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By Robert Rapier on Sep 20, 2012 with 6 responses

Ethanol Policy: How to Grow Production Sustainably Without Subsidies

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In this week’s episode of R-Squared Energy TV, I discuss potential improvements to U.S. ethanol policy. I explain the fundamental principles that guide my thoughts on energy policy, which primarily involve moving toward more sustainable and locally-sourced energy, but understanding the trade-offs as we do so. In this episode, I make it clear that I am not opposed to ethanol as a fuel, but have been opposed to some of our ethanol policies in the U.S.

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Link to Original Article: Ethanol Policy: How to Grow Production Sustainably Without Subsidies

By Robert Rapier

  1. By bob percopo on September 21, 2012 at 7:07 am

    first point i would like to make is that ethanol needs to solve 3 problems for it to be accepted and these problems are phase separation, affinity for moisture and its corrosive nature.  THe US can be energy independent by utilizing coal to liquids technology.  Effectively utilized in Germany during WWII and in South Africa since 1958 and the breakeven pricing is oil at $55/bbl.  The US has the equivalent of approximately 668 billion bbls of oil equivalent reserves in its coal resources will the estimates for Saudi Arabia is only about 267 billion bbls.  Ethanol subsidies are simply a farming subsidy.  It is energy negative, contains less energy than an equivalent gallon of gasoline and damages small motors, older autos and the marine industry has threatened to void warranties if ethanol blended gasolines exceeds 10%.  Just my thoughts

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  2. By Robert Rapier on September 21, 2012 at 4:04 pm

    first point i would like to make is that ethanol needs to solve 3 problems for it to be accepted and these problems are phase separation, affinity for moisture and its corrosive nature. 

    Hi Bob, 

    I agree that ethanol has multiple flaws. Some are solvable and some aren’t. The corrosion issue is one that I have highlighted, but it is solvable. The affinity for water won’t be solved, so the approach to that problem will need to be different.

    My overall point is that we have no perfect fuel. We just have to understand the pros and cons, and encourage those options that we deem the least harmful and in the best interest of the public. But in all cases some will win and some will lose. We just need to make sure to minimize the losers — which our current ethanol policies do not do.

    RR

     

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  3. By Russ Finley on September 22, 2012 at 1:03 am

    Money quote:

     It has to be done in such a way that we protect our air. We  protect our water. We protect our environment.

     A recent report from Defenders of Wildlife:

     Prairie and other natural landscapes have been plowed up at an unprecedented rate across the nation’s midsection since 2008, especially in the corn belt — which includes Minnesota and the Dakotas — according to an analysis released Monday by a leading conservation group.

     Between 2008 and 2011, some 37,000 square miles of grasslands, wetlands and shrublands were transformed into cropland across the nation, said the study by the Environmental Working Group, which uses data analysis to try to influence public policy on public health and conservation issues.

     In Minnesota, where half the total land mass is devoted to corn and soybeans, 2,000 square miles of native grassland and wetlands were converted to row crops, the study said. In the Dakotas, a major breeding ground for aquatic birds and grassland species, an area twice that size was plowed up for crops.

     Ken Cook, president of Environmental Working Group, said that the land conversion has been propelled by record high commodity prices, demand for ethanol, and by crop insurance programs that guarantee profits for farmers, even on marginal land.

     That means less habitat for wildlife and more water pollution from agricultural runoff, he said.

      http://www.startribune.com/local/165147236.html

     

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  4. By Cliff Claven on September 22, 2012 at 10:50 pm

    Two more insurmountable problems with corn ethanol: EROI and power density.  Corn ethanol only achieves a miserable 1.25:1 EROI, and that is by parasiting energy from fossil fuel in its fertilizer and cultivation and processing energy.  And the .25 energy profit is delivered as DDGS, not transportation fuel.  Growing soy is a much better option for high-protein animal feed if that was our critical foreign dependence, which it is not.  If ethanol was made with ethanol energy, the EROI would be about 0.16:1.  As to power density, with optimistic numbers of 500 gallons of EtOH per acre ethanol only yields .315 W/m2.  That is 4 times worse than wind and 16 times worse than 10% efficiency solar panels and 800 times worse than the average 30 bpd US oil well.  RR, will you address these aspects of ethanol and why you think they don’t disqualify it as a transportation fuel candidate?  If you are ambitious, you could also discuss the fact that lifecycle GHG are higher for indirectly using fossil fuels to make corn ethanol than for using them directly as fuel.

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    • By Robert Rapier on September 24, 2012 at 2:12 am

      RR, will you address these aspects of ethanol and why you think they don’t disqualify it as a transportation fuel candidate?

      Oh, I have written loads on these things. So much that the ethanol industry labeled me one of the Top 10 Enemies of Ethanol — ahead of even David Pimentel. 

      My belief is that ethanol policy could be made much better, and we could in fact produce ethanol sustainably with the right policies in place. As I said, ethanol is a flawed fuel, but all of our fuels are flawed fuels. The trick is addressing the flaws in such a way that the cure isn’t worse than the disease. I think it can be done, but we aren’t doing it.

      RR

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    • By JM on October 11, 2012 at 8:51 am

      As to power density, with optimistic numbers of 500 gallons of EtOH per acre ethanol only yields .315 W/m2.  That is 4 times worse than wind and 16 times worse than 10% efficiency solar panels and 800 times worse than the average 30 bpd US oil well.

      Regarding your comparison to wind and solar, I think it’s important not to compare liquid fuels to electrical power. Our transportation system relies on liquid fuel, and will continue to do so in massive amounts until such time as we all switch to electric cars. So, while wind may have a higher energy density, it can’t power our cars. At least, not under the current system. 

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