Ethanol: the Inconvenient Truth

Contrary to all the hype we now know that Ethanol is not the liquid filling the cup of the Holy Grail: it requires massive subsidies (In 2005 alone corn subsidies totaled $9.4 billion); it will never displace any significant amount of imported oil; it has a deleterious effect on air quality; and it's the major cause of the rise in food prices [Source: The Washington Spectator].

The subsidy process, aside from money, requires tremendous legislative efforts: acording to Global Subsidies Initiative [PDF] there are now in place hundreds of programs to subsidize nearly every stage of the ethanol and biodiesel supply chains. The National Biodiesel Board, for example, notes that it is tracking more than 160 pieces of legislation at the state level for biodiesel alone.

It is not only air quality that suffers:

Madville Times, 7 Dec 2007, Ethanol Pros and Cons: Energy Independence, But Poison Burgers

One of the great side-benefits of turning corn into ethanol is that the ethanol plants also produce distiller's grain, which makes good cattle feed. Feed your car, feed your cows. Heck of a deal!

But then along come those darn scientists, having to point out the downside: AP reports that Kansas State University researchers have found cattle fed distiller's grain are twice as likely to carry deadly E. coli 0157. E coli -- that's that bacteria that causes 73,000 infections and 61 deaths each year.

The rise in food prices is not simply because less corn is making it to the kitchen table (about 25% of American corn is diverted from food to fuel), but farmland needed to grow other crops is becoming prohibitively expensive to rent. Land that just a few years ago sold for a few hundred dollars an acre is now going for $10,000 an acre [Ethanol Is Feeding Hot Market for Farmland].

And now the New York Times is suggesting the time has come for Congress to rethink ethanol. One of the reasons: studies suggesting that some biofuels — corn ethanol in particular — could accelerate global warming. Interestingly, while the Old Gray Lady does not miss a sharp dig at President Bush, she did fail to mention Al Gore and his role in saving Ethanol:

The Clinton White House Website, 1 Dec 1998, THIRD ANNUAL FARM JOURNAL CONFERENCE

Al Gore: "I was also proud to stand up for the ethanol tax exemption when it was under attack in the Congress -- at one point, supplying a tie-breaking vote in the Senate to save it. The more we can make this home-grown fuel a successful, widely-used product, the better-off our farmers and our environment will be."

Even as we learn more and more each day of the Global Warming Hoax, Al Gore is still pushing this now-debunked myth out in Burma blaming the loss of tens of thousands of lives on a Global Warming cyclone instead of the military junta that surely made the disaster worse. Of course, before Al Gore brought us the truth of Global Warming there were never events in our past history of anything like cyclones or earthquakes. These are new phenomena brought on by a greedy, consuming Capitalist culture.

It must have been a wonderful thing - the good old days - before industry and modern civilization screwed up the Earth; imagine a time when there were no natural disasters!

Here for your edification my dear Mr Gore is the inconvenient truths about Ethanol, one of the worst fuels one can use:

  • Subsidies to biofuels cost us between $5.5 billion and $7.3 billion a year [Global Subsidies Initiative]

  • If you drive cars made before 1990 (or before 1994 for biodiesel) there may be rubber in the fuel system (I drive a 1989 Honda Civic, 33 miles per gallon) which Ethanol will have no problem dissolving along with any other rubber or plastic componenents. Three years ago I had my fuel lines and fuel pumps replaced. If you have an older car, you should do liekwise unless you want your car to go up in flames.

  • Ethanol is more conductive than gasoline and will act as an electrolyte causing galvanic corrosion in the fuel system unless that too, is re-engineered. Ethanol can have adverse effects on materials that gasoline would not. Brass, zinc, lead, and aluminum will all degrade when exposed to a strong alcohol like ethanol, not a good idea since the infrastructure for transporting oil or fuel is through the use of metal pipelines, tanker truck or railway tanker. []

  • Because of the above problems, we will need to build an entirely new infrastructure:

    Energy Refuge, What is ethanol?

    an entire pipeline network would need to be constructed, or a virtual pipeline with dedicated tank trucks and railcars. Also, large-scale bio-refineries would have to be built.

  • If your gas station is distant from the corn growing area you will find that Ethanol is as expensive or more costly than gasoline.

  • Some experts estimate that cars running on E85 get 10 to 20 percent fewer miles per gallon than on gasoline.

  • It is harder to start a cold engine on ethanol. The higher the percentage of ethanol, the sooner this will become an issue [Ethanol Fast]

For more inconvenient truths and misconceptions about ethanol read Cato Institute: Ethanol Makes Gasoline Costlier, Dirtier.

Sadly, Presidential Candidates wanting the support of Iowa voters have to pretend that Ethanol is the miracle cure that will get us off the teat of the oil tyrants in countries like Saudi Arabia and Venezuela (it will not), clean up the environment (actually the opposite), save us money (in your dreams), and whiten your teeth. OK, OK, Al Gore didn't promise that last thing. Yet.

### End of my article ###

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