U.S. Corn-Based Ethanol Worse For The Climate Than Gasoline, Study Finds

New study published at PNAS.

Some quotes, emphasis mine.


Biofuels are included in many proposed strategies to reduce anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions and limit the magnitude of global warming. The US Renewable Fuel Standard is the world’s largest existing biofuel program, yet despite its prominence, there has been limited empirical assessment of the program’s environmental outcomes. Even without considering likely international land use effects, we find that the production of corn-based ethanol in the United States has failed to meet the policy’s own greenhouse gas emissions targets and negatively affected water quality, the area of land used for conservation, and other ecosystem processes. Our findings suggest that profound advances in technology and policy are still needed to achieve the intended environmental benefits of biofuel production and use.


The Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) specifies the use of biofuels in the United States and thereby guides nearly half of all global biofuel production, yet outcomes of this keystone climate and environmental regulation remain unclear. Here we combine econometric analyses, land use observations, and biophysical models to estimate the realized effects of the RFS in aggregate and down to the scale of individual agricultural fields across the United States. We find that the RFS increased corn prices by 30% and the prices of other crops by 20%, which, in turn, expanded US corn cultivation by 2.8 Mha (8.7%) and total cropland by 2.1 Mha (2.4%) in the years following policy enactment (2008 to 2016). These changes increased annual nationwide fertilizer use by 3 to 8%, increased water quality degradants by 3 to 5%, and caused enough domestic land use change emissions such that the carbon intensity of corn ethanol produced under the RFS is no less than gasoline and likely at least 24% higher. These tradeoffs must be weighed alongside the benefits of biofuels as decision-makers consider the future of renewable energy policies and the potential for fuels like corn ethanol to meet climate mitigation goals.


They also examine the effect of the RFS on food prices, something which became very apparent back in 2008

We found that the RFS stimulated 20.8 billion L (5.5 Bgal) of additional annual ethanol production, which requires nearly 1.3 billion bushels of corn after accounting for coproducts that can be fed to animals (46). This heightened demand led to persistent increases in corn prices of ∼31% (95% confidence interval [CI]: 5%, 70%) compared to BAU (Fig. 1). The increased demand for corn also spilled over onto other crops, increasing soybean prices by 19% [−8%, 72%] and wheat by 20% [2%, 60%] (SI Appendix, Table S1). These outcomes approximate the contribution of the RFS policy specifically, although other factors including changes in fuel blending economics that favored 10% ethanol as an octane source in gasoline (E10) may also have contributed (SI AppendixSupplementary Results for Price Impacts).


The increase in corn prices relative to other crops increased the area planted to corn on existing cropland by an average of 2.8 Mha* per year [95% CI: 2.4, 3.1], which is an 8.7% increase attributable to the RFS. This additional area resulted from producers planting corn more frequently, including a 2.1 Mha [1.8, 2.3] increase in continuous corn production (i.e., sequential year cropping) and a 1.4 Mha [0.8, 1.9] increase in the area planted in rotation with other crops (SI AppendixSupplementary Results for Crop Rotations and Fig. S1). Collectively, corn area increased most markedly in North and South Dakota, western Minnesota, and the Mississippi Alluvial Plain—regions where the amount of corn increased 50 to 100% due to the RFS 


Please check out the full study here.



It’s rare that I write a post on a study and then late night TV talks about the same study. Looks like Gutfeld beat me to it.


There is also a relevant article about the history of gasoline additives and technology from MasterResource published on February 15th.

This article dovetails nicely with the findings above.

“‘Fuel of the Year’ Syndrome:” Methanol in California Revisited

By Robert Bradley Jr. — February 15, 2022

“Yet the methanol initiative is now largely forgotten. And of course, there’s always the problem that EPA regulations do not allow it to be used in automobiles. With natural-gas surpluses now at the point where a national oversupply is being predicted for 2017, however, it may be time to go back and give the California experience a second look.” (Arctic Leaf, 2013, below)

“The Alternative Motor Fuel Act, signed into law by President Reagan in 1988 … provided a waiver of EPA regulations to allow methanol to be used in cars. A year later, President George H.W. Bush became an enthusiast, promising to put 500,000 methanol cars on the road by 1996 and a million by 1998.

The history of energy technology and policy is important for today’s debates. Again and again, historical research uncovers examples of government-engineered energy choices that start with great expectations and end up in failure.

Synthetic fuels in the 1970s (and before) is one example; another is California’s 1980s/1990s love affair with methanol as an alternative to traditional gasoline and diesel for vehicle transportation. (Natural gas vehicles were a big thing too.)

The methanol story is recounted by Arctic Leaf, “When California had 15,000 Methanol Cars” (Fuel Freedom Foundation: October 4, 2013)

Do you realize that California once had 15,000 cars on the road burning methanol? And that those drivers loved their performance? But that whole experiment came to an end ten years ago because – get this – natural gas was too scarce and expensive.

In an era when natural gas is cheap and plentiful – when people in the industry are warning that wells may soon be shutting down because there isn’t enough demand for the product – it may be worth going back and taking a second look at what happened in the Golden State from 1988 to 2004.

California energy planners have a long history of overriding market verdicts with their notion of the common good, or what F. A. Hayek would call the fatal conceit. Arctic Leaf continues:

California, of course, has never been shy about pushing new technologies. At various times the state has pioneered renewable energy, mandated zero-emissions vehicles (electric cars) and tried to establish a “hydrogen highway” for fuel-cell vehicles. Not all these efforts have succeeded, and a few have been notable failures. But the methanol experiment, oddly enough, was fairly successful. Now, at a time when it could be seen as prescient, it is largely forgotten.

Here is the history of the methanol experiment, which included Ronald Reagan on the federal side, dating roughly from the late 1980s until 1998:

The project began way back in 1988, when memories of the 1970s energy crisis were still fresh, and various senators were looking for ways to plug their state economies. The impetus came from a joint effort by Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia and Sen. Tom Daschle of South Dakota. Rockefeller was looking for a way to promote his coal economy, while Daschle had his eye on farm wastes.

The ethanol-from-corn effort was already up and running, but both Rockefeller and Daschle recognized that methanol might work just as well, and that their home states could benefit. Methanol, after all, can be derived from coal, biomass or natural gas. The result was the Alternative Motor Fuel Act, signed into law by President Reagan in 1988, which provided a waiver of EPA regulations to allow methanol to be used in cars. A year later, President George H.W. Bush became an enthusiast, promising to put 500,000 methanol cars on the road by 1996 and a million by 1998.

Auto Companies Join In

Arctic Leaf continues:

Such presidential promises are often wildly exaggerated, but Ford Motor Co. took up the challenge and produced a Taurus model that could run on 85 percent mixes of both ethanol and methanol. This came at a time when gasoline had become cheap again, however, and there wasn’t much interest around the country in alternative fuels. But California took the initiative.

Mike Jackson, who was the lead technical advisor for the California Energy Commission and now works for Fuel Freedom, recalls the experience:

“The original justification was petroleum displacement in response to the 1973-74 crisis, but you learned fairly quickly that that wasn’t sustainable. But we realized there were air quality benefits, so we shifted in that direction.”

The state partnered with Ford and Volkswagen, agreeing to set up a string of fueling stations if they would bring out cars capable of running on methanol. Then the state started buying methanol vehicles for its various fleets. ”

“It was a technical success, but an emotional failure,” Jackson said. “The biggest problem was range anxiety. There were only 10 fueling stations at that time, and it just wasn’t enough. There were times when people abandoned the cars on the freeway because they were afraid they were going to run out of gas.”

Flex-Fuel as a Rescue

Then Roberta Nichols, head of the research and development effort at Ford, came up with an idea: Ford would produce a flex-fuel vehicle (FFV) that could run interchangeably on a variety of fuels. The car could handle blends of 85 percent ethanol or methanol but could switch to gasoline if necessary. Ford produced a Taurus FFV, and the program once again went into high gear. The clean air benefits were adding up, and the state started to consider ratcheting down the NOx requirement to the point where the oil companies would have to add methanol or ethanol in order to meet them.

Suddenly, the oil companies stunned the state by announcing that they would be able to meet the standard by producing a new “blended” fuel.

This was reformulated gasoline, and it ended the methanol experiment:

“Everybody’s jaw dropped,” Jackson said. “Why hadn’t they mentioned this before? But they said they could achieve the same thing by adding MTBE, which is methanol-based, so that was it.”

The MTBE additive created a new problem for methanol. Since methanol was one of the feedstocks for the production of MTBE, supplies began to be diverted, and it became more expensive to use as a substitute fuel. However, MTBE eventually came under pressure because it was getting into drinking water. California and New York banned it in 2004, and most states quickly followed suit.

Ethanol as Oxygenate Takes Over

By that time, ethanol was going strong, with more and more of the corn crop diverted into its production, and the 10-percent ethanol blend became the substitute for oxygenating fuel and reducing NOx emissions.

“We ended up with cleaner gasoline technology,” Jackson said. “But we lost sight of the idea of methanol as an oil substitute.”

By this time, the country had fallen into the “Fuel of the Year” syndrome. Hydrogen had a big run in the late 1990s. Then, after the turn of the century, it was the electric car. Somehow methanol got lost in the shuffle. California’s program limped along until 2004, when the state finally abandoned it. With natural gas selling at $7 per mBTUs and peaking as high as $11, it didn’t seem to have any future.

Now, with natural gas supplies flowing in surplus, the California experiment suddenly seems far ahead of its time. Methanol made from natural gas at $3.25 per mBTU could sell at nearly half the price of gasoline made from $100-a-barrel oil. Methanol from coal could revive the flagging fortunes of the coal industry. Methanol reformed in the field could solve the problem of flaring in the Bakken Shale, which now wastes the equivalent of one-quarter of U.S. gas consumption every year.

Arctic Leaf concluded (in 2013):

Yet the methanol initiative is now largely forgotten. And of course, there’s always the problem that EPA regulations do not allow it to be used in automobiles. With natural-gas surpluses now at the point where a national oversupply is being predicted for 2017, however, it may be time to go back and give the California experience a second look.

Final Comment

As has been said, markets pick winners and government losers. Wind and solar and EVs are now on the firing line where synfuels and methanol were before. The game is to perpetually extend subsidies and enlarge them to keep the uneconomic economic.

But with budget deficits and monetary inflation upon us, the music will have to stop. Unfortunately, the US ship might go down with the alternate energy schemes in full operation.

5 17 votes
Article Rating
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Tom Halla
February 17, 2022 6:15 am

Ethanol was a farm subsidy program, pure and simple.

Reply to  Tom Halla
February 17, 2022 6:37 am


and now it is a pork barrel issue.

and not an issue related to renewable energy.

Reply to  griff
February 17, 2022 6:52 am

Is it?

“Chemical engineers at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis published details of a new chemical reaction that turns ethanol into hydrogen.
You can see why it was overlooked. “


It’s easy to see why!

Last edited 1 year ago by strativarius
Reply to  fretslider
February 17, 2022 8:23 am

By the time you grow the corn, turn it into H2 and then put it into a fuel cell the efficiency of the whole process plummets. That is the problem with these green pipe dreams then do not make economic sense.

Burring food is never a good idea.

Reply to  MR166
February 17, 2022 12:30 pm

With regard to ethanol, there’s a saying, “Drink the best, burn the rest.”


Reply to  griff
February 17, 2022 7:05 am

And you were crowing to us about how great corn based fuels are for the environment and now you change your tune. How precious!

Reply to  2hotel9
February 17, 2022 7:41 am

griff’s opinions have always been based on the latest talking points memo.

Reply to  griff
February 17, 2022 7:17 am

Maybe they can re-shape the dried corn to look like wood pellets and ship it across the Atlantic on a DRAX Group shipment with clear cut forest products to burn in the UK?

Reply to  ResourceGuy
February 17, 2022 7:39 am

Don’t need to make them look like wood pellets. Corn pellet burning stoves and furnaces have been on the market for years.

Reply to  Scott
February 17, 2022 8:49 am

Don’t tell the UK greenwashers. They will argue for more years of burning but with corn U.S. farm subsidy as inputs to the boiler.

Reply to  ResourceGuy
February 17, 2022 12:31 pm

Corn fed deer sort of make pellets.

Reply to  griff
February 17, 2022 7:41 am

Renewable energy is a pork barrel issue, and always has been.

Reply to  MarkW
February 17, 2022 10:36 am

Yes – and the corn would be better used to make pork bellies instead.

Reply to  griff
February 17, 2022 8:46 am

Sorta like a windmill subsidy but with fertilizer and tractors

Reply to  griff
February 17, 2022 8:53 am

Bring in the unsubsidized energy sector to save make up for all the energy policy mistakes…..

WSJEurope’s Energy Crisis Pays Off for U.S. Natural-Gas Sellers, Global TradersDash to sell gas to Europe at high prices made the U.S. the biggest LNG exporter for the first time

Reply to  griff
February 17, 2022 9:39 am

The Day The Earth Stood Still:

griff is exactly correct.
The ethanol program was a farm subsidy from the start, and like all farm subsidies was intended to buy the votes of the farmers and what was called “Middle America”.
Now it has an entrenched constituent group and lives on as pure pork barrel politics.

Reply to  TonyL
February 17, 2022 8:11 pm

Ah, when you dig into it – it doesn’t buy votes (note that Ted Cruz was the only candidate in 2016 to come out against ethanol subsidies, and was the winner of the IOWA Republican caucus that year). It DOES buy hefty campaign contributions from the mega agricorps (Cargill, Archer Daniels Midland, etc.).

Reply to  griff
February 17, 2022 11:05 am

It’s a vote mining issue and PR proving ground.

Clinton: Support and improve ethanol mandate | TheHill

Climate lessons from the Clinton campaign’s hacked emails- POLITICO
The following month, Schwerin forwarded a news report on “Clinton’s Mend-It-Don’t-End-It” ethanol strategy and added: “I’d say we successfully ‘threaded the needle’ yet again!” (win-the-day courtroom tactics again)

Reply to  griff
February 17, 2022 4:58 pm

For once I agree with you, Griff. Well done !

Joseph Zorzin
Reply to  Tom Halla
February 17, 2022 6:43 am

with the price of food shooting up- it’s time for farmers to get back to producing food

Reply to  Joseph Zorzin
February 17, 2022 9:57 am

If you think he price of food is high now, just wait. Farmers by my woods are going to let their fields lay fallow or plant turnips due to the high cost of fertilizer. Corn and soybean and all the products derived from them are going to skyrocket.

Jeremy Gaultier
Reply to  Joseph Zorzin
February 18, 2022 12:27 pm

The by product of ethanol is ddg’s. That’s what feeds your food. The amount that production of corn in America has increased per acre since the rfs has more than doubled what is used for ethanol. Just keep that in mind.

Mark Lee
Reply to  Tom Halla
February 17, 2022 7:59 am

When I first heard about bio-diesel years ago, I thought it was a great idea. Carbon had nothing to do with it, it was just a great way to use and thereby dispose of vegetable oil from restaurants that would otherwise just be wasted. I still think that it is great, even though it is a tiny, tiny player in the energy supply.

Ethanol production as a substitute for petroleum based fuels because of the “carbon footprint” is entirely different. None of the alternatives to petroleum based fuels actually lower carbon emissions, they just shift where it occurs. Nuclear generated electricity if used in the mining, refining, building, batteries, etc. might, but that’s outside my scope of knowledge. Ethanol as an energy source only makes sense when you don’t have petroleum available at a lower cost. WWII Germany is the classic example. Synthetic oils were never cheaper than “real” oil, but when you can’t get adequate quantities of real oil, synthetic makes sense. For the same reasons people put wood/gas converters on vehicles so that internal combustion engines would run. No one thinks that burning wood to heat other wood so it offgases flammable gas that works in an engine is a less polluting, superior energy source. It is only better than no energy. Ethanol is the same.

Reply to  Mark Lee
February 17, 2022 9:57 am

Same with (apartheid) South Africa’s SASOL synthetic petrol when there were sanctions.

Reply to  Disputin
February 17, 2022 12:36 pm

Starting with cheap coal or cheap natural gas, it makes sense in some instances because the quality of the Fischer Tropsch’ products is very high.

Reply to  Disputin
February 17, 2022 4:59 pm

Mind you, it didn’t really provide that much fuel.

Reply to  Tom Halla
February 18, 2022 11:20 pm

Yep, the net energy balance was never there. It apparently is for sugar cane based (see Brazil) ethanol production. But U.S. production was always about supporting the corn belt farmers (similar programs from what I’ve heard for soybean production for different reasons). That said, at least the U.S. values their agricultural production, unlike some other countries.

Paul Johnson
February 17, 2022 6:30 am

Keep in mind that the ethanol program dates from the 1970’s and reflects the then-consensus view of increasing scarcity of oil & gas, increasing dependence on foreign sources, and ever-increasing energy prices. Hydraulic fracturing changed all that, but the “alternative energy” interests have now become deeply entrenched under the guise of “renewable energy”.

February 17, 2022 6:32 am

So much of the USA corn crop going into ethanol and more each year. Such a waste on so many fronts. Switching will take a lot of effort and how will the government change the commitments without looking foolish?

Joseph Zorzin
February 17, 2022 6:42 am

I just saw in a YouTube video that America now gets 10% of its imported oil from Russia. That’s a disgrace- we should not be importing any energy, especially from Russia.

John Garrett
Reply to  Joseph Zorzin
February 17, 2022 8:00 am

Russia has lots of hydrocarbons and parts of the country are lightly explored.

While there are many different characteristics of petroleum, when refined and blended it is a fungible commodity.

February 17, 2022 6:48 am

So, Big Corn is just as evil as Big Oil? Brazil uses alcohol from 2 sugar cane crops per year…the output can be varied from sugar to alcohol per demand….USA just needs a tropical climate. Australia has an efficient factory sugar cane farming operation….railroad tracks are adjacent to fields for efficient loading of crop…huge machines harvest crop.

February 17, 2022 6:49 am

There is a new and thus far unnamed rule:

A Green Solution

Makes For

An Even Worse Problem. 

[Or more]

Last edited 1 year ago by strativarius
Reply to  fretslider
February 17, 2022 6:59 am

It is of course the Belling Of The Cat* scenario. Where Green minds are involved.

Carbon capture being a classic example.


The Mice once called a meeting to decide on a plan to free themselves of their enemy, the Cat. At least they wished to find some way of knowing when she was coming, so they might have time to run away. Indeed, something had to be done, for they lived in such constant fear of her claws that they hardly dared stir from their dens by night or day.

Many plans were discussed, but none of them was thought good enough. At last a very young Mouse got up and said:

“I have a plan that seems very simple, but I know it will be successful.

All we have to do is to hang a bell about the Cat’s neck. When we hear the bell ringing we will know immediately that our enemy is coming.”

All the Mice were much surprised that they had not thought of such a plan before. But in the midst of the rejoicing over their good fortune, an old Mouse arose and said:

“I will say that the plan of the young Mouse is very good. But let me ask one question: Who will bell the Cat?”

It is one thing to say that something should be done, but quite a different matter to do it.

Reply to  Leo Smith
February 17, 2022 9:12 am

And there is peer-review.

Reply to  fretslider
February 17, 2022 9:11 am

A green solution for a non-problem, makes a problem.
There, fixed it for ya.

Reply to  bonbon
February 17, 2022 10:32 am

Enjoy the imagined victory

Reply to  fretslider
February 17, 2022 9:31 am

Green = Woke, and as the President said: “Everything Woke turns to Sh**t”.

Last edited 1 year ago by purecolorartist@gmail.com
February 17, 2022 6:53 am

A well known amateur racing driver died because by the time he realised that his methanol fuelled car was on fire with invisible flames, it was too late to get to a marshall’s post with a fire extinguisher.

February 17, 2022 7:08 am

Farmers in our region got burned with the corn-fuel push, most are now back to raising corn for feed and human consumption. Quinn’s 1st Law yet again raises it’s ugly head!

Reply to  2hotel9
February 17, 2022 8:29 am

When farm acreage is used for biofuel, pesticide and fertilizer rules change, making that land unusable later for our food.
Farmer’s are notoriously reticent when asked what exactly is their market!

Reply to  bonbon
February 17, 2022 8:54 am

I know a lot of farmers in the region and they did not use any pesticides or fertilizers different from normal, just different seed stock. Been my experience that getting farmers to stop talking about who they are selling to is the hard part, and really hard to get them to stop talking about prices! 😉

Steve Case
February 17, 2022 7:18 am

As has been said, markets pick winners and government losers. … The game is to perpetually extend subsidies and enlarge them to keep the uneconomic economic.

Says it all.

Or it doesn’t when you consider all the quotes from various left-wing liberal democrats about how capitalism needs to be destroyed.

Reply to  Steve Case
February 17, 2022 7:32 am

They mean they want to control it

Reply to  fretslider
February 17, 2022 7:44 am

If it’s controlled, it isn’t capitalism.

Reply to  MarkW
February 17, 2022 7:50 am

Therefore it would have been destroyed.

Reply to  MarkW
February 18, 2022 8:55 am

Free Enterprise is the basic American system. It has always been corrupted by politics since before the founding of this country.

Capitalism is a system where cronies in the government pick winners and losers.

February 17, 2022 7:24 am

Another Clinton con game gets called out. As they stated back then, it was GW Bush that started the effort in emergency times but then failed to mention the scale of pushing the policy much higher in their own policy (vote buyer) plan and not in any emergency conditions. Win-the-day courtroom tactics need some kind of award ceremony in addition to being called out and audited. The Clintons would have all the awards……. up until the Obama nominations.

Reply to  ResourceGuy
February 18, 2022 2:25 pm

I think you mean GHW Bush.

February 17, 2022 7:24 am

It’s my understanding Ethanol is used as an oxygenate additive for standard gasoline and replaces methyl t-butyl ether (MTBE) which was responsible for considerable ground water and soil contamination 

Reply to  M.W.Plia
February 17, 2022 7:45 am

With modern engines, there is no longer a need for an oxygenate additive.

Reply to  MarkW
February 17, 2022 9:16 am

Indeed. All modern vehicles have oxygen sensors. When the sensor detects that the engine is running rich the amount of fuel injected is decreased and/or the airflow increased until optimum combustion is achieved. Any small amounts of remaining unburned hydrocarbons are burned up in the catalytic converter. That’s how modern engines meet strict pollution regulations. If you add oxygenate to the fuel, the engine will not produce fewer unburned hydrocarbons.

Last edited 1 year ago by meab
Reply to  Meab
February 17, 2022 9:59 am

I stand corrected,

Thank you Meab, and MarkW too.

Reply to  M.W.Plia
February 17, 2022 11:08 am

You were not incorrect. At the time these additives were implemented, the advocates of them were claiming that these additives would cut down on pollution, and at the time. for old engines, they might have.
The fact these additives are still being used has to do with entrenched interests making a lot money.

Reply to  MarkW
February 17, 2022 12:48 pm

Yeah, catalytic converters, O2 sensors, and computers pretty much do away with any benefit from oxygenates. There was, however, in the 1970’s a small reduction in carbon monoxide emissions resulting from oxygenate use.

Back then, Denver really had a brown cloud and about 50 ppm CO during rush hours.

Reply to  Scissor
February 17, 2022 3:17 pm

Now we have failed O2 sensors and old catalytic converters with the poor unable to pay to repair and replace these sets of parts which can include 4 sensors, two in front of and two behind the converter. In some models of throw away cars it requires removing the front seat in order for mechanics to get at the O2 sensor. I guess they can use student loans for that.

Reply to  M.W.Plia
February 17, 2022 10:09 am

Years ago I spoke with a chemical engineer that worked on oil refineries. He told me that MTBE was the result of adding oxygen to a waste product and added to gasoline as an oxidizer. The industry got paid to get rid of their waste product.
Pretty slick.

Reply to  Brad-DXT
February 17, 2022 10:44 am

The same origin as many pesticides.

Reply to  Brad-DXT
February 17, 2022 12:41 pm

It was not an oxidizer, in essence it is just partially oxidized, like ethanol.

CO2 is fully oxidized, lowest energy product.

Reply to  Brad-DXT
February 18, 2022 2:27 pm

It really is amazing how efficient oil refineries are in getting everything useful out of a drop of oil.

Reply to  M.W.Plia
February 17, 2022 12:44 pm

In more detail, MTBE escaped from leaking tanks and it’s not readily biodegraded. Microorganisms love ethanol, on the other hand.

Reinforced and double walled tanks can pretty much stop leak issues. MTBE also has a potent unpleasant odor. So, it’s readily detectable.

Smart Rock
Reply to  Scissor
February 17, 2022 4:01 pm

I know a few macroorganisms that love ethanol too. I happen to be one of them, but only if it comes from Scotland.

February 17, 2022 7:28 am

When does the farm stimulus and bailout program begin to pay for high-priced fertilizer to grow more corn for ethanol? Only union producers need apply.

Giordano Milton
February 17, 2022 7:44 am

This is one of those “no-manure” things. Corn requires farming, which uses fuel and fertilizer, and then transport and refining costs and finally the loss of top soil and food. I’d be surprised if it’s even much of a net gain in total energy. I look at it as a transformation of food to fuel, if fuel is cut off—maybe in emergencies it might have a use.

February 17, 2022 7:50 am

British subject Professor von Hayek of the London School of Economics always attacks ‘socialism’.
Look at the US Constitution Article 1 Section 8 :


That is the target, the US Constitution itself, today attacked from many sides.

This from a Professor whose entire economic edifice is constructed on The Fable of the Bees Private Vices Public Virtues of Bernard Mandeville!
It is indeed a conceit to claim a modern industrial economy can be modeled on a beehive. Anyone that makes such a claim has a bee in their bonnet!

It is really criminal to use the sheer evil of bio-ethanol or synthetic fuels to attack the US Constitution Credit Clause!

Reply to  bonbon
February 17, 2022 11:11 am

I’m going out on a limb and guessing that made sense to you.

Reply to  MarkW
February 17, 2022 6:14 pm

At the time of the written of the constitution, all powers were under control of the people. Article 1 Section 8 defines the powers that the people gave the government. The government may take no powers beyond those and the ones granted in the amendments. To do so, violates the agreement between the people and the government.

Needless to say, the government has taken many powers not granted them and the people have not objected to date. This is why many conservative say the government is out of control and has far too much power. For example, do you see anything in that list that grants the government the power to control climate change? We could grant the government that power but so far we haven’t.

Michael S. Kelly
February 17, 2022 7:54 am

I dipped my oar into this water at the end of the 1990s, when my primary business was in the tank. California was looking for a substitute for MTBE, and I had a brainstorm which I followed with the tenacity I had back in that day. My additive was methyl salicylate, aka oil of wintergreen. Testing at an automotive lab showed that it increased regular unleaded octane by 5 or so points, and resulted in emissions that were fully compliant with California emissions standards. I never got to the point of determining the Reid vapor pressure, or even the specific gravity, but it worked, and had no material compatibility issues.

Though the easiest method of synthesizing it was the same process as is used to make aspirin, substituting methanol for ethanol as a feedstock, I had the hare-brained idea of extracting at least some of it from the wintergreen plant, Gaultheria procumbens. That gave me the excuse to dub it “Kelly Green.”

Toyota somehow got wind of what we were doing, and sent a high-powered delegation from Japan to meet with us. They concluded that we didn’t have a mature enough technology to proceed (and they were right), so it kind of petered out. But it was fun while it lasted.

All I wanted was to get 1% of that last “9” on each gallon of gas sold in California….

Last edited 1 year ago by Michael S. Kelly
Reply to  Michael S. Kelly
February 17, 2022 8:24 am

Should have checked Jonathan Swift first.
Gulliver found himself at the Grand Academy of Laputa, where ‘projectors’ were extracting moonbeams from cucumbers, and turning excrement back into food.
Looks like Toyota smelt something afoot!

February 17, 2022 8:21 am

It’s certainly plausible that the bio ethanol program actually increases environmental releases. But it’s mainly a bad deal for everyone else but the corn growers and the ethanol producers as mere rent seekers.

But we should also recognize that the RFS were initially adopted primarily as an effort to make the US more independent of foreign oil and gas imports – at least, that was how it was sold, and it was agreed to by the Bush Administration. That was before the “fracking revolution” greatly increased our conventional oil and gas energy production.

The problem for elected officials is that the corn and ethanol lobbies effectively own the midwestern farm states who wield a lot of influence in Congress. It will be difficult to cut back the RFS for corn ethanol. Perhaps not impossible, but very difficult. It’s really not driven at all by the warmunists.

Reply to  Duane
February 17, 2022 10:57 am

From my reading there has been a major lobbying push to change regulations so that a much higher % of ethanol is required in gasoline, which would require a regulations requirement that engine technology be changed to run of such a fuel which would be quite destructive of current automobile engines. All so the corn growers would be able to sell more non-food corn.

Reply to  AndyHce
February 17, 2022 12:43 pm

That’s the corn ethanol lobby speaking. They’re always demanding more, being the typical rent seekers they are whose product would not exist without Federal and State government mandates like the RFS.

Joe Crawford
February 17, 2022 8:33 am

Who cares if a few million people starve because of increased grain prices? Just weight that against the value of value of all the virtue signaling gained by the politicians. Of course it was worth it. /sark

February 17, 2022 9:05 am

Does this mean the Iowa caucuses will held in Vermont instead?

John the Econ
February 17, 2022 10:17 am

Picture an America in some parallel universe: The oil industry announces that it is mixing 10% or more of Ethanol into the gasoline supply. Immediately, America’s already most hated industry is attacked from all quarters for attempting to literally water down American’s fuel to rip off consumers. Ralph Nader would be filing class action lawsuits on behalf of all consumers for the losses related to reduced fuel economy and damage to internal combustion engines, and Al Gore would go on a rampage about the increased net carbon footprint and other environmental damage because of the resource intensive nature of producing Ethanol. There’d be food riots in the 3rd world, because of the diversion of food crops to produce Ethanol, and vast amounts of rain forest would be cut down for crop land needed to make up the difference.

Oh wait. The last part actually has happened in our universe too.

At least the America in that universe retains some degree of sanity. Ours clearly does not. Ethanol is a complete scam. The government bought into it after the phony energy crisis of the ’70s believing that it could replace oil from the Middle East. Agribusiness bought into it for obvious reasons. The environmental movement bought in because they thought it would be a low-carbon alternative, even though it literally takes a gallon of oil-based products (gasoline, diesel, and fertilizer) to produce a gallon of Ethanol, which actually has lower heat content than the fuel it’s replacing. Getting lower mileage these days? That’s probably why. Never mind the damage that may be happening to your engines.

Ethanol subsidies are a perfect example of the destructive feedback loops that are created when the government starts subsidizing. Producers receiving the subsidy get comfortable, then dependent on the subsidy. A percentage of the subsidy is then fed back to the politicians to keep the subsidy in place or to expand it. The last thing any of these people want is for the subsidy to ever end. Meanwhile, alternatives that are more viable and would not require subsidies never get a chance because they can’t compete with the subsidized product, so they never happen.

Even Al Gore himself now admits that supporting Ethanol was a mistake, and that he did so only because he had to buy much needed votes from the farm states.

I have every expectation that in 100 years when all transport is fueled by something other than carbon-based energy, that we’ll still be subsidizing Ethanol, just like the city of Detroit still subsidizes a horseshoe changer.

February 17, 2022 10:24 am

From the introduction: “Biofuels are included in many proposed strategies to reduce anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions and limit the magnitude of global warming.”

And:” Our findings suggest that profound advances in technology and policy are still needed to achieve the intended environmental benefits of biofuel production and use.

The article totally misses the major failing of biofuels. Scale-up and the low energy yields per acre (same limitation as wind and solar). Without the use of fossil fuels in biofuel crop production, processing and transport, there is not enough arable land to provide even a small fraction of fuel demand, especially if we also expect to have food, feed and fiber. Biofuels (whether corn, soy, sugarcane, algae, switchgrass, etc.) are a nonstarter. Don’t waste anyone’s time even arguing about it.

A smart high school kid with an Excel spreadsheet, the Internet, the right questions, and only basic math skills could easily determine that biofuels to run the world are pure fantasy. Unfortunately, most college professors feeding at the Soylent green trough are either too ignorant to ask or willingly ignore reality just to get research grants.

February 17, 2022 10:33 am

Remember also that the original reason to add several percent ethanol to motor fuel had absolutely nothing to do with climate or greenhouse gas emissions. Lead added to gasoline for decades as an antiknock compound was banned, leading first to MTBE in the 1980s and ‘90s as an antiknock octane enhancer, which was also later banned due to MTBE pollution. Ethanol at about 5 to 8% was selected as the substitute before there was the federal biofuels program.

February 17, 2022 10:50 am

Using the double-down approach of the UK and California, we should therefore clear cut more forests for DRAX wood pellets and use those moonscape lands for more subsidy corn production for fuel. More is better, like the lobbyists tell us. Then if for some strange reason, demand for natural gas goes up be sure and blame fossil fuel markets for the situation.

Reply to  ResourceGuy
February 17, 2022 1:18 pm

Yes, but only if the saws and heavy equipment are wood-fired 🙂 or electric and recharged only with solar or wind generation units that were built using only solar or wind power. You can’t get there from here.

February 17, 2022 11:00 am

Bad all way around and government approved and mandated.

Willem post
February 17, 2022 11:34 am

Ethanol from corn is a welfare program to subsidize farmers.
It does not reduce CO2 on an A-to-Z basis

All is explained in this article


In the 2016/2017-crop year, the US had 85.8 million acres planted with corn, of which 31.4 million acres were planted to produce ethanol. The corn production was 14.440 billion bushels, of which 5.30 billion bushels were for corn to ethanol. The 169 bushels of each acre yielded 478 gallons of ethanol. Ethanol blended with gasoline was 14.80 billion gallon, about 10% of the gasohol fuel for vehicles. See table 1.


Below is a summary of US corn production for ethanol for 2016/2017. 

February 17, 2022 12:07 pm

Well, if there are another 300 studies spread at least 3 months between each one like this we might get rid of corn based ethanol… Of course, it will likely have gone away in 75 years anyways.

February 17, 2022 1:11 pm

Environmentalists are worse for the environment than gasoline. There. I said it.

February 17, 2022 1:41 pm

I will tweet this to Senator Grassley who recently received an award for supporting methanol subsides for Iowa corn growers.

February 17, 2022 2:15 pm
February 17, 2022 9:03 pm

I saw on Twitter Judith Curry bringing up this study saying corn ethanol is 24% worse than gasoline. However, this study included negative effect of land use change to corn farming from whatever the corn farms replaced, much of which is a 1-time change and I didn’t see how many or how few years this 1-time change was applied to. I also say mention of a competing study sponsored by the US government, indicating 30s-something % benefit from replacing gasoline with corn ethanol. I saw both of these competing studies as noticeably slanted, and I think the truth is somewhere in between with net benefit for energy production and decreasing net CO2 emissions from USA of farming corn for ethanol to add to gasoline being close to zero. There is the matter of switchgrass being better, but A.D.M. is a big company that successfully does lots of lobbying in US Congress, and they don’t have interest in switchgrass because they’re a corn company.

Ewin Barnett
February 18, 2022 5:03 am

Biofuel mandates create an web of linkage in law from which there is no escape between the value of motor vehicle fuels for their energy content with the price of the constituent grain crops. Thus, the prices of grains used for food tends to be tied to the world price of crude oil. Government will twist itself into expensive knots to mitigate the effect. In fact this was a contributing factor in the Arab Spring that began as riots in Egypt in reaction to the price of bread being normalized due to the cost of grain imports.

If we blend anything into gasoline it should be from sources of hydrocarbons that are not part of the human food chain, nor that compete for farming assets like land. We should burn coal instead of corn.

February 18, 2022 11:57 am

There is a far more energy efficient way to burn corn as fuel – burn it directly in coal fired power plants. That would avoid the need for the energy consuming distillation process. While any use of food for fuel is incredibly stupid, at least bypassing distillation would preserve the political support of corn farmers while reducing the negative consequences for the rest of us.

Robert of Texas
February 18, 2022 1:50 pm

I was under the impression the ethanol is used to boost the octane level of gasoline to make is burn more effectively. A more effective burn means less pollution out the tail pipe. It is the large cities that derive the largest benefit – you essentially move pollution (of a different kind) from the city to the rural areas producing corn. You need up to about 5% ethanol to boost the octane level of many gasolines to reach the optimal octane level for the average engine.

The fact that ethanol is hygroscopic makes it a problem in gasoline if it sits about for any length of time. That and that it reacts with older rubbers and plastics in bad ways so it should never be used in engines not designed for it. I maintain an older car (because I can) and frequently have to remove ethanol from the gas I buy to power it. I would “run” on the ethanol-gas mixture, but the rubber and plastic parts contacting fuel would turn brittle and break in little time.

Just why and when people started thinking we can replace gasoline with ethanol (as opposed to using it as an additive), even just a large percent, is mysterious. It has a lower energy density and as this article points out, takes a lot of chemicals and energy to produce. It competes with food, so as long as you have a surplus it isn’t a food issue, but when corn yields are down it becomes a problem.

February 18, 2022 2:22 pm

Even Al Gore – who sees himself as Mr. Environment – who cast the critical vote to get ethanol passed now says that it was a mistake.
Now it will be almost impossible to get rid of it politically because farm states have centered a significant part of their economies on corn ethanol.

Matthew Sykes
February 21, 2022 2:41 am

Genetically modified plankton that produce high sugar yields and grown in big shallow pools is the ideal bio fuel solution. You then liquidise it, pump it to a new tank with yeast, then after a month distil it. This has to be the simplest and lowest impact alcohol production.

%d bloggers like this:
Verified by MonsterInsights