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By Robert Rapier on Jun 17, 2010 with 93 responses

Setting the Ethanol Record Straight

Based on my Site Meter, it appears that a lot of new readers are stopping by because of my recent inclusion in the Top 10 list of ethanol enemies. Because the article presents a highly inaccurate view of my position, I issued a quick and concise rebuttal to the baseless claims. But perhaps this is a good time to review my paradigm, as that defines why I write the things I do. We all view the world through a set of lenses, and there are three basic tenets that largely define my positions.

Tenet One: We must transition from fossil fuels with a sense of urgency.

I believe we have built structural dependency on a depleting and unsustainable resource. That resource is crude oil, and it has enabled the world an unprecedented level of comfort and freedom over the past 100 years. But as we have become more dependent upon oil, we are forgetting how to live without it.

Fossil fuels have been consumed at an unsustainable rate over the past century. We won’t get away with it for another century. Nature is going to inevitably force the world to a more sustainable way of life, which I think has the potential to hit the U.S. quite hard as supplies deplete and fossil fuel prices climb.

My friend Hannes Kunz told me a story last week that I thought was analogous to our increasing dependence on oil over the past century. Once a truck carrying a load of nuts crashed into a tree. A family of squirrels living in the tree discovered this new resource and began to live the high life on the nuts they had just found. But as their population grew, so did their demand for nuts. But that truck crash was a one-time event, and the squirrels were rapidly depleting their nut windfall. How do the squirrels cope when they have eaten all the nuts? Some would suggest a nut-based biofuel refinery as a solution to their problems, but I am getting ahead of myself.

Besides the fact that we are stretching resource limits, our dependency on oil has some very negative aspects. We need look no further than the Gulf of Mexico to see an obvious example, but that just scratches the surface. So for the sake of the negative externalities, we need to wean ourselves off away from oil.

Tenet Two: We need to develop systems and services with a much lower fossil fuel dependency.

My second tenet is that as oil supplies decline, any source of energy that is fungible with oil will ultimately come under intense price pressure. This includes natural gas, which will come under increasing pressure to fill some of the supply shortfall of declining oil supplies. This will also drive up prices across the economy for products and services that are dependent upon oil and natural gas; the higher the dependency the more extreme the price moves will be. Thus, as we move away from oil, it will be important to develop sources with low fossil fuel dependencies.

Tenet Three: We must take care of our topsoil.

My third tenet would be that we must have sustainable agricultural practices. We are going to have a lot of people to feed in the future, and we can’t afford to strip mine the soil and deplete fossil aquifers. We have to farm in a way that encourages good stewardship of the land, and not encourage unsustainable farming practices. I say that as someone who grew up on a farm and who has been around agriculture all my life.

IF YOU UNDERSTAND those three key tenets, then you should start to see the basis of my opinions around this great big ethanol experiment currently underway in the U.S.

Corn ethanol is heavily dependent on fossil fuels. Corn farming requires petroleum for herbicides, pesticides, diesel and gasoline. It requires natural gas for fertilizer. Ethanol refineries rely almost exclusively on natural gas to produce steam for cooking mash and distilling ethanol, and their electricity supplies are often coal-based.

In essence, we have a fuel that we call renewable, and that we subsidize as renewable, but a gallon of ethanol contains a significant fraction of a gallon of fossil fuels. It is enabled by fossil fuels, and hence when we subsidize ethanol we also subsidize fossil fuels. I believe the high dependency on fossil fuels – more than any other factor – explains why corn ethanol boosters continue to insist they require subsidies and mandates after 30 years of subsidies and mandates. If you are heavily reliant on fossil fuels, you can’t effectively compete with fossil fuels. The only way to win that race is to break the dependency.

Further, corn farming has one of the higher environmental impacts among the crops we grow. It is a high fertilizer consumer, and we apply lots of fertilizer, pesticides, and herbicides that end up running off into our waterways. That is indisputable. And whereas I can talk about the negative externalities of oil, the corn ethanol apologists make excuses for dead zones and depleting topsoil. I am unaware of anyone in the corn ethanol camp who speaks frankly about the downsides of corn ethanol; they all seem to play the defense attorney at all times as if they can see no downside. To the contrary, with three major lobbies – The Renewable Fuels Association, the American Coalition for Ethanol, and Growth Energy – the amount of propaganda surrounding the industry is mind-boggling. And because I fight misinformation that sometimes arises from the various lobbies, people who can’t distinguish between information and misinformation simply see me fighting against ethanol.

I also have a long-term view of the energy industry. It is a risky, cyclical business and energy producers go through some very rough times. What happens with the ethanol industry when a terrible drought hits the Midwest at the same time that natural gas prices spike? (The natural gas price spike of a couple of years ago was cited as a factor in pushing some ethanol companies to bankruptcy). One has to consider the risks of the systems we put in place. Even though nothing like that has happened yet, the risk is still there, just as we live with the risk of having our oil imports curtailed.

So to tie these ideas together, what I see the U.S. doing is building another fossil fuel system in place of the one we have, squandering precious time in the process, and incentivizing vast monocultures of corn that will deplete topsoil for very little benefit. I view this as a harmful illusion that is keeping us from focusing on real solutions that I unfortunately believe are going to require sacrifices either by us now, or more severe sacrifices by our children later. And by creating the system we are creating, I think it further disadvantages future generations by encouraging farming practices that we should try to avoid. As I have said before, I would rather pay a farmer to keep land in the Conservation Reserve Program than incentivize him to plow it up and plant corn on it to produce a marginal biofuel.

These views also explain why I have spoken up favorably about sugarcane ethanol. The best thing about ethanol from sugarcane is that the process has a much lower dependence on fossil fuels than does ethanol from corn. That is both because sugarcane has a lower fertilizer requirement, but more importantly because sugarcane residue (bagasse) ends up at the facility washed, shredded, and piled up ready for use in the boilers. This is the sort of system that I believe can be sustainable (with caveats) as oil supplies deplete.

While I think the role that corn ethanol can play in lessening our oil dependence has been greatly exaggerated, I do think there can be an important role to play. The only reason we would ever produce ethanol from irrigated fields in Nebraska and ship it to California is if market-distorting mandates and subsidies dictate that we must. But that doesn’t make it sustainable, and eventually the bills will come due.

On the other hand, there are large parts of the Midwest that may be capable of producing a significant amount of their fuel locally. I believe that localized food and energy production will take on much greater importance in the future, and we will recognize how silly it was to try to grow corn and ship ethanol all across the country. Such a system is not designed to lessen our fossil fuel dependence; it is designed to float a false solution that squanders time, money, and resources.

What I would like to see the U.S. ethanol industry do is focus on more penetration of E85 in the Midwest. That would be by far the most efficient usage of ethanol. Since we don’t make enough ethanol to even fully supply the Midwest with E85, I think it is very inefficient that we are actually trying to put ethanol into coastal markets or even export it.

So those are my views on ethanol in a nutshell. My view is not based on politics or financial interests. If you understand my paradigm, you will understand why I write what I do. It has nothing to do with a personal dislike of ethanol. To the contrary, I sincerely wish ethanol were capable of displacing a large fraction of our petroleum usage, and am happy to see when the industry makes improvements. And contrary to the charge that I wish to discredit every positive development in the ethanol industry, I have a history of publicizing positive developments in the industry (See here, here, or here). So if you don’t try to put me in a box I don’t belong in, you won’t be bewildered when I write stories like that.

I am also a developer of energy systems that I think have a true chance of sustainability in the future. These are systems that can efficiently convert biomass into energy with little or no fossil fuel inputs. I have looked at – and continue to look at – lots of ethanol schemes. I don’t discount that some day I will find one that I am happy with (nothing against ethanol; about 99% of what I look at doesn’t pass through my admittedly restrictive filter). In addition, my views are not etched in stone. For me, truth is tentative and subject to change as new data are produced. So something I don’t like today might be something I like tomorrow based on new data.

But to be honest, I think this is why I am viewed as such an enemy of ethanol. Perhaps because I don’t always appear to be an enemy, my views may be seen as based on objectively looking at the problem. Reaching the conclusions I do as an objective observer – when those conclusions are negative – probably makes me far more dangerous to the ethanol boosters than if I was simply an obvious anti-ethanol fanatic. But I think I have far too many essays out there that consistently describe my views as I have laid them out here to be characterized as simply an ethanol hater. The truth is quite a bit more complex, but lazy reporters aren’t always willing to put in the effort to get the truth.

  1. By NobamaisGoodbama on June 17, 2010 at 6:51 am

    You are right on many points. Just look at what Brazil did with ethanol and that technology is transplantable to many regions of the world. Corn was a steping stone with 3rd and 4th generation biofuels on the horizon. But this is only one part of the equation. Cars and trucks will get more efficient and more electrified. Plugins are just starting to enter the market. Microturbines and lowcost fuelcells are interesting candidates as well. The future is very exciting and there is no single solution. But the solutions are coming in every day.

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  2. By Dave on June 17, 2010 at 8:37 am

    Hannes Kunz’s squirrel story is perfect: describes the ethanol supporters thought processes to a T. One more comment from my father, an east coast farmer, something he has said for years, “What sane society uses their most important food crop/food source as a fuel? And what does it say about our society that we’re doing exactly that?”

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  3. By Rufus on June 17, 2010 at 9:15 am

    Field Corn costs $0.06/lb.

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  4. By Dr Peabody on June 17, 2010 at 9:18 am

    Interesting commentary, but I must point out that you offer no concrete solutions that are achievable in a realistic time frame. Meanwhile, biofuels continue to use less and less energy, less fossil fuels, less water and have even better environmental impact. Just this week, a major ethanol producer announced that it’s cellulosic ethanol process will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 111%, partly by producing biogas that will replace the fossil fuels currently being used by an existing adjacent ethanol plant. That’s serious progress. There is no perfect solution, so let’s embrace alternatives that are currently available. The worst solution is inaction and we are experiencing the results of this inaction.

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  5. By Bob Schmidt on June 17, 2010 at 9:42 am

    I agree strongly with your three basic tenets. Especially crucial is the third, that we must put our energy production on a sustainable basis. Modern American industrial agriculture is the process of turning petroleum into food using massive amounts of petroleum-based fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides. I agree strongly with your three basic tenets. Especially crucial is the third, that we must put our energy production on a sustainable basis. Modern American industrial agriculture is the process of turning petroleum into food using massive amounts of petroleum-based fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides. When agricultural input costs rise, food gets more expensive. However, this is correlation rather than causation with respect to ethanol use. Of course, turning corn back into energy using present methods will never ultimately achieve a sufficient EROEI. We just happen to have a lot of surplus corn so what else are we going to use for the moment? 85% of corn goes to turning grain into meat at a loss of about 90% of it’s food value. But cattle have four-part stomachs intended to digest grass (cellulose) rather than grain (starch). So removing the 70% starch in the corn and replacing it by hay makes healthier, faster growing cattle. Using corn to kick-start ethanol production is not the disaster that the oil company propaganda would have one believe.

    I agree that we must achieve objective reality on this issue. We have a battle between David and Goliath, here. My quibble with you is that you appear to be most concerned with ensuring David fights fairly. Meanwhile the massive propaganda campaign from Goliath goes essentially unchallenged.

    There are much better, permaculturally based, sustainable methods to produce ethanol than the Monsanto, “energy is free”, technique. Once farmers discover that they are energy producers rather than corn farmers looking for enhanced income, our corn monoculture will be greatly reduced. I’ll stop the rant here, lol.

    To those who would be interested in a different point of view than the oil company propaganda, please google the book “alcohol can be a gas”. The author, David Blume, is a permaculturalist/ethanol expert and a personal hero of mine who has fought the good fight since he was shut down by the oil companies when he was doing a PBS series on ethanol in the seventies.

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  6. By Wendell Mercantile on June 17, 2010 at 10:33 am

    Once a truck carrying a load of nuts crashed into a tree. A family of squirrels living in the tree discovered this new resource and began to live the high life on the nuts they had just found. But as their population grew, so did their demand for nuts. But that truck crash was a one-time event…

    I like that analogy. Mother Nature spent about 300-million years accumulating oil (captured sunlight) in underground reservoirs. Now, we’ve managed to use about half that accumulated oil in a little more than a century.

    The choices are:

    1. Slow our use of that accumulated reservoir. (Ain’t going to happen — especially with the poor and under-privileged 80% of the world wanting to start living like those already in the top 20%.)

    2. Find alternatives. (Maybe, but corn ethanol isn’t one of them since it also draws on the reservoir of accumulated oil. My personal choices would be to bank on nuclear power, start using methane clathrates, make fuel methanol from our vast reserves of coal and natural gas, and keep our fingers crossed for a breakthrough in fusion power.)

    3. Finish draining the 300-million year reservoir and then wait another 300 million years for Mother Nature to refill it. (Impractical)

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  7. By Perry on June 17, 2010 at 10:36 am

    Robert, I agree with what you say here, for the most part. Corn ethanol will most likely be confined to the Midwest at some point in the future. Cellulosic can be used elsewhere. On the MTBE issue from the previous comments, you’re wrong again though. Ethanol was responsible for the decreased imports from ’04 to ’07. Any MTBE replaced by ethanol during that period would make it HARDER for ethanol to displace imports, not the other way around. In other words, if net imports decreased more than demand and domestic production, which they did, less MTBE didn’t contribute at all. The reverse would be true, in fact.

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  8. By Perry on June 17, 2010 at 10:58 am

    “So to replace 212,000 bbl/day of MTBE was going to require 191,000 bbl/day of ethanol, which is 2.9 billion gallons per year. 191,000 bbl/day of ethanol production has the energy content of about 115,000 bbl/day of oil. In the absence of the MTBE issue, this is how much petroleum product imports I would expect to be backed out as ethanol displaced MTBE. But we need to prorate it by the isobutylene content, which is 64% of the mass of MTBEs. Thus, I would still expect the ethanol that backs out MTBE to displace imports equal to 64% of the 115,000 barrels, which would be 74,000 bbls.”

     

    Two problems there Robert. First, methanol is a liquid, and it made up part of the Total Liquid Petroleum numbers we go by to judge how imports are affected. Yes, it was made with natural gas. But, that didn’t keep the EIA from counting it along with all the other liquids. I’m afraid 100% of the MTBE had to be displaced by ethanol before ANY impact could be made on the import side.

     

    “Bottom line? We should still expect to see imports backing out even as MTBE is replaced by ethanol.”

     

    This is where you erred. If we needed 50 billion gallons of petroleum liquids to make X amount of fuel one year, we need 50 billion gallons to make the same amount of fuel the next. Replacing 3 billion gallons of MTBE with 3 billion gallons of ethanol would have zero effect on imports. Only after the transition was complete could ethanol begin to displace imports. What that means is, when demand dropped 50,000 bpd from ’04 to ’07, and net imports dropped 100,000 bpd, ethanol gets ALL the credit. It was a heroic feat, considering domestic production fell 380,000 bpd during the same time.

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  9. By Wendell Mercantile on June 17, 2010 at 11:12 am

    The only reason we would ever produce ethanol from irrigated fields in Nebraska and ship it to California is if market-distorting mandates and subsidies dictate that we must. But that doesn’t make it sustainable, and eventually the bills will come due.

    Well said Robert. And one of the bills that would come out of such rash action is depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer which underlays the western two-thirds of Nebraska.

    I honestly don’t think the corn ethanol lobby comprehends how making corn ethanol is dependent on drawing down other resources. Every time I hear them say corn ethanol is “renewable” I almost choke.

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  10. By Perry on June 17, 2010 at 11:22 am

    “I honestly don’t think the corn ethanol lobby comprehends how making corn ethanol is dependent on drawing down other resources.”

     

    Corn farmers have been using virtually the same amount of acreage for the last 50 years Wendell. Roughly 80,000,000 acres. Those farmers aren’t going to find a new line of work if we stop using ethanol. The great majority will still grow corn. Some will just grow other crops. Or rotate more. We’re able to get ethanol AND all the corn we need from the same amount of acreage because yeilds continue to increase, and because livestock farmers need less corn for feed when they use higher protein DDGS.

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  11. By Wendell Mercantile on June 17, 2010 at 12:14 pm

    Some will just grow other crops. Or rotate more.

    That’s the secret, and what should be the goal: Sustainable farms that grow a diversity of crops. Farms that substitute the need to draw down so many resources by instead rotating and managing crops — not just whole-hog, mono-culture, industrial-scale, corn farming that plants corn-on-corn, year-after-year and that is completely dependent on external energy sources.

    My Grandfather ran a diverse dairy/hog/corn/poultry farm in the 1940s and 1950s. He rotated crops (corn, oats, soy, and alfalfa), and used the animal waste as fertilizer. Other than his tractors, and electricity for lights and pumps, he used little energy from external sources. Whenever we visited my grandparents, we ate eggs from their chickens , apple pies my Grandmother made with fruit from their orchid, and drank milk straight from their cows.

    Nowadays, an industrial corn farmer is likely never to see a chicken unless at the drive-through window at KFC, and all his milk comes in gallon plastic jugs.

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  12. By Dr Peabody on June 17, 2010 at 12:14 pm

    I agree with Wendell that growing corn on irrigated fields is unwise in some locations and permits in these areas should be tough, if not impossible to get. In reality, only about 15% of the corn acres are irrigated, though, and much of that corn is used for purposes other than ethanol. For the remaining 85% of the corn acres, water comes from natural rainfall. Hopefully, Wendell won’t choke on God-given renewable rainfall.

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  13. By Perry on June 17, 2010 at 12:29 pm

    They still rotate crops Wendell. Corn usually rotates with soybeans. Some farmers are going two years corn,and the next soybean, where they rotated every year previously. Some, not most. Not rotating drops yields precipitously. Corn farmers would be shooting themselves in the foot if they went with corn year after year.

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  14. By Caroline on June 17, 2010 at 12:54 pm

    Robert, enjoyed the post! Thanks for explaining your views. Dave, the question you and your dad posed (“What sane society uses their most important food crop/food source as a fuel? And what does it say about our society that we’re doing exactly that?””) is certainly a sobering one.

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  15. By Benny BND Cole on June 17, 2010 at 1:00 pm

    I have a rare quibble with RR, on the nuts analogy. Squirrels cannot reason, and do not use the price signal to indicate scarcity.

    In the analogy, nuts were a onetime event–but we have options to oil, such as natural gas or PHEVs.

    Energy generation is not a onetime event–it is a vibrant, growing and fluid (no pun intended) field. We have nukes, hydro, natural gas, coal, biofuels, wind, solar, geothermal. Conservation. There is no reason we cannot generate gobs of energy.

    France and Japan both use less oil than 40 years ago, while all the while boosting per capita incomes and cleaning their environments. They have twice the per capita incomes of 40 years ago, and cleaner air and water.
    We can obviously obtain a cleaner, more-prosperous future–Japan and France are proof of that.

    I expect both nations to further reduce oil consumption going forward, as they embrace very high mpg cars, such as PHEVs, or diesel hybrids.

    The price signal will ease our transition away from oil. I agree with those who think we should prudently use government policy to accelerate this transition, such as by raising gasoline taxes in the USA (which Obama left out of his Oval Office speech, another mistake).

    I also think RR wrongly conflates “oil” with “fossil fuels.” By many indicaions, the globe has epic supplies of natural gas. The nuts analogy is simply not warranted.

    While I prefer PHEVs, the use of CNG can give us decades of cushion. I saw a CNG taxi on the street yesterday, here in Los Angeles. There is also yet another new CNG gas station, this one in Glendale, near the Amtrak train stop. CNG is used commonly in Thailand, btw.

    In summary, I disagree with doomsterism, and the use of false analogies to suggest energy supplies are running out. Indeed, the examples of Japan and France suggest that the price signal, with just a little intelligent government policy, can result in higher living standards and cleaner environments even while the reliance on oil plummets.

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  16. By Perry on June 17, 2010 at 1:02 pm

    “What sane society uses their most important food crop/food source as a fuel?”

     

    I’d like to take a shot at that Caroline. How exactly is feed corn our most important food crop/food source? People don’t eat it. It doesn’t even go into corn flakes. It does fatten up our chickens, hogs, and cows, but DDGS(an ethanol byproduct) does a much better job of that. The corn you buy at the supermarket is sweet corn. A different crop entirely. We don’t make ethanol from that.

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  17. By Rufus on June 17, 2010 at 1:05 pm

    I’d say, “it makes us some pretty smart cookies.” We produced, and used, 839,000 barrels of ethanol/day last week, and corn is so plentiful that it’s still selling for only $0.06/lb.

    Now, we’ve got cars coming out that will get the same mileage on that ethanol as on gasoline.

    Purty smart, for sure.

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  18. By russ-finley on June 17, 2010 at 1:13 pm

    Rufus said:

    Field Corn costs $0.06/lb.


     

    Although the price received for corn is much higher than it was for the decade before the ethanol mandate and subsidy legislation, farmers are not much richer because the cost of inputs (fossil fuel based) and land rent have increased as well. Given time they will plant enough corn to drive the price back down to historic norms, rinse, repeat. Razor thin profit margins are the  norm for most mature industries in a free market (everything from computers, cars, oil refiners) and for commodities (where consumers get the lowest prices as business competes for their business). When government steps in to protect consumers from business you have a regulated free market. When government begins to  favor business over consumers you have what we see today, a collapsing economy where politicians from both sides of the aisle fall over themselves to raid the public larder to capture corporate campaign funding.

    Excellent article, RR, by the way.

    The Union of Concerned Scientists have recently released a report goading the government to dole out subsidies based on fuel performance in lieu of political expediency. They point out that corn ethanol will receive up to $100 billion in support over the next 10 years.

    Biodiversivist

     

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  19. By Wendell Mercantile on June 17, 2010 at 1:18 pm

    Corn farmers would be shooting themselves in the foot if they went with corn year after year.

    Yes, they would. But where I live I’ve see the same fields planted in corn year-after-year. I haven’t kept exact count, but some have been planted in corn for more than five consecutive years.

    Most think it really doesn’t matter as long as they keep dumping on anhydrous ammonia and Roundup®, and it rains once in awhile. But it does matter. What it does is turn the soil into a sterile matrix that does nothing more than hold the seed corn in contact with the fertilizer and water and allow the roots a place to grow.

    In my neck of the woods, the greed to keep pumping out more and more corn has completely overwhelmed any sense of being a steward of the soil.

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  20. By Perry on June 17, 2010 at 1:29 pm

     ”the greed to keep pumping out more and more corn has completely overwhelmed any sense of being a steward of the soil”

     

    Farmers in your area must be retarded Wendell. A farmer will only get 30% as many bushels with soybeans as with corn, but he’ll fetch 300% more for a bushel of soybeans. By sticking with corn, instead of rotating, his yields will drop 20% or more. He’s shooting himself in the foot. Maybe you should stop by some of those farms and teach them some basic math.

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  21. By Perry on June 17, 2010 at 1:35 pm

    I should have said 200% more. Rule of thumb, a bushel of soybeans is three times that of corn.

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  22. By Rufus on June 17, 2010 at 1:36 pm

    Well, it’s all pretty much a “moot” question, anyway. The RFS2 supports about 15% more “Corn” ethanol, and from there on out it’s all about “Cellulosic” moonshine. If Novozymes, Fiberight, and Poet are correct, and we can produce cellulosic for around $2.00/gal (without subsidies) in small, local refineries our transportation fuel situation looks pretty good from a long-term perspective.

    Add that in with IC engines that get 30 to 40 miles/gallon, and hybrid technologies, and you’re looking at a majority of new cars that operate in the “less than $0.10/mile” range. We can prosper on that.

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  23. By russ-finley on June 17, 2010 at 1:40 pm

    Dr Peabody said:

     Just this week, a major ethanol producer announced that it’s cellulosic ethanol process will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 111%, partly by producing biogas that will replace the fossil fuels currently being used by an existing adjacent ethanol plant.


     

    You are referring to this press release from Poet:

     

    Now to determine the true cost per unit of GHG abated and what happens when they attempt to scale the process up. For example, they are using corn cobs and stover but claim that as long as only 25% of it is used, farmers won’t have to increase fertilizers. But now you need a law to make it illegal for farmers to sell more than 25% of their stover, etc, etc. which is also being hoovered up by biomass displacement in co-fired coal power plants, etc, etc, which has already driven the price of the stover up, etc, etc.

     

    Biodiversivist

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  24. By Rufus on June 17, 2010 at 2:04 pm

    Poet, right now, with its Project Liberty, is strictly looking at using Corn Cobs.

    The idea of using “stover” hasn’t gained much traction with farmers. Most don’t even want to use twenty five, or thirty percent.

    The difference being, of course, that cobs have only a miniscule value to the soil, whereas, stover is very valuable for its nutrients, and anti-erosion properties.

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  25. By Leonardo de Navarro on June 17, 2010 at 2:06 pm

    Wow! discussion vs. more propaganda. Here is my take on alternate fuel issues.

    1) Regional vs nation wide roll out of ethanol does not consider the need to change out the entire automobile fleet for alternate fuels, or the problem of refueling as one travels around the country.

    2) There really is a need to transition away from foreign Oil. Oil is being depleted. Over dependence on oil leads to undesirable foreign wars and involvement. And yes, the Gulf Spill is just a leading indicator that ever greater risks are being taken to maintain our addiction to a single fuel source.

    3) All start ups are difficult. Corn ethanol is but one transitional and limited fuel source on our collective way away from foreign oil. Subsidies which help American farmers is not a bad thing. Subsidies as a transition from foreign oil wars is desirable.

    4) Drought is a reasonable agricultural concern. But, the concern is only an argument for a yet more diverse energy future, and a more fuel efficient automobiles fleet.

    5) Over consumption of corn is making our people fat. Corn in our fuel tanks is better than around our bellies. Just as we need a diverse energy source, we also need a diverse fresh food source. Corn is an over used manufactured food resource. It’s OK that corn use be balanced between fuel and food. I think that this competition is healthy.

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  26. By russ-finley on June 17, 2010 at 2:23 pm

    Dr Peabody said:

    Interesting commentary, but I must point out that you offer no concrete solutions that are achievable in a realistic time frame…

    There is no perfect solution, so let’s embrace alternatives that are currently available. The worst solution is inaction and we are experiencing the results of this inaction.


     

    We had a 55 mph speed limit for almost two decades. Some estimates claimed a savings of about 2.5 times more than today’s ethanol output. My family cut oil use for transport in half just by swapping one midsized hatchback for a hybrid midsized hatchback. The fact that there is no perfect solution is irrelevant. There are plenty of solutions other than corn ethanol.

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  27. By Thomas on June 17, 2010 at 2:54 pm

    Ethanol is David fighting three Goliaths.

    Big oil and their gas stations:
    Like asking beer companies to push wine where they sell beer. Result < 2200 stations in U.S. offer E85

    The DOE :
    $7500 tax credit for electric vehicles
    Shelling out for 910 commercial charging stations (41% of E85 capacity) and 14,650 home chargers in 13 major cities by 2013

    The apathetic U.S. consumer:
    1 in 10 drivers of E85 compatible cars use E85
    13,000 pre-orders for Nissan Leaf (Rufus: pre-orders for new Regal?)
    27% increase in March 2010 Toyota Prius sales year-over-year.
    The consumer will ultimately pick the winner.

    Ethanol has had 30 years to crack this and the finish line is nowhere near in sight, but competition from Hybrids and EVs is…

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  28. By russ-finley on June 17, 2010 at 3:09 pm

    Rufus said:

    Poet, right now, with its Project Liberty, is strictly looking at using Corn Cobs.

    The idea of using “stover” hasn’t gained much traction with farmers. Most don’t even want to use twenty five, or thirty percent.

    The difference being, of course, that cobs have only a miniscule value to the soil, whereas, stover is very valuable for its nutrients, and anti-erosion properties.


     

    From the Project Liberty blog:

    The LIBERTY feedstock (corn cobs, leaves, husks) is already grown each
    year, whether we use it for ethanol or not.

    Admit it, Rapier, you are using the Rufus moniker as your personal sock puppet to create easily refuted arguments to knock down!

    I’m not even going to bother checking the rest of the above statements.

     

     

     

     

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  29. By Rufus on June 17, 2010 at 4:36 pm

    “Cobs, Leaves, Husks” is what you get when you harvest the Corn. Some leaves, and the husks are naturally going to get mixed in with the Cobs.

    You’ll notice there was no mention of Stalks. The leaves, and husks harvested with the ears would have to be less than 2% of the Stover.

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  30. By Rufus on June 17, 2010 at 4:44 pm

    Actually, if I’m not mistaken, 13,000 people got on the “keep me informed by email list.” Only a couple hundred paid the $99.00 “Refundable” Deposit.

    We produce enough ethanol, Today, to power 23 MILLION Buick Regals.

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  31. By rrapier on June 17, 2010 at 4:47 pm

    In the analogy, nuts were a onetime event–but we have options to oil, such as natural gas or PHEVs.

    Just landed back in the U.S., but about to make a connection. Not much time for comments just now. On this, I would say that natural gas is also a depleting resource, and it is very risky to build out transportation systems based on depleting resources. I favor natural gas as an interim solution, but supplies are not known for sure, and there are some issues around shale gas.

    RR

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  32. By rrapier on June 17, 2010 at 4:49 pm

    Interesting commentary, but I must point out that you offer no concrete solutions that are achievable in a realistic time frame.

     

    I have talked about solutions many times. Not the purpose of this post.

     

    RR

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  33. By rrapier on June 17, 2010 at 4:53 pm

    On the MTBE issue from the previous comments, you’re wrong again
    though. Ethanol was responsible for the decreased imports from ’04 to
    ’07. Any MTBE replaced by ethanol during that period would make it
    HARDER for ethanol to displace imports, not the other way around.

    No, it is you who are still wrong. I wasn’t wrong in the first place, so I am certainly not wrong “again.” You really should read through those previous essays. MTBE was made from domestic natural gas. As ethanol replaced MTBE, it couldn’t displace imports. So when you start looking for an ethanol effect, you have to consider MTBE in that context. When you look at demand, imports and exports, MTBE, domestic production, and inventory changes (like filling the SPR), then you can get your hands around what ethanol might have done with respect to oil imports. Ignore any of those and you are ignoring data needed to come to a defensible conclusion.

    Headed to my next plane.

    RR

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  34. By Wendell Mercantile on June 17, 2010 at 5:00 pm

    We produce enough ethanol, Today, to power 23 MILLION Buick Regals.

    But one of those Regals won’t be yours, will it Rufus? Until you’re ready to put cash on the barrel head and order one, please stop talking about the Regal. How can it be good enough for everyone else, if you won’t buy one?

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  35. By Rufus on June 17, 2010 at 5:08 pm

    I think I read that Ford is making its Escape Hybrid “Flexfuel” this year.

    The “miles per gallon of petroleum” on That thing will be awesome. Take the miles/gal and divide by .22 (average petroleum content of E85.) If average mpg is 35 the av. petroleum content would be 35/.22 or 150 miles per gallon of petroleum. That’s where we’re going, I think.

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  36. By Wendell Mercantile on June 17, 2010 at 5:24 pm

    The “miles per gallon of petroleum” on That thing will be awesome.

    Rufus~

    That’s a ridiculous and pointless metric. That’s how we ended up with that silly E85 loophole for how the car companies are allowed to compute their corporate fleet average.

    It completely ignores the fossil fuels used to make corn ethanol. Making corn ethanol to blend as E85 for use in a flex-fuel car actually uses more total energy than just using straight gasoline.

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  37. By Rufus on June 17, 2010 at 5:34 pm

    Wendell, do you mean people have to own a Prius to talk about Priuses?

    Does Thomas have to swear to buy a Leaf in order to comment on Leafs?

    Does one have to swear to buy an oil refinery to pontificate on oil?

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  38. By Rufus on June 17, 2010 at 5:37 pm

    Now, That was “silly,” Wendell. There’s about 0.05 gal of diesel in a gallon of ethanol. That includes fuel used to make fertilizer, fuel for tractors, and harvestors, and fuel for transportation.

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  39. By Perry on June 17, 2010 at 6:13 pm

    “No, it is you who are still wrong. I wasn’t wrong in the first place, so I am certainly not wrong “again.”

    Alright Robert, just so we are clear, here is where you were wrong in the first place.

    “It still appears to me that ethanol has had no impact on oil imports.”

    As I pointed out yesterday, net imports declined over a three year period that saw domestic production decline 380,000 bpd. Oil imports declined in 5 of the last 6 years.

    “MTBE was made from domestic natural gas. As ethanol replaced MTBE, it couldn’t displace imports.”

    True and exactly right. But, that only means you were wrong in the essay you directed me to, where you said this.

    “Bottom line? We should still expect to see imports backing out even as MTBE is replaced by ethanol. ”

    Here is where you’re wrong yet again.

    “When you look at demand, imports and exports, MTBE, domestic production, and inventory changes (like filling the SPR), then you can get your hands around what ethanol might have done with respect to oil imports.”

    Did all that, and fed you the numbers, one by one. Got my hands around exactly what ethanol did for us. And you are out of red herrings. Just admit that you were wrong, and that ethanol displaces foreign oil to the tune of 500,000 bpd. And that’s using your figure of .6 barrels of oil equaling one barrel of ethanol.

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  40. By Wendell Mercantile on June 17, 2010 at 6:18 pm

    Pay attention Rufus:

    Using the EPA figures for a flex-fuel 4WD Chevy Tahoe I found the following:

    * With gasoline, a Tahoe should get 21 mpg on the highway.
    * Using E85, the EPA says that same Tahoe should get 15 mpg.

    Imagine taking a hypothetical trip of 210 miles in a flex-fuel Tahoe:

    * If you burned gasoline, you would use 10 gallons.
    * If you burned E85, you would use 14 gallons of that fuel.

    How much energy does burning 14 gallons of E85 consume? Would it be more, less, or the same as the energy in the 10 gallons of gasoline?

    * We know 15% of the 14 gallons of E85 would have been gasoline. That’s 2.1 gallons.
    * Therefore 11.9 gallons of the 14 gallons of E85 must have been ethanol.

    How much energy was consumed making the 11.9 gallons of ethanol?

    The accepted value for the energy return on energy invested (EROEI) of making corn ethanol is now roughly 1.2 to 1. (That means a corn farmer and ethanol still get back 1.2 units of energy in the form of corn ethanol for an investment of 1 unit of energy in the form of fossil fuels such as natural gas, coal to make electricity, and diesel fuel.)

    To make the 11.9 gallons of ethanol in those 14 gallons of E85, someone had to invest energy equal to 9.9 gallons of fossil fuels. (9.9 x 1.2 = 11.9).

    If a flex-fuel Tahoe burned 14 gallons of E85 on that hypothetical trip, it would have actually burned 2.1 gallons of gasoline plus the energy of the 9.9 gallons of fossil fuels used making 11.9 gallons of ethanol.

    Summary

    1. On that hypothetical trip of 210 miles, a flex-fuel Tahoe would have burned 14 gallons of E85, and would have used energy equal to 12.0 gallons of fossil fuel. (2.1 gallons of gasoline, plus the energy of the 9.9 equivalent gallons of fossil fuels used to make the ethanol.)

    2. Compare that to the 10 gallons of fossil fuel the same Tahoe would have burned using gasoline for the same trip of 210 miles.

    ______________________________
    Admittedly, the numbers for the Buick Regal you continually talk about — but refuse to buy — would be different.

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  41. By Rufus on June 17, 2010 at 8:01 pm

    Dang, had a big, long reply, and my cable went out. Anyway, the basis was this:

    1) The mileage on E85 in the Tahoe is probably closer to 16 mpg (EPA just goes by difference in btu content.)

    2) The EROEI of the etanol from the typical dry-grind is a bit over 2:1

    3) That fossil fuel used is, almost entirely, nat gas (I understand we’re supposed to have a lot of that.)

    4) But, the main thing is: Why would we worry about OLD technology? If I wanted to write an article about computers I wouldn’t focus on my 5 year old HP. I would write about the NEW technology.

    The concentration, now, should be about projects like “Project Liberty” that will use cellulosic, and virtually No fossil fuels, and the New engines that will get maximum efficiency from ethanol.

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  42. By Wendell Mercantile on June 17, 2010 at 10:09 pm

    3) That fossil fuel used is, almost entirely, nat gas (I understand we’re supposed to have a lot of that.)

    We do have a lot of natural gas. But the point is that you actually consume more TOTAL energy burning E85 in a flex-fuel than if you just burned gasoline. Burning E85 in a flex-fuel (unless it’s a Buick Regal) increases our overall energy consumption.

    It may be a valid point to say, “Well, at least it’s our energy we’re burning.” and you would be correct. But if you want to make that argument, we’d come out further ahead by using our natural gas directly as a transportation fuel instead of using corn farmers and ethanol stills to inefficiently transform that NG into ethanol .

    Why would we worry about OLD technology?

    Because about 98% of the 189 operating stills in the U.S. are using “old technology,” and they have a long half-life. That “old technology” will be around for quite some time yet.

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  43. By Rufus on June 17, 2010 at 10:51 pm

    No, Wendell; that 33,000 btus of nat gas that’s in the gallon of ethanol that takes me 21 miles wouldn’t take you 8 miles if it was burned directly.

    And, those older ethanol refineries are constantly upgrading.

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  44. By Wendell Mercantile on June 17, 2010 at 10:57 pm

    that 33,000 btus of nat gas that’s in the gallon of ethanol that takes me 21 miles wouldn’t take you 8 miles if it was burned directly.

    Didn’t you read the case study of the Chevy Tahoe above on the hypothetical 210 mile trip??

    And, those older ethanol refineries are constantly upgrading.

    They continue to build stills with the old technology today. What is your estimate of the half-life* for the existing, old-tech corn ethanol stills?
    ______
    * The length of time it would take to replace or upgrade 50% of them.

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  45. By Rufus on June 17, 2010 at 11:08 pm

    One year if they all do it at once. We’re just dancing in circles, Wendell. I’m too tired for this. G’nite.

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  46. By rrapier on June 18, 2010 at 12:23 am

    As I pointed out yesterday, net imports declined over a three year period that saw domestic production decline 380,000 bpd. Oil imports declined in 5 of the last 6 years.

    And you ignored several pieces of data and are still trying to give ethanol credit without looking at all of that data. Those are tactics of someone with an agenda. Do you have an agenda, or do you want to know the truth – even if it is contrary to what you wish?

    True and exactly right. But, that only means you were wrong in the essay you directed me to, where you said this.

    “Bottom line? We should still expect to see imports backing out even as MTBE is replaced by ethanol. “

    Out of context. The context was that the fall in imports was easily explained by the changes in demand and domestic production. But then someone raised the MTBE issue, which was thoroughly examined in a follow-up essay. As ethanol displaced MTBE, it couldn’t push out imports, but ethanol ultimately ramped up beyond just MTBE displacement. At that point (post 2006; not coincidentally right in the middle of the time frame you are cherry-picking) you would expect to see ethanol’s impact on imports.

    So no, I am not wrong. You just aren’t looking at all the data. Plus, you are looking at a short time-frame of the data you are looking at. During the time frame you are examining we had Hurricane Katrina, a high fill rate in the SPR, and the MTBE phase-out. If you want to do an honest analysis of the data, you are going to have to look at how things like that impact upon the numbers. If you want to minimize the impacts, look at a longer time-frame.

    Why on earth are you just doing 04 to 07? I think I know why, but that isn’t what you should be doing. You should be trying to really determine whether ethanol is impacting imports, not searching for data to confirm a viewpoint you already have. When you do that, you put blinders on that keep some of the data out and distorts the picture.

    I am flying again all day tomorrow, but before I waste a lot of time on this I need to know that you want to really get to the bottom of it. Right now all I see is confirmation bias.

    RR

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  47. By rrapier on June 18, 2010 at 12:24 am

    Rufus said:

    No, Wendell; that 33,000 btus of nat gas that’s in the gallon of ethanol that takes me 21 miles wouldn’t take you 8 miles if it was burned directly.

    And, those older ethanol refineries are constantly upgrading.


     

    And this is the sort of propaganda/misinformation I am constantly fighting against. I already showed you that the 33,000 isn’t right.

    RR

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  48. By rrapier on June 18, 2010 at 7:34 am

    Did all that, and fed you the numbers, one by one. Got my hands around exactly what ethanol did for us. And you are out of red herrings. Just admit that you were wrong, and that ethanol displaces foreign oil to the tune of 500,000 bpd.

    Perry, I woke up with jet lag and did a quick review of the previous essay. You are so far off the mark, have taken comments completely out of context and cherry-picked years – it is impossible to conclude anything but that you do have an agenda.

    For instance, you selected 3 years in which ethanol production rose by around 200,000 bpd but at the same time had to replace about 200,000 bpd of MTBE. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that in that case ethanol can’t possibly be backing out any substantial amount of imports – yet you go on to claim 500,000 bpd on the basis of energy content (and not the actual import/export/demand statistics).

    So Perry, here is a simple question. Since we had a huge ethanol ramp-up from mid-2006 to 2010, and that was after the MTBE phaseout was completed, wouldn’t it be more clean and shouldn’t it show a bigger import impact to look at those years? Yet you have have chosen to leave them out of your analysis. You have focused on a time when there was much more going on (yet which I have still analyzed in detail and shown no obvious ethanol impact on imports). So do you have something you want to confess here regarding your motives for spreading misinformation?

    Do you agree that if we look at imports, exports, domestic production, demand, inventories, and ethanol production that we should be able to see that actual 500,000 bpd that you claim in the data? If so, can you show it to me (and not by ignoring bits of data)? I arrive back home today and haven’t seen my family in two weeks, so I won’t spend a lot of time on this right now. But if you list all the relevant data you are using to make your case (and no, you have not done that) then I may take it all up in an essay very soon. But it can’t be a superficial analysis. It must consider all relevant data.

    Final question. Did you post on my blog before I migrated it here? I had someone make a very similar sort of argument that you are making here, on this very issue, and he also would not look at data except outside of a very narrow range that merely confirmed his beliefs. His name was Maury, and he also posted from the same area you are posting from (in fact, using some of the same phrases). Seems like a lot of coincidences (of course I can just go back and dig up Maury’s IP address, but thought I would just ask directly first). If the answer to that is “Yes”, we have some issues to discuss.

    RR

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  49. By russ-finley on June 18, 2010 at 9:28 am

    I recently read an economic analysis that suggested blenders were passing on some of the blender’s credit to customers to steal some business from their competitors by selling  gasoline at a slightly lower price. It suggested that this lower price would increase gasoline usage, which would tend to increase the need for imports, the opposite of the government’s intended goal. Just another twist that might help explain why imports have barely been impacted by all of this ethanol.

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  50. By Wendell Mercantile on June 18, 2010 at 10:11 am

    One year if they all do it at once.

    Yes, but is that likely? It takes longer than that to build an ethanol still from scratch, and they’re still building some with old-fashioned technology. There is also a little matter of amortizing the original investment. The investors in the original plants aren’t going to be too happy when they hear, “I know, I know, this still has been running only three years, but Rufus says we now need millions to remodel and upgrade to the latest technology.”

    We’re just dancing in circles…

    It seems we are, doesn’t it? Why do you think that is?

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  51. By russ-finley on June 18, 2010 at 10:21 am

    The hypothesis was that ramping up ethanol production would decrease oil imports. An independent review of the evidence does not find much support for that hypothesis. “Why” the hypothesis has not panned out (as much as expected) is another topic.

    The biggest problem with social engineering is that a hypotheis is assumed to be a fact. Legislation is not designed to be a test to see if the hypotheisis is right and when it turns out to be wrong, there is usually no plan B.

    Entreprenuers are essentially hypotheis testers, flushing out the wheat from the chaff. When the government steps in and mandates consumption while simultaneously subsidizing production and protecting the product with tarifs as well, you can end up with something that is too big to fail, and another chronic drag on the economy is created. Picture an entreprenuer who finds a way to make a biofuel that is compatible with existing fuel infrastructure and cars, that costs far less than corn ethanol. You would suddenly have hundreds of corn ethanol refineries that are about to go the way of saddle makers–fat chance.

     

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  52. By Wendell Mercantile on June 18, 2010 at 11:45 am

    You would suddenly have hundreds of corn ethanol refineries that are about to go the way of saddle makers–fat chance.

    Excellent point Russ. That is one reason Big Corn, the corn ethanol lobby, and Corn Belt politicians have deigned to even consider the advantages of methanol from natural gas or coal. It would disrupt the status quo they’ve spent the last 30 years building up through subsidies, tax credits, tariffs, and backroom deals.

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  53. By Thomas on June 18, 2010 at 12:18 pm

    Yes Rufus, you are mistaken. 13,000 Americans have plunked down the $99 to reserve a Leaf.  Nissan has stopped taking pre-orders for the 2011 model.  They only plan to make 10,000 worldwide. 
    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05…..o.html?hpw

    Has GM said they’re going to make a FFV Volt? FFV Prius from Toyota? No relase date for that Ford Escape E85 hybrid. They’ve been talking about it since 2006, you probably read that then. The gasoline hybrid Escape has been out since 2004.  Its apparent you hope we go in the FFV hybrid direction there’s just not any data to support that.

    Nobody wants to make an E85 hybrid because it hurts the sticker mpg.
    They’re picking winners based on what they can sell…Ethanol doesn’t move cars off the lot.
    High mpg or no mpg obviously does.

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  54. By Nick de Cusa on June 18, 2010 at 12:44 pm

    Humans are not squirrels. Humans innovate, squirrels don’t. Bad analogy.

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  55. By Rufus on June 18, 2010 at 1:46 pm

    Yes, the very first press release on the Volt stated that it would be FF. Ford has also stated that the Escape will be FFV.

    Anyone who has followed engine development the last few years (since the introduction of the Saab Biopower) has realized that All engine development has aimed toward All-FFV. GM just got there first with the Buick. 2012 will, almost surely, have a plentitude of these small, turbocharged, DI, FFV’s.

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  56. By savro on June 18, 2010 at 1:56 pm

    FYI,

    US decision on ethanol blend put off until fall

    http://www.google.com/hostedne…..gD9GDFFA80

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  57. By Rufus on June 18, 2010 at 2:14 pm

    Obama’s playing “Chicago-Ball” with the Corn State Republicans (Grassley, Lugar, et al.) Every biofuel proposal of any importance is tied to votes on fin Reg, Stimulus, and Cap and Trade.

    And, before someone says it, “Yes, I know, it’s the EPA; but, the EPA works for the Pres.” Always has, always will.

    Obama let the Biodiesel Credits expire on Jan 1, and don’t think he won’t let the Ethanol tax credits expire on Jan 1, 2011. If Grassley, and the Boyz don’t get on board he’s just liable to.

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  58. By Rufus on June 18, 2010 at 2:17 pm

    Which, believe it or not, would Not break my heart.

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  59. By Wendell Mercantile on June 18, 2010 at 3:00 pm

    Obama’s playing “Chicago-Ball” with the Corn State Republicans (Grassley, Lugar, et al.)

    Rufus~

    Have you forgotten that President Obama was also one of those corn-state senators? Before he was elected president, he made statements about corn ethanol that a law school professor and inner-city community organizer could have learned only through the efforts of an ethanol lobbyist.

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  60. By Rufus on June 18, 2010 at 3:22 pm

    Times change, Wendell.

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  61. By Thomas on June 18, 2010 at 4:10 pm

    Rufus:

    If all it takes is a chip why can’t Ford and GM even give a release date for these cars? 

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  62. By Rufus on June 18, 2010 at 4:37 pm

    Enzyme-producer Novozymes and cellulosic ethanol company Lignol Energy Corporation signed a research and development agreement to make biofuel from wood chips and other forestry residues. The partners aim to develop a process for making biofuel from forestry waste at a production cost down to $2 per gallon, a price competitive with gasoline and corn ethanol at the current US market prices.

    http://www.greencarcongress.co……html#more

    They have their own plans, Thomas. They haven’t called me even once.

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  63. By doggydogworld on June 18, 2010 at 7:24 pm

    Wendell Mercantile said:

    The accepted value for the energy return on energy invested (EROEI) of making corn ethanol is now roughly 1.2 to 1. (That means a corn farmer and ethanol still get back 1.2 units of energy in the form of corn ethanol for an investment of 1 unit of energy in the form of fossil fuels such as natural gas, coal to make electricity, and diesel fuel.)
    To make the 11.9 gallons of ethanol in those 14 gallons of E85, someone had to invest energy equal to 9.9 gallons of fossil fuels. (9.9 x 1.2 = 11.9).

    Nice slieght of hand, Wendell, but 1.2 EROEI != 1.2 GROGI. The input energy required to produce those 11.9 gallons of ethanol is equal to 9.9 gallons of ethanol, but only 6.5 gallons of gasoline.

    Anyway, the whole point is the input energy is not imported gasoline but typically a domestic fuel such as natgas or coal. And POET’s Project Liberty will virtually eliminate even that domestic fossil fuel input. Re-do your Tahoe example with Project Liberty parameters and the picture changes dramatically.

    I for one would like to see Robert do an article on Project Liberty. If it works as advertised it puts corn ethanol EROEI on roughly equal footing with sugarcane, which he loves.

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  64. By rrapier on June 18, 2010 at 9:22 pm

    I was going to do a story on POET’s just released LCA, but they couldn’t share the actual LCA with me because of proprietary information. But without being able to review the actual LCA to check what cases were run and assumptions made, there isn’t much I can write about it other than what they released to the press.

    On Project Liberty, I have written some about it before. I did an interview with some of POET’s people and quizzed them about it. Just home and really exhausted, or I would look up the link for you.

    RR

    Edit to add (after a nice nap), here is where I have written on Project Liberty:

    http://www.consumerenergyrepor…..with-poet/

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  65. By Dave on June 18, 2010 at 11:25 pm

    For those saying that corn isn’t the nations most important food crop:  I’m curious to hear what you would say is?  One said “Ruminants (cows) are ‘designed’ to digest cellulose, not starch, and cows would be healthier eating more grass” (my paraphrasing):  okay, basic knowledge, and I agree; but, there are so many more uses than meat products or canned/fresh sweet corn.  (Somewhat insulted by whoever felt the need to explain we only eat sweet corn; but I’ll get over it.)  I couldn’t even count the various uses of corn:  I think we all might be surprised when we look into it.  I won’t profess to be an expert on the percentages, but dairy industry is highly dependent on it (for good or bad), corn syrup is in damn near everything (again for good or bad), corn starch, corn oil, etc., etc.

     

    So, please throw up some discussion candidates for a more important food crop.

     

    Leonardo de Navarro – You’re right, it’s good to have discussion rather than propaganda (for the most part.)  I agree, the over consumption (ie corn syrup above) of corn based products is part of what is making people fat.   To be honest, however, that is another topic and, like energy, a rather complicated one.  

    I still maintain that corn is our most important crop and that it is nuts (bad squirrel pun, sorry) to create competition for corn that raises the price for nearly all our food, especially when that competition makes for a tiny net gain in energy (see the Roberts original article for all reasons where he said it much better than I could.)

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  66. By rrapier on June 19, 2010 at 2:10 am

    Humans are not squirrels. Humans innovate, squirrels don’t. Bad analogy.

    The problem, Nick, is that we think we can innovate ourselves out of every situation. That, I fear, is why we are ultimately like the squirrels. There are replacements for oil, but they all have baggage of one sort or another. That is why 8 administrations in a row have promised to decrease our dependence on foreign oil – and yet the opposite happened. Sooner or later nature will do it for us, and then I think the analogy will be clear.

    RR

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  67. By Rufus on June 19, 2010 at 12:53 pm

    Actually, I think we Will innovate our way out of “this” situation. Our automakers are certain they will be able to reach 35mpg fleet average by 2018(?) That drops our requirement for gasoline (or, in the new engines, ethanol) to approx. 75 Billion gpy. Corn, and corn cobs will supply 20 bgpy, and Fiberight says we can get approx 10 bgpy from Municipal Solid Waste.

    That leaves us looking for 45 bgpy. Setting aside any Domestic Oil Production, all we need to run our cars, and light trucks is approx. 15 million gpy from each county. THAT is Really Easy.

    Now, admittedly, there’s still the “small’ matter of 4 mgpd for our big trucks, and tractors, but we’ll still have that much from Domestic oil for many years, plus we haven’t started looking at biodiesel at this point.

    Of course, we won’t do it quite that way. Some ethanol will go toward the big trucks, and some diesel will got to cars, etc. etc. But, the fact is we can produce a lot of ethanol, and innovations like Hybrid Technology, VVT, DI, VS Turbos, and Heated Injectors (Delphis is supposed to introduce its heated injectors in the fall of 2011, and Those will make a huge difference in overall gas/ethanol mileage) can/will ramp mileage quickly.

    It will, of course, be a “bumpy” ride, but we Will be in a better place in ten years than it looks at present. At least, we should be.

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  68. By Rufus on June 19, 2010 at 12:55 pm

    That should have been 4 million “barrels”/day for our tractors, and big trucks.

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  69. By thomas on June 19, 2010 at 3:50 pm

    Rufus said:

    15 million gpy from each county. THAT is Really Easy.


     

    So what is this really easy method thats going to average 15 million gpy of gasoline equivalent fuel for every U.S. county?  Are you saying more corn? Let’s assume that every county contains agriable farmland that produce 200 bushels/acre of corn.  Then let’s assume there’s a local refinery that can do 3 gallons/bushell.  That’s 600 gallons/acre of ethanol, so every county in the U.S. needs to AVERAGE 25 000 acres of corn with a 200 bushell/acre yield.  This would be additional acreage for counties that are already producing the 20 bgpy. Start sprinkling the fairy dust now….

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  70. By Wendell Mercantile on June 20, 2010 at 1:07 am

    Let’s assume that every county contains agriable farmland that produce 200 bushels/acre of corn.

    That would be a bogus assumption, and one made by someone who has never seen Utah, Wyoming, Montana, Nevada, etc. I live in one of the Corn Belt states, and not even in this state does every county contain farmland that can produce 200 bu/acre.

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  71. By Bob Schmidt on June 20, 2010 at 10:15 am

    For those who think that increasing the blend wall limit from 10% to 12% is going to do great damage to our automobile fleet, here is an example of a non flex-fuel 2000 chevy tahoe that had over 100,000 miles of E85. I know, it is just one vehicle and argumentation from anecdote is weak, but it agrees with what David Blume is saying on the subject. The other side loves to confuse the effects of ethanol with methanol which does require stainless steel fuel lines, etc.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v…..uOs1yap8mU

    People who believe that big corn controls our political system don’t think the controversy and delay in allowing greater ethanol use has anything to do with politics?

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  72. By Duracomm on June 20, 2010 at 11:33 am

    Bob Schmidt said,

    People who believe that big corn controls our political system don’t think the controversy and delay in allowing greater ethanol use has anything to do with politics?

    Humorous comment coming from a supporter of a failed product that would not exist without politically driven mandates and subsidies.

    Ethanol has been subsidized for decades and it is still a complete failure in the real world.

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  73. By Wendell Mercantile on June 20, 2010 at 11:39 am

    Bob Schmidt,

    The easy way to get the EPA to push forward the blend wall is if the Bob Dineen’s Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) and Wes Clark’s Growth Energy (GE) were to say to the EPA, “Our organizations will assume full responsibility for any engine damage moving the blend wall to E12, E15, or E20 might cause.”

    If people know there is a predictable and reliable way of having engine damage repaired and paid for, their qualms will disappear, and it should be easy for the EPA to rule in favor of the RFA and GE.

    It would also be a smart public relations move by RFA and GE if people saw they aren’t just trying to ram something down consumer’s throats for which they aren’t willing to accept responsibility.

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  74. By Duracomm on June 20, 2010 at 11:45 am

    doggydogworld said,

    POET’s Project Liberty will virtually eliminate even that domestic fossil fuel input. Re-do your Tahoe example with Project Liberty parameters and the picture changes dramatically.

    When the “project liberty” plants are on line and producing in commercial quantities that would be a reasonable request.

    The ethanol industry had been very good at promising new technology. They have been atrocious at actually delivering anything aside from the initial press release describing the technology.

    The ethanol industry’s inability to implement the new technology they keep promising means they have zero credibility on new technology until it is actually in a plant producing on a commercial scale.

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  75. By Bob Schmidt on June 20, 2010 at 12:00 pm

    “Ethanol has been subsidized for decades and it is still a complete failure in the real world.”

    I know this is a pointless exercise, because everyone already “knows” the answers. However, I challenge anyone who is offended by the huge subsidy that ethanol receives in our current tax system to actually read the pdf that results from googling “the real price of gas”.

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  76. By Duracomm on June 20, 2010 at 12:17 pm

    Bob Schmidt said,

    However, I challenge anyone who is offended by the huge subsidy that ethanol receives in our current tax system to actually read the pdf that results from googling “the real price of gas”.

    Ethanol swims in a sea of petroleum.

    1. Petroleum diesel used to plant, harvest, and transport the corn feedstock
    2. Petroleum based pesticides, fertilizers, and herbicides are required to raise the corn.
    3. Petroleum is required to power the ethanol plants
    4. Petroleum is required to transport the ethanol to markets.

    and so on and so forth through every step of ethanol’s production cycle.

    In other words the subsidies complained about in the real price of gas are in fact just another massive subsidy to the ethanol industry.

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  77. By thomas on June 20, 2010 at 12:34 pm

    Wendell Mercantile said:

    Let’s assume that every county contains agriable farmland that produce 200 bushels/acre of corn.

    That would be a bogus assumption, and one made by someone who has never seen Utah, Wyoming, Montana, Nevada, etc. I live in one of the Corn Belt states, and not even in this state does every county contain farmland that can produce 200 bu/acre.


     

    All my assumptions were bogus the corn yield this year was in the 160′s and the bushell to ethanol ratio is around 2.8; I was just trying to make the point that 15 million gpy of gasoline equivalent fuel for every U.S. county is not “Really Easy”. 

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  78. By rrapier on June 20, 2010 at 2:27 pm

    However, I challenge anyone who is offended by the huge subsidy that
    ethanol receives in our current tax system to actually read the pdf
    that results from googling “the real price of gas”.

    Bob, I have looked at plenty of those analyses. Some of them come to absurd conclusions like the true subsidy being larger than the entire federal budget. You have to keep that in mind when you see people saying that gasoline is subsidized at $15 a gallon or something like that. Since we use 140 billion gallons, multiply that out and start comparing it to defense budgets and such. While I personally wouldn’t subsidize gasoline one nickel, those sorts of analyses aren’t rooted in reality.

    RR

     

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  79. By Bob Schmidt on June 20, 2010 at 3:36 pm

    Robert,

    Yes, I agree that the $15 number includes all sorts of things like road building that would be required whatever the choice of fuel is.  My point is that, nonetheless, within that paper are direct subsidies for petroleum that make for a very uneven playing field for alternative fuels.  I would be very happy to see all subsidies for fuels removed and have them only taxed as required to undo the damage a particular fuel does.

    Duracomm,

    You must have missed the assertion I made in my original post that turning petroleum into food and then food back into fuel again is never going to achieve an acceptable EROEI.  But I don’t blame ethanol for the “energy is free” monoculture of corn produced by using massive doses of petroleum-based pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizer.  As I said, I accept corn for the moment because it is basically our only choice as a first step, but we need to transition to a local polyculture of sustainable non-food sources which I belive is possible.  There was a time when those oil subsidies encouraged American production, but now they go to overseas producers, many of whom despise us.  In our current situation those subsidies for gas only encourage waste and pollution and should not be maintained.

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  80. By Duracomm on June 20, 2010 at 4:33 pm

    Bob Schmidt said,

    As I said, I accept corn for the moment because it is basically our only choice as a first step, but we need to transition to a local polyculture of sustainable non-food sources which I belive is possible.

    The idea that corn is a first step to new, innovative ethanol production is a highly destructive fallacy.

    Workable ethanol technology is going to be far different than corn ethanol production.

    The existing system of Ethanol mandates and subsidies freezes the current corn ethanol model into place. They effectively kill innovation because the existing technology is good enough to allow harvesting of the government money, no improvements are needed.

    If you want to have an innovative ethanol technology sector kill the mandates and subsidies and replace them with a prize similar to the ansari X prize.

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  81. By Wendell Mercantile on June 20, 2010 at 11:13 pm

    As I said, I accept corn for the moment because it is basically our only choice as a first step…

    Bob Schmidt,

    A might expensive and inefficient first step. Corn ethanol is a bridge to nothing. How many of the existing 189+ corn ethanol stills do you think were built with the forethought of someday making them easily convertible to cellulosic bio-refineries?

    Accept for handful, converting a conventional corn ethanol still to cellulosic would essentially mean tearing it down and building anew.

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  82. By Bob Schmidt on June 21, 2010 at 6:00 am

    Well, agriculture in the US is basically corn and soybeans so what else are we going to use? The Agriculture Department calls everything else specialty crops. Every journey starts with a first step. The solution cannot be to do nothing. I am saying that corn is not the ultimate solution, but also is not the disaster that the oil companies claim, and will be necessarily replaced. The corn ethanol farmers will discover that they are really energy farmers and that other less petroleum-intensive crops are more profitable as the cost of oil continues to increase. Are we certain that ethanol plants cannot be modified to take any input other than corn? Are the Brazilians really so much smarter than us or is it also a political problem involving protecting corporate profits?

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  83. By Bob Schmidt on June 21, 2010 at 7:40 am

    This just poped up on the radar screen.  Looks like the Swedes are also so much smarter than us that they are solving their energy problems as we continue to argue about why it can’t be done.  At least Stockholm is shooting for 50% renewable by 2012.  Note the 90% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions in an engine designed to use ethanol.  That’s why the first step is necessary, despite the pain of a non-optimal fuel source.  We need ethanol to be widely available before engines that take advantage of the superior fuel can be used.

    http://www.businesswire.com/po…..ewsLang=en

     

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  84. By Bob Schmidt on June 21, 2010 at 8:53 am

    Doh, obviously I should have said “fossil” carbon dioxide emissions like the link since the reduction comes from the fuel source, not the engine itself.

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  85. By Thomas on June 21, 2010 at 9:02 am

    All: I would submit that the “bridge” is the gasoline-electric hybrid with the
    end goal being a more electrified private vehicle fleet. The efficiency of the electric motor and the ease of distribution of electricity compared to liquid fuels is immense. We have the technology and infrastructure to produce electricity,locally, across the nation. Instead of investing in distilleries that turn fossil fuels into ethanol, why not build more power plants to make electricity? Looking at the early success of these types of vehicles it seems the consumer
    is ready to embrace this new paradigm. Also, comparing the strategies of other countries with much smaller energy needs doesn’t make sense. Its engineering a strip mall versus a skyscraper. That doesn’t excuse our inability to find a solution but our problem is on a different order of magnitude.

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  86. By Wendell Mercantile on June 21, 2010 at 1:25 pm

    Well, agriculture in the US is basically corn and soybeans so what else are we going to use?

    Bob Schmidt~

    What else could we use? Bio-gasifiers to make syngas from cellulose, lignin, waste paper, waste wood, weeds, straw, fallen leaves in the autumn*, or virtually any organic trash, and then make fuel methanol from the syngas.

    _______
    * I’m serious. Does anyone have any idea how many billions of tons of leaves fall off deciduous trees in the eastern half of the U.S. each fall? True, collecting them could be a logistics problem, but if we are going to have millions of unemployed people, we may as well put them to work doing something useful.

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  87. By Bob Schmidt on June 21, 2010 at 4:54 pm

    Wendell,

    I like all of those sources.  They are non petroleum-intensive and I think they are the future.  I passed by methanol after reading that it is strong stuff and requires stainless steel fuel lines, so not as compatible with our current auto fleet.  But we should try all options and see what works best.  But all those could be used in small local ethanol plants without the transportation issues that the mega plants have.  David Blume likes to suggest lawn clippings as a plentiful source for cellulosic.  Here’s a pie in the sky suggestion.  Maybe a local still at the nearby dump where the garbage trucks unload?  That wouldn’t have extra transportation costs.  And use non-ethanol biomass to fire the plants?  Those are the kinds of features that make Brazil’s sugar cane successful.  I have read that there are cellulosic pilot plants ready to go but not getting funding because of the uncertainty associated with the political football that is ethanol.

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  88. By Duracomm on June 22, 2010 at 12:07 am

    Bob Schmidt said,

    Well, agriculture in the US is basically corn and soybeans so what else are we going to use?

    How about nothing, how about not making the situation worse, how about having an idea that something actually works before mandating it, how about understanding that not petroleum does not automatically equal better, how about not replacing facts with wishful thinking,

    how about listening to the engineers more and the ethanol corporate welfare trough feeders less?

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  89. By doggydogworld on June 22, 2010 at 10:07 am

    Robert Rapier said:

    Edit to add (after a nice nap), here is where I have written on Project Liberty:
    http://www.consumerenergyrepor…..with-poet/


     

    Thanks for finding this, Robert, I remember it now. I agree the new details they’ve provided don’t yet justify another writeup. I couldn’t care less about the “110% less GHG” accounting, that stuff gets debated endlessly. I only care about the biogas. If it can really fuel both the cellulosic and grain refineries the game will change. BTW, I read elsewhere they are offering $45-60/ton for cobs, depending how they are baled and such. I wonder about your 30K-ish BTU/gal available for process energy. It doesn’t sound like enough to run the refineries, especially since 1/3rd of the gallons to be distilled come from the cellulosic train which runs at low alcohol concentrations. Do you think they are putting some of the grain “waste” into the digester? This would cut down on DDGS output, but that’s a pretty low value byproduct anyway.

    Dave — corn may be our most important food crop but we grow 2300 lbs per person per year. As much as I like corn I think I can spare a little for liquid fuels. We shouldn’t scale corn ethanol beyond 20b gpy but PHEV cars and CNG trucks can reduce our liquid fuel usage to the point where 20b gpy is pretty much all we need.

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  90. By Bob Schmidt on June 22, 2010 at 10:32 am

    Duracomm,

    I think that if I asked you to justify your strong feelings that ethanol is a scam, you would cite information based on Pimentel or Padzek saying that ethanol requires more energy than it produces, destroys the environment, etc.  Every study they make, based on using petroleum-intensive monoculture corn, are heavily promoted by the American Petroleum Institute to every media outlet it can.  After being bombarded by that mostly unchallenged point for view for so long, almost everyone believes it, despite the counterexamples such as Brazil’s success.  As a result, we get many articles like yesterday’s:

    http://www.idahostatesman.com/…..r-for.html

    But the scientific consensus does not agree with those conclusions, even on corn, and it is precisely those scientists that we do need to listen to.  That is why I conclude the API’s propaganda is about protecting profits for as long as possible.  See, for example:

    http://journeytoforever.org/et…..nergy.html

    How do I justify my “wishful thinking”?  Because doing nothing but curling up in the corner in the dark and waiting for the end to come is not an option.  There are quite a few promising technologies out there, some of whom may actually work.  See, for example:

    http://www.ecofriend.org/entry…..roduction/

    I am more worried about the power the oil companies have over us than big corn and wonder why the much larger corporate welfare for big oil isn’t a concern for you.  I think corn will be swept aside as much more profitable technologies take over.  But the oil companies are much more powerful and the challenge is getting out from under their thumb.

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  91. By Wendell Mercantile on June 22, 2010 at 11:09 am

    I am more worried about the power the oil companies have

    Bob Schmidt~

    The source of Big Oil’s power is obvious. Just look out the window and tell me how many cars you see going down the road. I walk three miles to work, and am routinely passed by 2-3,000 cars each day. Everyone powered by oil, and almost everyone carrying only one person.

    Big Oil got the power it has because Americans got addicted to using fossil fuels to push around several thousand pounds of steel, glass, rubber, and plastic to move a single 200 lb person from Point A to Point B.

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  92. By Duracomm on June 22, 2010 at 8:50 pm

    Bob Schmidt said,

    I think that if I asked you to justify your strong feelings that ethanol is a scam, you would cite information based on Pimentel or Padzek saying that ethanol requires more energy than it produces, destroys the environment, etc.

    No, the only evidence I need is that after decades of subsidies and mandates ethanol (according to the ethanol industry themselves) still needs more mandates and subsidies to survive.

    Ethanol is a failed industry. The only thing that keeps the carcass moving is massive infusions of taxpayer money.

    Every study they make, based on using petroleum-intensive monoculture corn,

    Bob a few posts ago you were saying that we had to do corn because corn was all that was available. Well the studies are on petroleum-intensive corn because in your own words that is the only thing available.

    despite the counterexamples such as Brazil’s success.

    Bob if you really want to understand why ethanol works in the brazil and fails in the US you might want to spend some time learning about the differences in climate, growing conditions, and crops between brazil and the US.

    You might also want to come to grips with the fact that Brazil’s energy success is very heavily dependent on petroleum produced from deep water.

    For some reason that part of brazil’s energy success always gets ignored by ethanol fans.

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  93. By Bob Schmidt on June 23, 2010 at 7:40 am

    Duracomm,

    Thanks for the exchange of views, but I think we are getting to the point of repeating ourselves without communicating. I’ll repeat myself one last time in a little more detail and then let it go, in case you didn’t understand my point.

    I agree that, taken in isolation, subsidies are a bad thing. Things should cost what they cost and not be distorted by political considerations. But gas is both taxed, and then subsidized by at least a few dollars more. How messed up is that? We use the income tax, taxing productive behavior, to subsidize waste and pollution. The right thing to do would be to reduce subsidies for oil and gas that don’t serve any useful purpose anymore and actually do damage, but the political power of the oil companies prevents that. In addition, no politician has the courage to be blamed for higher prices. This puts any alternative fuel at a great disadvantage. It is the easy way out for the politicians to also subsidize ethanol. My opinion is that if the playing field were more level, ethanol could compete very easily. Note that ethanol can survive (barely) with both a tiny subsidy compared to that for gas and restrictions on its sale.

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