics. We need another 4 years of Trump to block the evil trying to take over the world today through the totalitarianism brought on under the guise of climate change.

There are also many forms of biofuels. Let’s not turn that word into a skeptic swear word. The ‘biofuel’ being created by destroying pristine jungles in SE Asia is a lot different than the utilization of wood waste biofuel from our vast North American lumber industry, or even the super quick growing of pulp/biomass on private tree farms. At least the wood waste biofuels of NA or the nordic countries burning sawdust in a basic steam plant in Germany for example is spinning reserve electricity, not some junk asynchronous electricity provided by wind or solar. It is so sad to see some here lump in wood pellets from wood waste or tree farms as evil biomass. Just because Drax and some in the UK are too stupid to burn their own coal they are sitting on top of, is no reason to demonize an entire global industry utilizing waste biomass for fuel. This is definitely part of the solution in the 3rd world making bio-pellets from coconut shells to weeds, even mixed with dung, which will burn a lot hotter and cleaner with little smoke due to low moisture content.

M Borcherding
Reply to  Rud Istvan
December 15, 2019 5:18 pm

There are two sides to every story. Thanks for posting the positive aspects of ethanol. I’ve used 10% ethanol in my vehicles for the past 25 years, roughly 1 million miles with not one problem. Also, 36 million acres of farmland are NOT going to be returned to wildlife habitat, not unless you want an agricultural depression.

Walter Sobchak
Reply to  Rud Istvan
December 15, 2019 6:22 pm

“On my Wisconsin dairy farm”

I thought lived in Miami.

Rud Istvan
Reply to  Walter Sobchak
December 15, 2019 8:21 pm

I now ‘permanently’ live in Ft. Lauderdale on the Atlantic ocean beach for tax reasons. Adjacent fo CtM. That geography does not limit our remaining other homes—Which now only include North Georgia Mountains, a Chicagoland golf course, and lately my just sold SW Wisconsin dairy farm, having previously sold at market top our big resort ski place in the Rockies on the Beaver Creek Plaza.

All still being a personal reason jet airplanes were invented.

Walter Sobchak
Reply to  Rud Istvan
December 15, 2019 9:49 pm

Tutto rispetto, Signori Istvan

A. Scott
Reply to  Rud Istvan
December 16, 2019 7:13 pm

Rud … excellent insight.

A bushel of corn weighs appx 56 lbs. Each bushel used for ethanol production creates appx 2.9 gals of ethanol, along with around 16 lbs of Distillers Dried Grains. DDGS also have a superior nutritional value as animal feed – which, if I recall, allows them to replace appx 48% of the original corn used in the production process.

And then there are the several other co-products …

December 15, 2019 4:50 pm

Holiday gas stations in our area post prices for “regular unleaded plus” which are lower than regular unleaded. The difference? Regular unleaded is 10% ethanol and “regular unleaded plus” is 15% ethanol, which can only be used in flexible fuel vehicles. So “regular unleaded plus” contains less gasoline than regular unleaded.

Reply to  MeMyselfAndI
December 15, 2019 5:21 pm

Plus hardly anyone is pumping Ethyl anymore.

December 15, 2019 4:50 pm

Climate change is a war against reality.
The US federal Government should end it’s wars against climate change- and Drugs.

December 15, 2019 5:09 pm

Bio-fuels have made food prices go up, up, up in the poorer countries, How is that good? – I don’t like Corn Flakes anyway…


A. Scott
Reply to  Jon P Peterson
December 16, 2019 7:34 pm

Jon … outright falsehoods.

Corn used for ethanol does not cause food prices anywhere to increase, let alone in poor countries.

First, corn for ethanol is feed corn, not food corn. And, as Rud noted earlier, every bushel of corn used for ethanol also creates appx 16 lbs of distillers dried grains – a higher quality animal fee than the orig corn.

The US is the worlds corn supplier – and has been for a century or more. US farmers provide 100% of the domestic, food, feed and fuel demand. They also fulfill 100% of the export demand. And still add to US corn reserves virtually every year.

US corn prices DID increase in the mid 2,000’s – largely at the same time corn use increased as ethanol production rose. However, as we repeatedly note here at WUWT – in science, correlation is not causation … and the rise in corn prices directly coincided with increases in almost all commodities prices at the time.

Further, IF food prices did increase as a result of icnreased corn prices, then how do you explain that despite a near 50% decline in corn prices from the peak, that food prices have not dropped commensurately?

Data shows that increases in corn use for production of ethanol are simply not correlated to increases food prices.

December 15, 2019 7:40 pm

“In recent years, the horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (fracking) revolution has given America and the world at least a century of new oil and natural gas reserves.”

That is a very poor argument in the issue at hand.

Synfuel mandates make EVEN LESS SENSE when the resource is rare and expensive!!!!

If they were actually valid tools, you would never need a mandate in these times; only in time of (allegedly temporary) abundance and (claimed) short term over-supply can a case be considered (not made) for a mandate.

Bill Parsons
December 15, 2019 7:49 pm

Re: “We should end this crazy-quilt biofuel program.”

Perhaps you’d comment on this one. (I suspect it’s paywalled, so I’ll cut and paste some of the relevant content from WSJ rather than try to link)

Dominion Energy Turns to Cow Manure in Gas Pact

Deal is the latest venture between livestock concerns and power producers to generate gas from animal waste

Dominion Energy Inc. has struck a $200 million pact with a renewable energy producer and the Dairy Farmers of America Inc. to extract natural gas from cow manure.

The arrangement calls for the utility to fund construction of organic-waste processing facilities called anaerobic digesters amid clusters of large dairy farms, connect the facilities to natural gas distribution pipelines and sell the gas. Vanguard Renewables, of Wellesley, Mass., will build and operate the digesters, which break down organic waste into usable fuel and fertilizer. Dairy farmers, for a fee, will supply manure, and in some cases lease out land upon which the equipment will be built.

The utility, which serves 7.5 million customers in 18 states with electricity or natural gas, in October enlarged to $500 million an existing deal to capture gas at Smithfield Foods Inc. hog farms in five states. Last month, Perdue Farms Inc. and a Maryland renewable energy company said they were building a digester in Delaware to break down fat, sludge and offal from poultry slaughterhouses into gas.

Methane, which cattle produce in abundance thanks to their multichambered stomachs, is a particularly potent greenhouse gas. The methane from the manure of a typical cow is roughly equivalent to the annual emissions of a car that gets about 20 miles per gallon and is driven 12,000 miles…

Most digesters on dairies have been built and operated by farmers, which had limited appeal among Dairy Farmers of America’s roughly 8,000 farm owners for the expense and operational complexity involved, said David Darr, the cooperative’s chief strategy and sustainability officer. The prospect of having third parties handle gas production and sales while earning fees for the manure is more enticing, he said. Plus, the farmers get their manure back once the methane is gone so that they can fertilize with it.

From what I’ve heard hog, chicken and cattle farms have become pretty significant water polluters. Seems like this might address the problem in a way that appeals to greens – even though the end product is much more expensive than natural gas.

John F. Hultquist
Reply to  Bill Parsons
December 15, 2019 8:49 pm

Before I saw your post, I posted. Then I thought I’d check our retirement accounts and found Dominion Energy (D) in one of our mutual fund holdings.

I wonder if we can claim “green” credentials?

Greg Freemyer
Reply to  Bill Parsons
December 16, 2019 2:32 am

I’ve followed in detail 1 large dairy farm waste to natural gas (methane) plant, and 1 large turkey processing plant waste (intestines, etc) to oil plant.

Both were closed by local governments due to odor complaints. Neither plant wanted to close for financial reasons.

One was close to Greeley, CO which is known for its feed lot caused odors. Apparently, the manure to natural gas plant smelled far worse.

Anyway, I wouldn’t have confidence those plants will stay operational.

Bill Parsons
Reply to  Greg Freemyer
December 16, 2019 12:03 pm

Of course I wondered about this. The feedlot smell at UNC in Greeley was bad enough. I can well imagine what the added “eau de boeuf” distilled from these digesters will do for the students and residents.

Still, where there’s a will… maybe there’s a way. Keep them away from towns and find a way to contain odors. Thanks for the reply.

Reply to  Bill Parsons
December 16, 2019 3:51 am

We recently had a visit to an anaerobic digester plant which produces gas that in turn is used to generate electricity.
The inputs consist of cow and chicken manure, and is supplemented with maize grown especially for the digester.
The manager admitted that it only made economic sense because of the renewable subsidy which gave the city investors a good return on their investment.

Reply to  Bill Parsons
December 16, 2019 7:29 am

Some cities are mandating renewable gas as OK, but fossil gas bad. Yes, it is stupid, but then creating an industry that utilizes tens of thousand tons of animal manure from concentrated animal feed lots that can massively pollute our watercourses does make long term sense. The higher cost deals with solving another problem, so that should be paid in some other way than the gas consumer having to pay for it. It might cost extra to solve that problem initially, but fine-tuning that technology over the years along with scaling it up someday will be to our advantage someday when it competes with fossil gas. If renewable gas from surplus manure and organic sources keeps our ability to rationalize pipelines and utilizing all nat gas for decades to come, then I say we develop that resource because it solves a pollution problem. It is also an argument to make that animal protein is good and we even utilize the manure to supplement ‘renewable’ gas. The issue is figuring out how to pay extra for it.

We are going to see domestic Nat Gas prices increase substantially as the export of LNG ramps up, especially when Canada’s large supply gets liquified and sent to market, making for less imports available and domestic prices will begin to increase because of supply and demand. Bad for consumer long term, but good for the gas industry which is currently swamped in cheap continental gas surpluses. Cheap nat gas won’t be the case for ever.

John F. Hultquist
December 15, 2019 8:13 pm

The Wall Street Journal (Dec. 12, page B11) has an article about cow manure.
Dominion Energy, Vanguard Renewables, and Dairy Farmers of America are using manure in digesters to produce fuel and fertilizer. This is not new tech, but the scale is larger than most previous facilities. In other places hog (Smithfield Farms) and poultry (Perdue Farms) waste is used.
Beats placing a tarp over a pond and piping the gas that happens.

John Robertson
December 15, 2019 8:31 pm

Well I guess there might be a silver lining.
If the weather cycles into a cooler phase we will at least have a source of food available,that will allow us to survive any food crop losses from miserable spring planting and fall harvest weather .
So the Ethanol Mandate may become a blessing in disguise.
Otherwise the Iron Law of Bureaucracies applies.
Government Agencies never voluntarily surrender power.
Nor go away when their job is done.

Bill Parsons
Reply to  John Robertson
December 16, 2019 12:15 pm

If Dominion turns a profit and works out the odor problems, wouldn’t other operations have to toe the same line? There are no subsidies cited in the article.

Anyway, where public health is concerned I have to wonder if a subsidy of some sort isn’t in order.

A. Scott
Reply to  Bill Parsons
December 16, 2019 7:43 pm

Several companies are making serious progress on odor control … one example is Bio Largo

Greg Freemyer
December 15, 2019 8:59 pm

Speaking only of traditional ethanol (D6 per the RFS)

– 15 billion gallons is the max to be called for. Congress would have to raise that. Not Trump or the EPA.

– The EPA has been issuing the full 15 billion gallon obligation to oil refineries for a few years now.

– The SRE (small refineries exemptions) have been granted after the allotment of the 15 billion gallons. The net result is “only” 14.3 billion gallons of obligations being issued.

– The EPA’s proposed regulatory change to reallocate the obligation for the non-exempt refineries has a goal of re-establishing the 15 billion gallon obligation even with the exemptions.

For D3 fuels (60% reduction in CO2 footprint) the vast majority is coming from cleaned landfill gas being burned as truck fuel [renewable natural gas]. The 2020 obligation is likely to be 500 million gallons ethanol equivalent (or maybe that is now final?). That’s a 25% increase over 2019. Landfill gas has the potential to provide several billion gallons of ethanol equivalent truck fuel. I don’t know how much consumption of natural gas as truck fuel there is each year.

December 15, 2019 11:51 pm

“corn and sorghum farmers, who want to be “compensated” via more biofuel mandates”

How much electors do they represent?

Matthew Sykes
December 16, 2019 1:05 am

How can WUWT print this BS: “which gets a third fewer miles per gallon than gasoline and damages small engines”

Utter crap. It is 3% reduction in economy (alcohol needs to run richer, because it already has oxygen in it) and ‘small engines’ are not damaged. The size of the engine has nothing to do with it, it is the rubber and plastics used in the engine which on older cars has a high risk of being corroded by alcohol.

As for the rest of the article, it is clearly the production of the alcohol rather than its use that is the problem, so if it is sourced from say GM plankton grown in glass tubes all of the objections raised in this article will go away.

John Endicott
Reply to  Matthew Sykes
December 16, 2019 5:42 am

and ‘small engines’ are not damaged.

Sorry but you are wrong on that point. Even the EPA admits that Ethanol Damages Engines.

B d Clark
Reply to  John Endicott
December 16, 2019 6:00 am

Agreed John I had a chainsaw damaged by running on ethanol.

Matthew Sykes
Reply to  John Endicott
December 18, 2019 11:36 pm

Ethanol does NOT damage engines. It affects some kinds of rubber and plastic components. It depends entirely on how the engine was designed and does not defacto damage small engines.

December 16, 2019 2:27 am

I use sensible bio-fuel every winter. It’s called firewood.

I expect the Australian environmentalists to stop such use some day soon. Even if you grew the trees yourself (which I did).

Reply to  Gumnut
December 16, 2019 10:41 am

I have been using firewood for going on 45 years now. I have enough dead firewood to heat a small city on my 2500 acre tree farm/woodlot, and a cut to length processor used in logging to cut it all up. I have sold a lot of firewood over the years that would just be thrown in the cull pile and burnt.

Firewood keeps you warm 5 different ways.

The ‘sweating’ of even thinking of finding 5-6 cords of firewood each year.
Cutting it down and up.. loading the truck
Splitting and stacking it in the woodshed
Carrying it into your home to the wood stove every day
Cleaning the chimney and cleaning out the ashes.

But it gets you divorced in the end from all the dust/smoke and the tracking in of sawdust and dirt. So the true cost of firewood is astronomically high. Kidding. When they outlaw burning firewood for home heating in rural areas where smoke isn’t a problem then that is when the civil war starts. Any talk of doing so in the name of the climate emergency instantly turns most alarmists into skeptics.

B d Clark
Reply to  Earthling2
December 16, 2019 10:47 am

I hope your right, there going to start banning woodburning in the UK 2020

December 16, 2019 3:53 am

We recently had a visit to an anaerobic digester plant which produces gas that in turn is used to generate electricity.
The inputs consist of cow and chicken manure, and is supplemented with maize grown especially for the digester.
The manager admitted that it only made economic sense because of the renewable subsidy which gave the city investors a good return on their investment.

December 16, 2019 8:31 am

Excellent essay by Paul Driessen.

It needs to be repeated over and over. Small engines (boats, chainsaws, trimmers (any 2 cycle), mowers, generators, snow blowers, etc and older automobiles/tractors are literally destroyed by ethanol. Fuel lines and carbs last a year or two. Seems the working stiffs and mechanics know the true effects whereas the general public and those with no mechanical experience will continue to feed their mechanic and abandon useful equipment for new every couple of years.

“Cash for clunkers” took a lot of good vehicles off the road and closed down a lot of repair shops and then the ethanol mandate took its toll on many others that remained on the road. But for the mechanically inclined there is now a good supply of broken vehicles and equipment that can be acquired at a steep discount if you can fix it and keep it running. There has been a real boom in yard work such as mowing as the average person cant keep their mower running.

B d Clark
December 16, 2019 8:52 am

There are ways to limit damage from bio fuels, you can buy fuel stabilisers these limit the effect of ethanol, keep the fuel tank topped up with fuel if your not using it for some time, this helps to stop moisture and air entering the system with added stabilisers Helps to stop the corrosive effects of ethanol and stops old fuels gumming up pipe work and carbs, there are different stabilisers for diesel and petrol.

A. Scott
December 16, 2019 12:36 pm

I agree w Paul Driessen and CFACT on many issues – but his fixation on repeating the many falsehoods about clean, renewable biofuels is getting old.
I support continued, smart use of fossil fuels as does Driessen …but his claims and attacks on biofuels are not supported by a close review of the facts or data.
There is no real “Big Oil-Big Biofuel war” – they are complimentary.

Neither the availability and increased reserves of fossil fuels or the falsity of Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming claims have a single thing to do with the viability of biofuels.
Biofuels however, do represent a constant pressure – a control – on the ability of oil producers to escalate prices … and therein lies the motivation for these attacks …

Pretty much each of Driessen’s regularly recycled claims are demonstrably inaccurate and/or outright false:

“Over their full life cycle (from planting, growing and harvesting crops, to converting them to fuel, to transporting them by truck or rail car, to blending and burning them), biofuels emit just as much (plant-fertilizing) carbon dioxide as oil-based gasoline and diesel. Those biofuels also require enormous amounts of land, water, fertilizer, insecticides and energy. None of this is renewable or sustainable.”


“.. corn turned into E85 fuel (85% ethanol/15% gasoline) and grown where rainfall is insufficient requires irrigation – and up to 28 gallons of water from rivers or groundwater supplies per mile traveled!”

Driessen carefully crafts these claims – cherry picking to portray facts in the most negative, biased and out of context light.
Pay attention to his exact wording – the Narrows focus of his claims.

Yes. Corn grown for ANY PURPOSE – be it food, feed or fuel – in places without sufficient rainfall, must be irrigated.

The facts however, are the majority of corn grown for ethanol is grown in regions that DO have sufficient rainfall and do not require irrigation on the whole.
And his claim that lifecycle water use requires 28 gallons per mile driven is simple ridiculous.

Numerous studies track detailed lifecycle inputs of ethanol. They show average water use in production now averages less than 3 gals per gallon of ethanol produced – nearly identical or less than gasoline – and that number continues to fall significantly. If you get just 15mpg using ethanol and it takes 3 gals of water to produce that ethanol – the facts are it takes 0.2 gals – not 28 – per mile driven.

Dreissen claims the RFS “does nothing to help American farmers.”

Yet reading his prior paragraph tells the real story … despite US ethanol production utilizing 38% of America’s corn and 27% of its sorghum crops … they are currently still not producing enough to fill market demand.

Driessen’s claims are not fact based – he offers no sources or references supporting any of his claims. His claims are not science or fact based … they are political commentary in support of the fossil fuel industry. I also support our continued smart use of fossil fuels – but using fossil fuels does not in any way preclude the use of bio-fuels and taking advantage of their significant real benefits.

The SCIENCE on ethanol … by highly experienced scientists:

A. Scott
Reply to  A. Scott
December 16, 2019 7:39 pm

One of the several nearly identical commentary’s by Paul Driessen attacking ethanol, posted here at WUWT … this one from 2018…

I and others thouroughly refuted the many false and inaccurate claims in that thread and others. Rather than repost yet again – the comments from this old thread are even more accurate today.

Jake J
December 16, 2019 3:09 pm

In Oregon, they sell “B-20” diesel, i.e. 20% biodiesel. Dirty little secrets: 1) The fuel economy is much lower, on the order of about 20%, and 2) Biodiesel has a higher “gel” point than the real thing, which is a problem in winter. After one tankful several years ago, I now avoid B-20.

Gary Pearse
December 17, 2019 1:23 pm

Paul, a better rant on biofuels, including burning Carolina hardwood in a British themoelectric plant is this: the entire sustainability argument to rationalize use of biofuels to save the planet, is logically an even better rationale for raising animals for meat which is under attack.

Carolina hardwood trees probably take over 50 years to sequester the carbon from one year’s burning (nevermind the CO2 of harvesting, chipping, shipping and handling). Corn ethanol burning takes a year to recover the CO2 emissions.

For grazing meat animals, the instant they snip off a mouthful of grass, weeds and/or shrubs, the plant immediately begins reclaiming the carbon from the atmosphere in advance of their emissions! These quadruped”vegans” are the most sustainable product on earth. Moreover, if we retired the grazing lands cropped by domestic animals, wild grazers would expand to fill the vacuum! This is already happening as crop harvests are rapidly increasing on less and less acreage, the retired land becoming expanded, forested habitat.

Given hysteria over meat eaters destroying the climate and the planet, I would like to see this alternative analysis pushed hard and repeated.

Dennis G Sandberg
December 17, 2019 9:11 pm

A. Scott, are you kidding? Bio-fuels are a total waste. You must have a personal vested interest to suggest otherwise. When all the energy inputs are included the net energy gain is either slightly negative or slightly positive depending on who”s numbers you want to believe. Gasoline from crude oil, depending on how prolific the formation is, produces several times the energy input.

There is no “demand” for bio-fuels anymore than there is a “demand” for wind power. It’s politically mandated compliance requirements that has nothing to do with economics or science.

Dennis G Sandberg
December 17, 2019 9:19 pm

A. Scott,
Hard to believe you are still suggesting ethanol has any economic value. Any thought of the validity of that claim was put to death years ago. I don’t have the source, but here’s a couple clips from my files:

That is one of Roberts main points. He is rightly pointing out that the efficiency of gasoline is being compared to the (slightly positive) energy balance of ethanol. To start from the stuff in the ground, oil/gasoline beats ethanol by a factor of 20 (or more)times, depending on boundaries.
Ethanol does in fact transform some solar energy into usable fuel. But its replacing something that is millions of years of stored solar energy that is more energy dense and of higher quality. To reiterate, if ethanol has an EROI of 1.3:1 and the entire find/refine/distribute oil/gasoline cycle has an EROI of 8:1, then gasoline, from a societal perspective, has 7/.3 =23.33 times more energy return than corn ethanol.

Dennis G Sandberg
December 17, 2019 10:52 pm

A. Scott you report
“Neither the availability and increased reserves of fossil fuels or the falsity of Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming claims have a single thing to do with the viability of biofuels”. (OK so far).
“Biofuels however, do represent a constant pressure – a control – on the ability of oil producers to escalate prices … and therein lies the motivation for these attacks …” (not OK. How can you be so knowledgeable to understand the falsity of CAGW and so ill-informed to think that ethanol at anytime under any plausible scenario could possibly compete with gasoline in a free market? Help, I really want to know, this is a new mix of beliefs.

Dennis G Sandberg
December 17, 2019 11:33 pm

A, Scott,
As I’ve stated earlier, I’m surprised you missed the ethanol vs reality debate from 10 plus years ago. Here’s a good place to start: (Dr. Plumentel has a lot more to say about ethanol but his abbreviated clip is the key.
David Pimentel, PhD, Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Cornell University, et al., wrote the following in their Sep. 2008 article titled “Biofuel Impacts on World Food Supply: Use of Fossil Fuel, Land and Water Resources,” published in Energies:

“Manufacture of a liter of 99.5% ethanol uses 46% more fossil energy than it produces and costs $1.05 per liter ($3.97 per gallon). The corn feedstock alone requires more than 33% of the total energy input.

Jeremy Gaultier
December 25, 2019 12:13 pm

I usually let the bs about biofuels that some here tend to spew go, but after reading enough of the comments I just can’t any longer. First things first the SRE’s granted by the trump admin have led to less than the 15 billion gallons of convention ethanol mandated by the law. This has led to the collapse of the RIN market. That is where the discussion ends on that front. As for the comments about nutrient leaching and algal blooms. The real place to look when you want a cause, is the sewage treatment (or lack thereof) of cities. There is no farmer that puts down one extra dollar of nitrogen than they need. That would be like lighting up 20 dollar bills to light your cigar with. Also, ethanol is in most cases a better fuel than standard unleaded gas. Whether the engine is old or new, it has its problems, someone alluded to it causing gumming in small carb engines, but that is a very very small percentage of the fuel used. The blend wall is a complete farce. You can run e85 in anything. So that everyone know where I’m coming from, I farm, I also work in the oil field. I dont advocate for increasing ethanol, but follow the damn laws as they are written. All the farmers want is some stability to their decision making.

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