Food Prices and Ethanol Mandates

By Andy May

This post is a follow up to my previous post on biofuels, here we discuss the impact of biofuels on food prices in more detail. Ethanol has been produced in large quantities in the United States for fuel since 1978. That was the year the Congress passed the Energy Tax Act (Tyner 2008) which provided for a 40 cent per ethanol gallon exemption to the gasoline excise tax. This tax exemption for ethanol was increased to fifty cents in 1982.

The Alternative Motor Fuels Act was passed in 1988. It funded biofuels research and provided incentives to automobile and truck manufacturers to build vehicles that used higher ethanol blends (E85 or 85% ethanol) and other biofuels. There were other changes to the program, but ethanol, as a fuel, never really took off. It was too expensive, too dangerous due to its low flashpoint (only 12°C or 54°F), and too corrosive to metal pipes and engine parts.

Finally, the Energy Policy Act was passed in 2005. Ethanol and biodiesel were not doing well and could not compete with petroleum, so this Act mandated their use. Bush’s volumetric ethanol excise tax credit and mandate was passed and took effect in 2005. The mandate to buy ethanol increased every year until it hit the 10% blend wall in 2011. This mandate caused farmers to grow corn for ethanol manufacture rather than for human or animal consumption increasing food costs. The magnitude of the increase in food costs caused by the mandate is endlessly debated, but no one claims it is zero. Figure 1 shows the FAO worldwide food price index for the period in nominal (unadjusted) prices and in inflation adjusted prices.

Figure 1. FAO worldwide food prices without adjustment (nominal) and adjusted for inflation (real). Data source FAO.

FAO food prices increase just as the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) mandate was put into place and it increased after that until the 10% blend wall caused the EPA to stop increasing the mandate, even though Congress howled (Congressional Research Service 2019). Due to more efficient cars, hybrids and electric cars the demand for gasoline, in the U.S. and Europe dropped. Since most car manufacturers would not allow more than 10% ethanol, less could be used and the EPA was forced to relax the mandated volumes. Petroleum prices also began to rise in 2005 and declined in 2015, this played a role in increasing food prices as well, since agriculture is an energy intensive business. World crude prices are shown in Figure 2 from ourworldindata.org.

Figure 2. World Crude Oil prices, 2018 U.S. dollars. Data source: ourworldindata.org

Besides higher fuel prices and farmers switching their land from food crops to biofuel crops, other factors affecting food prices from 2005 to 2013 were greater demand in Asia and speculation in the commodity markets according to the World Bank. Incomes are rising rapidly in the developing world, especially in Asia, and they are buying more food, this has increased prices, just as the demand for biofuels has reduced the rate of growth in the food supply. In addition, this period (2005 to 2013) saw some periods of drought in the U.S. and Russia, which affected corn and wheat prices.

Fuel prices affected the cost of shipping food and, to a lesser extent, the cost of growing it. The primary impact of the biofuels explosion after 2005, was on supply as farmland was switched from growing food to growing corn and soybeans for the biofuels industry. How quickly the switch to biofuel production is reflected in the grocery store varies is explained by Corinne Alexander and Chris Hurt of Purdue University (Alexander and Hurt 2007). Chicken, egg and beef prices responded quickly, but pork prices more slowly.

A major 2017 review of the literature concluded that food prices were affected by the use of biofuels. Dr. Chris Malins (Malins 2017) reviewed over one-hundred economic modeling studies and twenty-four assessments of the role biofuel demand plays in food prices and concluded:

“… biofuel demand (and hence biofuel policy) results in increased food prices. The size of the impact on prices scales with the size of biofuel demand, though not necessarily linearly, and inversely with the size of the market being affected. The U.S. maize ethanol mandate is expected to impact cereals markets much more strongly than EU ethanol demand, because U.S. demand is much higher. In contrast, EU biodiesel demand is expected to have a larger impact on vegetable oil prices than EU grain ethanol demand has on grain prices, because global vegetable oil production is much less than global grain production. These general conclusions are consistent with research undertaken for the European Commission (Valin, et al. 2015), as well as numerous studies by other institutions and independent researchers.” (Malins 2017)

Land use change (from food farming to biofuel farming) have caused an estimated global increase in corn and wheat prices of 1-2% and global vegetable price increases of about 10% (Malins 2017). There is a broad consensus that U.S. mandated corn ethanol consumption played a major role in the global food price crisis of 2006-2008. However, there is no agreement on precisely how much of the 2006-2008 price increase could be attributed to the mandate. It is also generally agreed that the EU biodiesel demand caused an increase in vegetable oil prices, but again no agreement on the magnitude. Malins’ Table 1 provides a summary of the conclusions of 26 studies. The studies estimate that the switch to biofuels caused from 18% to 75% of the food price crisis.

According to the FAO (FAO 2011) prices of rice, wheat and corn rose 40% (adjusted for inflation) between January 2007 and July 2008. These price increases occurred worldwide, regardless of where the grains were grown. Transmission of prices occurred more rapidly during the crisis than during normal times. The price increases were not a large problem in western countries where most people spend less than 10% of their income on food, but in poorer countries where some spend more than 50% of their income on food, it was a big problem. The poorest 20% of the population, saw a 9% decline in their real income due to higher food prices (FAO 2011).

Post 2012

By 2011, the rate of growth of biofuels had stalled, the market was saturated and additional mandates, although attempted, were ineffective and could not be implemented (Congressional Research Service 2019). Biofuels in the OECD countries were 5% of all transportation, commercial and residential energy use in 2010, according to Exxon Outlook, and the same in 2017. Exxon projects that this will not change over the next twenty years, mandates or no mandates. As I noted in a previous post, burning wood, waste and dung is practical if it is done close to the fuel source, because this process also functions as a waste removal mechanism. If the fuel source is close, waste and biofuels provide both incineration and power generation, but otherwise these fuels are not economically viable. This is an industry almost totally dependent upon government subsidies and mandates.

Biofuel advocates point out that the production of biofuels results in co-products called “distiller’s grains” and “oilseed meals.” These products are used as livestock feed and account for about 5% to 12% of EU consumption. This is not negligible, but it is also not large enough to affect EU imports of feed grain (Malins 2017). It is also not enough to eliminate the negative impact biofuels have on food prices. Malins writes:

“Indirect land use change studies for the European Commission already include the effect of co-products in reducing the impact of biofuel policy on feed availability, as do 95% of studies identified in a comprehensive review of the field (Persson 2014). Studies of ILUC with the MIRAGE and GLOBIOM models (Laborde 2011) and (Valin, et al. 2015) find that co-product availability prevents consumption of animal feed by livestock from being reduced due to biofuel policy, but in neither study does this prevent overall human consumption of food commodities from reducing. The price increase predictions documented in this study are all made despite an explicit recognition of the importance of co-products. It is quite simply inconsistent with the evidence available to claim that biofuels increase food security due to the role of co-products – the food security impact is reduced by co-products but not eliminated.” (Malins 2017)

Conclusions

There is considerable pressure being applied on the government to increase the ethanol mandate and blend more ethanol in our gasoline. But, the technical problems with this action and the risks to engines have prevented this from happening. The statutory volume requirements have not been met since 2013 (Congressional Research Service 2019). The EPA has the authority to waive the statutory requirements and has used this authority. Technology cannot be legislated, whether it is E15 gasoline or switchgrass cellulosic ethanol. According to the Congressional Research Service:

“For instance, the 2019 targets set by EPA for total renewable fuel and for total advanced biofuel were approximately 71% and 38% of the statutory targets, respectively. A variety of factors, such as infrastructure, technology, and limited federal assistance, have led to challenges in meeting the total volume requirement established by Congress. These challenges have included a lack of cellulosic biofuel production and delays by the EPA in approving fuel pathways. There are, however, two fuel categories that consistently have met their statutory targets: conventional biofuel and biomass-based diesel. Also, since 2014, two advanced biofuel pathways—renewable compressed natural gas and renewable liquefied natural gas—have constituted the majority of the cellulosic biofuel volume target established by EPA.” (Congressional Research Service 2019)

In 2018, the EPA required that 15 billion gallons of ethanol be put in U.S. fuel, but the market could only use 14.3 billion gallons due to the blend wall and current expected gasoline sales. The U.S. is now energy independent, thanks to shale gas and oil. However, to make up for the extra 700 million gallons of ethanol required in 2018 by the EPA, and because the mandated ethanol volume from cellulose was not available, the refining industry was (and is) importing biodiesel and cellulosic ethanol. That is correct, simply to meet the mandated volumes, we are importing biodiesel and ethanol that we do not need, that is why the biodiesel mandate is met. Your government in action!

The 2020 Renewable Fuel Standard Rules include the following, by way of explanation for this regulatory insanity (BBD stands for biomass-based diesel):

“Given current and recent market conditions, the advanced biofuel requirement is driving the production and use of biodiesel and renewable diesel volumes over and above volumes required through the separate BBD standard, and we expect this to continue. While EPA continues to believe it is appropriate to maintain the opportunity for other advanced biofuels to compete for market share, the vast majority of the advanced biofuel obligations in recent years have been satisfied with BBD. Thus, after a review of implementation of the program to date and considering the statutory factors, we are establishing, in coordination with USDA and DOE, an applicable volume of BBD for 2020 of 2.43 billion gallons.”

The Congressional mandate is one billion gallons of BBD. Thus, the EPA is mandating biodiesel and ethanol imports.

Note (3/31/2020): A reader (Greg Freemeyer, see the comments below) showed me where the EPA reports biofuel imports (see here). In 2018 they report that 305,428,514 gallons of biofuels were imported. This generated 392,999,626 ethanol RIN credits. In 2019, 430,681,927 gallons were reported to have been imported, generating 521,853,172 RINs. This is a different volume than reported above, but still substantial. The remaining 200,000,000 to 300,000,000 required RINs may have been purchased from other sources.

Works Cited

Alexander, Corinne, and Chris Hurt. 2007. “Biofuels and Their Impact on Food prices.” Bioenergy. https://www.extension.purdue.edu/extmedia/ID/ID-346-W.pdf.

Congressional Research Service. 2019. “The Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS): An Overview.” https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R43325.pdf.

FAO. 2011. Lessons from the world food crisis of 2006-08. FAO. http://www.fao.org/3/i2330e/i2330e04.pdf.

Laborde, David. 2011. Assessing the Land Use Change Consequences of European Biofuel Policy. Atlass. http://re.indiaenvironmentportal.org.in/files/file/biofuelsreportec2011.pdf.

Malins, Chris. 2017. Thought for Food. London: Cerulogy. https://www.transportenvironment.org/sites/te/files/publications/Cerulogy_Thought-for-food_September2017.pdf.

Persson, U. Martin. 2014. “The Impact of Biofuel Demand on Agricultural Commodity Prices: A Systematic Review. Advances in Bioenergy: The Sustainability Challenge.” By U. M. Persson, 465-482. Wiley. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/wene.155.

Tyner, Wallace E. 2008. “The US Ethanol and Biofuels Boom: Its Origins, Current Status, and Future Prospects.” Bioscience 58 (7). doi:https://doi.org/10.1641/B580718.

Valin, H., Peters, van den Berg, M. D., S. Frank, P. Havlík, N. Forsell, and C. Hamelinck. 2015. “The land use change impact of biofuels consumed in the EU – Quantification of area and greenhouse gas impacts.” International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis. http://pure.iiasa.ac.at/id/eprint/12310/.

91 thoughts on “Food Prices and Ethanol Mandates

  1. “too corrosive to metal pipes and engine parts”

    And then what the science says: https://pubs.acs.org/doi/full/10.1021/acs.energyfuels.7b01682?src=recsys “Ethanol–gasoline blends (EGBs) can easily absorb large amounts of water because of the presence of ethanol. Acidic compounds and ions can be dissolved in water, and these substances can have corrosive effects on metallic construction materials.”

    For a site that purports to respect science I find your incredible bad language surprising. THe fuel is not corrosive. It MAY become contaminated with water, which MAY contain acids.

    How many times do you point out that the word ‘may’ or ‘might’ is ignored in the discussion of climate change? Every day? And yet here you are doing exactly the same thing when you want to rubbish alcohol as a fuel and promote gas.

    Alcohol is a very effective fuel, it has been used in race engines for a long time, supports a higher compression ration and therefore can produce more power for a given engine size.

    It has also been used in Brazil for about 40 years, both Fiat and VW produce cars that run on it. So yeah, it has a long and successful record.

    (Disclaimer, Climate Change is a crock, OK, I just dont like BS when I see in in all its forms)

    • Matt_S March 28, 2020 at 11:45 pm

      Excellent point (-: Piling on with BS ruins the point that government interference causes the free market to engage in stupid behavior.

    • I used to drive a car with 10% ethanol content, because the standard 91 octane fuel caused knocking. Now I’ve updated to a nice diesel & get much better fuel economy. If the governments of the world actually cared about fuel consumption, they would mandate diesel everywhere.

      • Hivemind:
        The USEPA has created excessive maintenance issues for diesel engines, making them less than desirable. Case in point was my wife’s 2014 GLK diesel which we bought for $29K which had less than 30K miles. [‘m not sure when the urea pollution control was implemented but this 2014 incorporated one. Shortly after purchase the two NOX sensors failed on a trip out of town. Next issue was the two dust sensors failed and while they were in the shop for replacement, the fuel injection system failed. And despite the superior handling and the 40+ fuel performance. This cascading failure of these unwarranted sensors/urea system left us no choice but to trade in the vehicle and Mercedes gave us a deal on a gas-powered replacement.
        Hope you do not experience similar issues.

        • the epa tier 4 applicable from Jan 1 2015 drove many manufacturers to implement in the 2013-2014 model years to test and rule out issues before the tier 4 wall hit them for 2015 model years.
          locomotive manufacturer emd (now progress rail) actually was not able to meet standards with their 710 engine and was not able to sell any new locomotives until mid year 2016 when they had a new engine design in place.

        • We are living on a sailboat in the Caribbean. On our 2016 trip from the Great Lakes to the Chesapeake alone the St Lawrence and Easter seaboard I was three times stranded by failure of our dinghy outboard. Each time, I deduced the problem was ethanol in the fuel attacking various rubber elements in the fuel tank or carburetor. Since arriving in the Caribbean, the thing with its replacement rubber bits has performed flawlessly. The only ethanol to be had here is found at the liquor stores.

          I’d like to set every ethanol policy maker in a dinghy miles offshore with alcohol blended fuel and wish them luck. That’s more than I had.

    • the point you miss is that ethanol is not effective in a blend with gasoline

      it may be great in cars designed for it, like in brazil or those fiats and vws that don’t pass uncle sam’s muster of fuel economy and ’emission standard’ and thus are not for sale here

      BS indeed

      • And modern cars are designed for it, at least in Europe. It is a perfectly good fuel, blended or not.

    • “too corrosive to metal pipes and engine parts”

      And then what the science says: https://pubs.acs.org/doi/full/10.1021/acs.energyfuels.7b01682?src=recsys “Ethanol–gasoline blends (EGBs) can easily absorb large amounts of water because of the presence of ethanol. Acidic compounds and ions can be dissolved in water, and these substances can have corrosive effects on metallic construction materials.”

      wot? the pull quote and the last sentence of your ‘science says’ match

      if may and maybe mean may not and maybe not, does can also mean can not?

      • Yes, of course, since can is almost always misused in English to mean may. As in ‘can you pass the salt’.

    • Matt_S,

      “Ethanol, however, is known for triggering stress corrosion cracking of steel.”

      https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/10/131001115736.htm

      Cars can be specially modified to run on ethanol and it has high octane. But, the energy density is low, it is dangerous due to its low flashpoint, and the modifications are expensive. It also must have special pipelines that it cannot share with petroleum products. Ethanol will destroy an engine that is not modified for it.

    • You are both missing the key point about ethanol in engines and fuel systems: i.e. it is most detrimental to RUBBER and PLASTIC components used for sealing and more and more for critical structural components of modern engines!

      That the ethanol absorbs water and can then corrode metals is for the most part irrelevant. Products of combustion are CO2 and water – your engine essentially runs on steam. Your crankcase gets a lot of water from blow by of the rings…. (hence water argument is dumb)

      But because the engine runs at 90C to 120C, this water gets evaporated and leaves via the oil breather system and PCV system (positive crankcase ventilation).

      The water/ethanol argument is nonsense, but the fact gaskets, orings and seals are rubber and many critical components such as intake manifolds are entirely plastic – that is the ethanol issue!

      The more sophisticated we continue to make engines to conform to the eco-nazi directives – the more plastic and rubber sealing components there are – and the more susceptible to costly or catastrophic failure occurs when one even small sealing element is compromised.

      • Amen. I bought a hand blower, filled it up with E-10 and after the first use, the plastic tubing feeding the carburetor from the poly gas tank basically melted. No warning in the manual not to use ethanol but there definitely should have been one.

        • When ethanol started to be mixed with regular grade gas we switched premium with no ethanol at our golf maintenance facility. We had over forty gas powered units including line trimmers, walk mowers, blowers and utility carts. Even if stored properly we still had issues with gaskets, hoses and fuel bowls. Cheaper to pay for good gas. On the other side small equipment repair shops have made a fortune.

      • Took my leaf blower in to be repaired. The serviceman’s first words upon looking at the priming tube was “You used gas with ethanol in it on this blower.” Then his estimate to fix it. I bought a new one. A few years later I rented a chipper/shredder. There was a large red sticker on the gas tank. “Ethanol-free gas ONLY!”

      • “You are both missing the key point about ethanol in engines and fuel systems: i.e. it is most detrimental to RUBBER and PLASTIC components”

        Yes, I started using a gasoline/ethanol blend in my 1965 Chevy pickup truck, way back when, and not long after that I had to replace the rubber fuel line which had deteriorated. I started looking for gas stations that sold 100 percent gasoline after that.

        • Other people with old cars has simply replaced the cheap rubber hose with slightly more expensive hoses mad of synthetic rubber. The cars then run fine with 10% or higher ethanol content.

    • Racing is not representative of typical automobile performance or use. These cars are not designed for long life or fuel efficiency. Racing teams are, however, highly regulated by somewhat arbitrary non-scientific rules. (Sound familiar?) If not forced to use a certain fuel type, for example, the winners would find the best fuel for the task, and it’s not gasohol.

      Air pollution is particularly bad in Brazil and much of this is from acetaldehyde and other irritants that are formed directly as a result from the high use of ethanol fuels there.

      Use of ethyl alcohol for fuel is politically and not market driven and this leads to many silly consequences. In the scheme of things it’s probably insignificant compared to the multi-trillion dollar wealth transfers that we are seeing.

    • If the ethanol wasn’t there, neither would the water and other things be there.
      Get rid of the ethanol, get rid of the problem.

      • Bingo! Water is present in the air and tends to condense in fuel tanks, especially when humidity is high and the tank is cool. The ethanol and moisture mix and form acidic compounds by chemical reaction. These compounds find their way into the oil. If they are present in sufficient quantity, the oil cannot prevent corrosion. Most lubricating oils are alkiline by design.

    • “too corrosive to metal pipes and engine parts”
      It wreaked havoc in the Bahamas where outboard motors and water taxis are a life line. Slowly dissolving the rubber fuel lines and clogging fuel filters with goo.. most marinas are alcohol free.. at the pump not the bar!
      Cheers
      Mike

      • Craig Austin, Add ethanol to the fuel and the water in the tank will disappear, so will your engine. Ethanol attracts water, gasoline doesn’t. A lot of comments mention the destruction of rubber by ethanol, this is true, it does happen and it can be catastrophic. But, the long term damage from ethanol is still its ability to destroy steel components, via attracting water and destructive ions. Plastic and rubber fittings can be replaced with resistant materials, at great cost, I might add. But, replacing the steel components with resistant alloys is tougher and much more expensive.

  2. Is there any evidence that such massive subsidies for what is an unnecessary crop distorts farming ownership and systems? I believe that 1/3rd of EU expenditure goes towards farming subsidies. This has the effect of squeezing out the family farm system and encouraging large scale factory farming, which is often not so efficient or flexible nor so favourable to the environment. Certainly that is so in Greece where the family farm is virtually extinct and non-existing or ghost factory farms garner vast sums from the EU budget.
    The small cropping farmer could sell produce at the farm gate or at farmers’ markets, so get a better price than he would through a marketing chain, especially from those sharks of the market – the supermarkets who squeeze prices down until a farmer makes only a subsistence wage.
    These market distorting measures by central government also seriously handicap trade with agricultural producing nations, such as the third world countries.
    I think this is all a powerful argument for smaller government.

    • Good points chaamjamal, I liked this:

      Climate science thus finds itself in the odd position of at once hailing biofuels consumption as a cure for climate change while at the same time calling for a ban on its production which they see as a accelerating climate change. It is one of many contradictions that have confused, befuddled, and discredited climate scientists and their half baked campaign against carbon dioxide.

  3. Farmers would rather produce corn for ethanol than grow food crops. link As far as I can tell, there seems to be an oversupply of food crops.

    • In the US the corn used for ethanol is not an either or proposition. The waste material from the process is a product called dried distiller’s grain which is a dense, high nutrient animal feed. Thus the corn is used twice unlike food crops.

  4. As one involved in agriculture, I can well state that the mass production of bio-fuel as a replacement for fossil fuels is a disgraceful waste of good farmland.

    Rather than subsidising such fuel, a tax should be rendered on it to pay for the damage to natural ecosystems that surely follows from such utter waste.

  5. https://wattsupwiththat.com/2020/03/04/alpine-high-oils-well-that-ends-well-except-when-it-doesnt/#comment-2931288
    Thank you all for your comments – here is a concise ~final version.
    Best, Allan

    A RATIONAL ENERGY STRATEGY FOR AMERICA.

    CO2 is NOT a harmful emission and CO2 abatement programs, based on unscientific hysteria, are costly and harmful to humanity and the environment. Increased atmospheric CO2 is hugely beneficial due to increased plant and crop yields.

    Therefore, almost all forms of “green” energy are uneconomic and ineffective and must be rejected. This includes grid-connected wind and solar energy, hydrogen-fuel systems and most or all biofuels, including corn ethanol. One green technology that makes sense is garbage processing into fuel and energy.

    Nuclear power is proven technology, but there is no reason to shut down fossil-fueled power plants and replace them with nuclear.

    The energy-equivalence of natural gas to a typical crude oil is about 6:1 mcf/bbl (m=1000). Therefore crude oil at US$48/bbl is energy-equivalent to natural gas at US$8/bbl, but natural gas is now priced at US$2.00 to $2.50 – so gas on an energy-equivalent basis is 1/3 to 1/4 the cost of oil.

    There has been a shift in electrical generation from coal to gas, because gas is cheaper and cleaner than coal. Coal emissions (NOx, SOx and particulates) can be cleaned, but at a cost.

    The practical solution to greatly improve in-city air quality is to get rid of diesel – and there is little need for diesel in cities. Diesels are great for highway hauling, but propane or natural gas (even gasoline) vehicles are cleaner for in-city.

    For long haul trucking and rail transportation , it’s hard to beat diesels.

    The ~same mid-distillate fraction is used for jet fuel, and I see no practical alternative.

    The ~same mid-distillate fraction is used for home heating in areas where natural gas is not available. Obstructions to new natural gas pipelines should be eliminated and gas should replace oil heating.

    Economics should govern. We need a 95%+ reduction in energy regulation – no carbon taxes and other nonsense. The only recommended regulation is to reduce diesel in cities.

    • “Reduce diesel use in cities” due to air pollution.

      Actually diesels sold since 2007 nation wide use diesel soot filters reducing particulates,HC, and CO pollution except for NOx 98-99%.
      The cleanest diesels today are generally negative PM and CO and HC emitters especially in the city during high ambient air pollution events. But in clean air areas they emit well below ambient air quality standards where there is no environmental difference between any vehicle emitter.
      Current emission testing protocols do not include the fact that there is air pollution and that engines consume air.

        • Hi Allan, The United States (including California) adopted emission standards effectively requiring all new diesels be equipped with diesel soot filters, in 2007. I recall most of Europe was around 2004 – 2006 light and heavy duty roughly. Generally where ever there is low sulfur diesel sold with less than 10 or 50 ppm S. This is a good indication that low emission diesels are legislated. These cleaner diesel models represent roughly 82% of the vehicle miles traveled today.

          There may be still some old “gross-emitter” dirty diesels, generally they represent less than 5% of the vehicles in USA. If you can smell, or see the exhaust then the vehicle is likely older than 2007 and soon to be retired. All 2007 model year diesels with diesel soot filters either work, or they plug (and the engine does not start).

          • Thank you Gary.

            We instituted low sulphur diesel decades ago in Canada – I chaired the Task Force that recommended spending hundreds of millions for a new mid-distillate hydrotreater for Syncrude and that was circa 1990.

            Thanks to you, I’ve been reading about ”clean diesel”. This is all good, but it is important to retrofit older diesels or retire them ASAP.
            https://www.dieselforum.org/about-clean-diesel/what-is-clean-diesel

            I drive primarily in the city and encounter diesel “stink pots” all too often – it would be great to get rid of the last of them.

            Regards, Allan

          • Agreed old dirty diesels need to go, since most diesels last 18 years, the remaining old diesels have less than 5-years left, less if one salts the roads in the winter.

            FYI the Covid 19 derailed my presentation at SAE this month where I was going to show how the cleanest diesels are actually negative HC,CO,PM emitters when ambient air pollutants are included in the emission test procedure.

      • Amazing the efficiencies attained over the past 50 years. And our cars clean the air to boot.

        When net “real” pollutant emissions began approaching zero, the only things left, H2O and CO2 — a new bogey-man was needed for the perpetual bureaucratic state to attack.

        I guess water was too obvious, so CO2 officially declared a “pollutant”.

        I suppose there’s waste heat at over 50% that contributes directly to ((((global warming)))). Lord help us when they think of this.

    • Thanks again Gary.

      A RATIONAL ENERGY STRATEGY FOR AMERICA (Rev.1)

      CO2 is NOT a harmful emission and CO2 abatement programs, based on unscientific falsehoods, are costly and harmful to humanity and the environment. Increased atmospheric CO2 is hugely beneficial due to increased plant and crop yields.

      Therefore, almost all forms of “green” energy are uneconomic and counterproductive and must be rejected. This includes grid-connected wind and solar energy, hydrogen-fuel systems and most or all biofuels, including corn ethanol. One green technology that makes technical and economic sense is garbage processing into fuel and energy.

      Nuclear power is proven technology, but there is no justification at this time to shut down fossil-fueled power plants and replace them with nuclear.

      The energy-equivalence of natural gas to a typical crude oil is about 6:1 mcf/bbl (m=1000). Therefore crude oil at US$48/bbl is energy-equivalent to natural gas at US$8/bbl, but natural gas is typically priced at US$2.00 to $2.50 – so gas on an energy-equivalent basis is typically 1/3 to 1/4 the cost of oil.

      There has been a shift in electrical generation from coal to gas, because gas is cheaper and cleaner than coal. Coal emissions (NOx, SOx and particulates) can be cleaned, but at a cost.

      The practical solution to greatly improve in-city air quality is to retire old (pre~2007) diesels or retrofit them with new clean diesel technology.

      For long haul trucking and rail transportation , clean diesel is the best alternative.

      The ~same mid-distillate fraction is used for jet fuel, and there is no practical alternative.

      The ~same mid-distillate fraction is used for heating of structures in areas where natural gas is not available. Obstructions to new natural gas pipelines should be eliminated and natural gas should replace oil heating.

      Economics should govern. There should be a ~95% reduction in energy regulation – no carbon taxes and other unscientific nonsense. The only recommended regulation is to clean up emissions from older diesel engines.

      • As one who has lived this ethanol bio/renewable diesel story within the Governmental Regulatory/Energy Policy side, for 30 years you captured the story and issues well.

        FYI: all gasoline vehicles sold since 1987 or so were designed to accept low ethanol blends in CA. One of my ARB Certification Engineering tasks in 1988 was to verify that all gasoline vehicles sold in CA were low blend ethanol tolerant. Starting since mid-2000s several models were designed to tolerate up to E15. E10 vehicle modifications included modifications to generally anything the liquid fuel touched; elastomer material changes, fuel tank permeation mitigation and fuel gage material and voltage changes to tolerate ethanol.

        • https://wattsupwiththat.com/2019/11/17/fossil-fuels-dominate-global-energy-democrats-try-to-conceal-suppress-this-reality/#comment-2849460

          Re biofuels:

          I “inherited” a corn ethanol project in Wyoming years ago. The business never made economic sense – it barely broke even despite huge state and federal subsidies.

          About 30% of the huge USA corn crop is devoted to corn ethanol, and this industry is contributing to the excessive drawdown of the vital Ogalalla aquifer in the USA Midwest.

          I do not approve of biofuels in general – biofuels have also caused huge environmental damage in the tropics, both with sugar cane ethanol in Brazil and palm oil in SE Asia.

          • Allan,
            Yes, biofuels in general pose in my view even greater environmental damage than the fossil fuels they are intended to supplant. The problem is especially greater if one attempts to significantly replace fossil fuel use.

            Conversely, it was explained to me that corn grown for ethanol production, the plant removes the starch for ethanol production (the cows do not benefit from the starch), leaving proteins, fiber, and oils, for livestock feed (DGS). So basically the corn is used for two purposes as opposed to the past practice of direct corn fed cattle -which wastes the starch portion of the corn. I believe there is a 20% mass loss in the corn to ethanol then livestock feed process – so nothing is free. Now several ethanol plants are removing the oils as there is surplus corn oil in DGS and that fraction is use to make biodiesel.

            Still biofuels can and frequently do cause greater environmental harm than fossil fuels.

        • Two of my ten recent papers:

          THE COST TO SOCIETY OF RADICAL ENVIRONMENTALISM
          By Allan M.R. MacRae, B.A.Sc., M.Eng., July 4, 2019
          https://wattsupwiththat.com/2019/07/04/the-cost-to-society-of-radical-environmentalism/

          CO2, GLOBAL WARMING, CLIMATE AND ENERGY
          by Allan M.R. MacRae, B.A.Sc., M.Eng., June 15, 2019
          https://wattsupwiththat.com/2019/06/15/co2-global-warming-climate-and-energy-2/
          Excel: https://wattsupwiththat.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/Rev_CO2-Global-Warming-Climate-and-Energy-June2019-FINAL.xlsx

          • Allan,
            Thanks for the great articles, I generally agree with your positions and findings. At times I wonder if we are all preaching to the choir or if we are really interested in chaining the GHG outcome.

            Is there any interest from authors to modify past/future articles for use in upcoming EPA or ARB proposed GHG policy actions? It would be great / powerful to have GHG technical arguments (as discussed in your papers) submitted (in opposition to the dogma GHG advocacy position) during an EPA or ARB hearing / comment period to challenge the proposed GHG policies. Often only GHG advocacy audiences and positions are proposed and heard with no pushback from technical and factually-based GHG counter arguments.

            Generally, one only needs to sign up on the ARB or EPA e-server list, and wait for notices of pending actions and comment period. It would be totally great for some succinct factual questions, and some inconvenient facts presented to the ARB and EPA, I am willing to help on this if there are interested people.

    • Jon Peterson, The ourworldindata.org dataset only goes to 2018 and it is not a WTI dataset. WTI is not appropriate for the topic.

  6. I asked my Nissan dealer about E10 – was told it is a no-no for a reason I never suspected. The gas tank sediment of 10 years would become a suspension and arrive at the motor, with severe consequences.
    So E5, the usual stuff, seems not to do that.

    • I’ve never found a dealer that knew diddly squat about cars except what is printed on that piece of paper in the window. That was true in California, the D.C. area, and Nevada. How do you find a dealer that knows anything? The motors and the dashboard have always been a total mystery to them. Finding a Cadillac dealer in So Cal that knew how to spell Cadillac was nearly impossible (even with that big sign on the street), and absolutely no more was known by them about the car.

      Still, they knew more about the cars than the mechanics. I took a Buick T-Type to a dealer because it had lost half its HP. On taking a test drive, the mechanic came back excited: “WOW! That is the fastest car I’ve ever driven!” Found a garage who restored power with a new catalytic converter and turbo. The dealer had told me they couldn’t improve on the current power output.

      This largely holds true for dealer motorcycle mechanics. I’ve heard some of the most amusing diagnoses from them. All I could do was take them home and repair them myself – or find a non-dealer garage.

      While my cars have all been American-made, none of my bikes have been.

  7. If you have Ethanol free gas available where you regularly fill up then do this simple test. Determine your gas millage over more than two tanks of gas on the Ethanol blend. Do the same with the same octane level Ethanol-free blend. You will discover you are buying more gasoline to go the same mileage.
    EIA even admits your gas millage will decrease. However, I have over a 5% penalty in both min wife’s and my car. Only if gas is less than $2.00 a gallon is it economically worth it.

    • Exactly what we found in our daily drivers, except it was on the order of 15% loss
      of mileage. Can’t find any non E15 regular these days, but a few years ago a couple of stations
      carried it. It’s now sold as “premium” at big markup.

      • My tank holds 20 gal. Every time I fill the tank I set one of the trip odometers to zero. Whenever I am forced to fill the tank with an Ethanol blend I get from 20 to 50 miles less millage when the low gas beeps and the light comes on. The worse numbers with city driving.

  8. Instead of ethanol for bio-fuel, why not use the excess food, in a good year, to make ‘survival food’, for natural
    disasters, crop failures, pandemics, etc.? It should last about 20 to 25 years. Build survival food warehouses near the cities so distant transportation would be unnecessary. This might placate the voters in Iowa and other farming states. After 20 years or so, give the survival food to disaster areas in other countries. Imprint ‘Made in the USA’ on every bag, and starving people will have a great newfound admiration for the US. As a last resort, feed it to farm animals. Have you tried buying survival food lately? OUT OF STOCK. People like
    to know that there is a next dinner to be had. As a last resort, it should be in a bag in the basement, … not in your gas tank.

  9. When ethanol started to be mixed with regular grade gas we switched premium with no ethanol at our golf maintenance facility. We had over forty gas powered units including line trimmers, walk mowers, blowers and utility carts. Even if stored properly we still had issues with gaskets, hoses and fuel bowls. Cheaper to pay for good gas. On the other side small equipment repair shops have made a fortune.

  10. I am aware of the very real damage done to engines and equipment by alcohol-bearing gasoline. It began in the 1980s with the fuel pump on a Dodge Caravan; needlessly affecting my family and children. About the same time, a friend was driving back west from Florida in a Caravan with his family and became stranded in the Midwest USA because of the same damage suffered by us. I was told that it was a rubber gasket or seal that failed because of the alcohol and plugged the fuel pump? I have had numerous small engines damaged by the alcohol gas, broken piston in chain saw, dissolved fuel line on weed eater, over and over until I found a place to buy no-alcohol gas for $5 per gallon. (More recently found it for $4.50/gallon and have to drive 30 miles to get it adding to Global Warming?
    A friend and small engine repair fellow who helped me more than once, told me that 80% of his business was because of the alcohol in the gas.

    I will guess that this mandate has caused many billions of dollars of loss and continues. This does not even address the tilling of marginal land – previously wildlife habitat – the additional use of fertilizer with run off into Gulf of Mexico creating dead zones, the draw down of the Ogallala aquifer, a national threat, burning of diesel to produce a poor fuel substitute, loss of mileage per gallon. Many others have written about this with authority but I have lived it and continue to deal with this damaging nonsense.

  11. The car manufacturers are clever. Newest combustion techniques can get super charged gasoline engines up very close to diesel engines in overall efficiency- near 60%. These engines combine variable valve timing and spark controlled ignition in a variant of the Atkinson cycle(Miller cycle) when acceleration isn’t needed.

    Electronic control of the ignition allows very precise ignition timing rather than depending on just compression of the incoming fuel mix for ignition.

    The Atkinson cycle was patented in 1887, the Miller cycle in 1957.

    • Yes, the Brazilian model only works in Brazil. It requires a lot of water and a lot of land, since the land can only be used for one or two crops before it must lie fallow.

  12. The lack of scientific accuracy and wider awareness on the use of ethanol as fuel is staggering in the article above. Brazil, which was the first country to research and mass deploy ethanol as fuel for cars back in the 70s, has been using them for decades now, without any corrosion problems in its perfectly-adjusted engines. In fact it’s better than this: most cars in Brazil have “flex fuel” engines, accepting any combination of gasoline and ethanol regardless of what consumers prefer (depending on pump prices). Let me emphasize this: Brazilians have had access to 100% ethanol pumps since at least the late 70s.

    The US is not the only country in the world – wake up and smell the coffee, please.

    • Ric,

      lack of scientific accuracy and wider awareness on the use of ethanol

      If you found any inaccuracy, report it specifically in a comment and I will look into it. I do not know of any and you haven’t mentioned even one. As for Brazil’s use of sugarcane-based ethanol, it is a model that would be difficult to duplicate anywhere else. They allow the burning of forests to make “fertilized” fields to grow sugarcane and other crops for fuel. They also have a lot of land for “monocrops” (one crop per plot of burned land) and a lot of water with which to grow their crops. Plus they have abundant cheap labor and a tropical climate.

      Ethanol is cleaner than petroleum gasoline, but outside Brazil much more expensive. But, in Brazil, due to unique circumstances, mentioned above, ethanol is normally cheaper. However, circumstances can change this, and did in 2012 and 2013:
      https://thecityfix.com/blog/ethanol-brazil-sugar-cane-industry-biofuels-magdala-arioli/

      A blistering report in Foreign Policy begins (reference in the next comment):

      While sugar cane ethanol is certainly less ecologically destructive than some other biofuels, the industry’s boosters have overlooked one key fact: You’ve got to plant sugar cane somewhere. One couldn’t pick a worse place to harvest cane than Brazil’s Atlantic rainforest. There, sugar cane crops have led to deforestation and, paradoxically, more carbon emissions.

      So Ric, I would suggest you need “wider awareness.” This topic is more complex than you think. Don’t get me started on Brazilian biodiesel, it is much worse than ethanol.

  13. “Currently, the EPA requires that 15 billion gallons of biofuel be put in U.S. fuel, but the market can only use 14.3 billion gallons due to the blend wall and current expected gasoline sales. ”

    Biofuel != ethanol:

    That should be 15 billion gallons of traditional ethanol.

    From: https://www.epa.gov/renewable-fuel-standard-program/final-renewable-fuel-standards-2020-and-biomass-based-diesel-volume

    The final 2020 non-traditional ethanol obligations are:

    Cellulosic biofuel: 0.59 billion gallons
    Biomass-based diesel: 2.43 billion gallons

    Advanced biofuel: 5.09 billion gallons (Includes 0.59 + 2.43 + other)

    Grand total: 20.09 (15.00 traditional ethanol + 5.09 advanced)

    • Greg Freemeyer, My language was sloppy for sure. I think I have fixed the paragraph. It applied to 2018, but the language of the 2020 rule is similar. However, your statement (below) that biodiesel (especially imported biodiesel) is not being substituted for ethanol, appears to be contradicted by the EPA:

      Given current and recent market conditions, the advanced biofuel requirement is driving the production and use of biodiesel and renewable diesel volumes over and above volumes required through the separate BBD standard, and we expect this to continue. While EPA continues to believe it is appropriate to maintain the opportunity for other advanced biofuels to compete for market share, the vast majority of the advanced biofuel obligations in recent years have been satisfied with BBD. Thus, after a review of implementation of the program to date and considering the statutory factors, we are establishing … [a mandate] of 2.43 billion gallons.

      The Congressional mandate was one billion gallons, thus the EPA mandate is substituting BBD for ethanol. In essence, the EPA rules are mandating imports, which is what I said in the post. I just wasn’t very clear. Hopefully that is fixed now.

      • “{the advanced biofuel requirement is driving”

        In the terminology of the EPA in regards to the RFS, traditional ethanol is not an “advanced biofuel”.

        The shortage of production being discussed is not a shortage of traditional ethanol.

        Look again at: https://www.epa.gov/renewable-fuel-standard-program/final-renewable-fuel-standards-2020-and-biomass-based-diesel-volume

        The 2020 statutory amount is:

        15 billion gallons advanced biofuels

        and

        30 billion gallons renewable fuels

        The 30 billion gallons is comprised of 15 billion gallons advanced and 15 billion gallons traditional.

        Meeting the 15 billion gallon statutory requirement for traditional renewable fuel hasn’t been a problem.

        The statutory requirement of 15 billions gallons of advanced biofuels isn’t happening.

  14. “However, to make up for the extra 700 million gallons of biofuels required this year by the EPA, and because the mandated biofuel volume from cellulose is not available, the refining industry is importing biodiesel.”

    The RFS obligations for traditional ethanol, cellulosic ethanol, and biodiesel are separate and not interchangeable as you imply.

    Biodiesel is imported because of the biodiesel obligation. The ability of the fuel industry to meet, or not meet, the traditional ethanol obligation or the cellulosic ethanol obligation is irrelevant.

    • Greg Freemeyer, I wasn’t clear about the date. The year I referred to as “Currently” was 2018. I’m not sure if the same thing happened in 2019 or will happen in 2020. But, the EPA explicitly said in their 2018 announcement that they were allowing substitutions of “BBD” (biomass-based diesel) for other biofuels, see here:
      file:///F:/Climate_Change/Renewable%20Energy/Food_prices_ethanol/EPA_2018_renewable_volumes_2017-14632.pdf

      I will correct the post, thanks for pointing it out. I’ll also check into 2019 and 2020, they must have done something then as well. Maybe they used waivers.

      • You got me to go look. You can get actual RIN data from

        https://www.epa.gov/fuels-registration-reporting-and-compliance-help/rins-generated-transactions

        (Wait at least 60 seconds for interactive table to load)

        D6 is the overall 15 billion gallon obligation traditional ethanol fits in. You’re right that not 100% of that is traditional ethanol, but I think the numbers will surprise you:

        2016 D6 (traditional ethanol): 14.724 billion gallons
        2017 D6 (traditional ethanol): 14.864 billion gallons
        2018 D6 (traditional ethanol): 14.967 billion gallons
        2019 D6 (traditional ethanol): 14.729 billion gallons

        2016 D6 (biodiesel alternative): 0.169323 billion gallons
        2017 D6 (biodiesel alternative): 0.000000 billion gallons
        2018 D6 (biodiesel alternative): 0.000497 billion gallons
        2019 D6 (biodiesel alternative): 0.000016 billion gallons

        • Greg, Freemeyer, Thanks! Great link, I did not know it existed. Lots of imported biodiesel and cellulosic ethanol. The file is easily downloaded to excel and I computed 430,681,927 gallons for 2019.

          • Sure, but I think you are still confusing overall renewable fuels and advanced biofuels.

            Remember there are different D codes for different purposes.

            Cellulosic biofuel is D3.
            Biodiesel is D4 (from memory).

            Non-advanced biofuel is D6.

            The 2020 obligation is:

            D3: 0.59 billion gallons
            D4: 2.43 billion gallons
            D6: 15.0 billion gallons

            Non-D6 (advanced) overall: 5.09 billion gallons

            Grand total: 20.09 billion gallons

          • Greg, Perhaps I am confusing them. Mainly, I did not want to get into the weeds of the details of the mandates. The point was (and is) that we are mandating imports of biofuels that we do not need. A perfect example of government regulations gone wild.

            Further, the EPA is using the regulations (which do not take into account what is possible versus what Congress wants, it is fantasy regulation of the worse sort) to substitute biofuels and so-called “cellulosic” ethanol and other biofuels for ethanol that cannot be used. I think my specific language is correct now, thanks for your help, but I deliberately ignored the complexity to avoid “eye-glaze” and make the point. Government-speak and unnecessary complexity cause more confusion than anything I might do by over-simplifying.

            But, either way, thanks for your comments, they were most helpful.

    • Greg Freemyer, Regarding:

      Biodiesel is imported because of the biodiesel obligation. The ability of the fuel industry to meet, or not meet, the traditional ethanol obligation or the cellulosic ethanol obligation is irrelevant.

      According to the EPA, this isn’t true, this is on page 34208 of the 2019 EPA Rules:

      “The cellulosic biofuel and BBD categories are nested within the advanced biofuel category, which is itself nested within the total renewable fuel category. This means, for example, that each gallon of cellulosic biofuel or BBD that is used to satisfy the individual volume requirements for those fuel types can also be used to satisfy the requirements for advanced biofuel and total renewable fuel. “

      They clearly say that biodiesel and cellulosic ethanol gallons meet both volumentric goals with the same gallon, which is what I said in the post.

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