Ethanol fuel = bad

E-85 is selling for $2.65 a gallon up here in Wistucky these days. It’s significantly cheaper than standard gas ($3.09 as of yesterday), but it has less available energy per unit than does petro-fuel, so consumers end up buying more of it. That means more land will go into corn production, more corn will get fermented, and more small towns will have their men and women-folk revert back to their vocational roots: moonshiners, albeit with government sanction this time.

It’s the land going into corn production that worries me; I’m all for more small-town moonshiners. Call me kooky, but I’d assume that the vast majority of land that gets converted to corn production, either from previously fallow land, or from a different crop, is going to be managed conventionally, ie. with insecticides and fertilizers based on petroleum. That’s a whole lot of petro-energy to put into growing a crop for bio-fuel. Then there’s additional energy input into the process when you talk about actually using the corn to produce ethanol. In fact, based on this study from the University of California at Berkley, we’d be better off putting the energy it takes to produce ethanol straight in the tanks of our SUVs.

While it’s true that ethanol burns significantly cleaner than petro-fuel, we’re just creating other problems (further degrading agricultural lands, skewed agricultural policy, and throwing away energy to make energy [ignorance of the laws of thermodynamics is no excuse!]) in our quest to mitigate one: global warming.

I’ll give you this: global warming is a potentially big problem. But does it make sense to keep rushing around with blinders on and creating more problems than we solve? I say we break with tradition, admit that we lost this round, and slow down while we figure out smart ways to mitigate the damage we’ve done while slowly, intelligently reversing the changes we’ve unwittingly engineered.

4 thoughts on “Ethanol fuel = bad”

  1. In case you haven’t noticed the general population doesn’t know about thermodynamics or science in general. We have a society in which math and science are “hard” therefore you do not need to know it.

    Fundamental understanding of how things work is left to someone else. Be it a scientist, engineer, or politician (the last one REALLY REALLY REALLY scares me). The sheep are told Bio-Fuel good petroleum bad. Petroleum and SUVs support terrorists, bio-fuel and hybrids are “Green”. They do not understand how the bio-fuel gets made or the strict set of operating parameters that are required to make hybrids a benefit to the owner and the environment.
    Until the average American understands science and math we are doomed to a cycle of action and reaction by our leaders who will pander to whatever gets them votes.

    Besides I like ‘shine and my BIG A$$ truck far more than I like e85.

  2. We found an interesting article about the problems with Ethanol on ConsumerReports.org:

    http://blogs.consumerreports.org/cars/2008/03/ethanol-e85.html

    “But there are some problems with increasing ethanol blends. Ethanol contains less energy than gasoline, so increasing the amount of ethanol in gasoline will likely result in lower fuel economy. Increasing standard fuel blends from zero to 10 percent ethanol, as is happening today, has little or no impact on fuel economy. In tests, the differences occur within the margin of error, about 0.5 percent. Further increasing ethanol levels to 20 percent reduces fuel economy between 1 and 3 percent, according to testing by the DOE and General Motors. Evaluations are underway to determine if E20 will burn effectively in today’s engines without impacting reliability and longevity, and also assessing potential impact on fuel economy.”

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