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Earlier this year, the EPA criticized ethanol because it has a negative environmental balance of lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions when compared to gasoline obtained from crude oil (read their report here). As there's rarely an attack without pushback, the Renewable Fuels Association has decided to interpret that report from their point of view and has found that certain sources of oil do indeed have a worse negative impact than corn ethanol. That is, when lighter and more easily refined crude grades become exhausted, oil will need to be extracted from other sources (e.g., oil sands) and these methods incur greater environmental impact. By comparison, RFA says, corn ethanol looks good.
Of course, we can have a long debate on what to take in account when producing these fuels. Yes, the fuel burned by the tractor that plowed the land where corn was grown can be taken into consideration, as it us under ISO standards. But what about the oil used to produce the tractor itself? How about the balance of cutting some forest to plant sugarcane in Brazil? Not an easy equation, but one that invites more pushback.

[Source: WSJ]

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 5 Years Ago
      Next generation fuel will be domestic ethanol-water:

      We are just beginning to tap the best feature of ethanol. You can mix it 50-50 with water, and it will still combust. We have compact, inexpensive, super efficient fuel reformers that simultaneously strip all the hydrogen from the ethanol and half the hydrogen from the water.

      DongFeng, a major Chinese automaker is bringing out a line of vehicles this year that run on 65% ethanol and 35% water. This circumvents petroleum based fuels entirely, using domestic ethanol-water to hydrogen.

      Ethanol-water, reformed onboard the vehicle, is safer and more practical as a source of hydrogen – than bulky hydrogen compressed hundreds of times into high-pressure onboard tanks and hoses, and no cost-prohibitive hydrogen infrastructure is needed. With ethanol, all you need is a conventional blender pump and modest engine modifications.

      Another example of ethanol-water in a working conventional form is the “MicroFueler” “Grid Buster”. This is a fully automated 100 gallon mini-refinery that uses brewery waste or waste sugar, producing a gallon of ethanol for under a dollar, using less than 3 kilowatts. The optional “Grid Buster” a conventional 20% efficient small engine genset runs on 50-50 ethanol-water, producing 23 kilowatts of electric power per gallon – a 7 fold return.

      And if a next-generation 43% efficient “ethanol optimized” engine is used (Ricardo, Lotus, Scania), the output could be as high as 50 kilowatts per gallon, or a 16 fold return. Ethanol-water can also be used in a range-extender engine to charge batteries onboard the coming plug-in hybrids. If the ethanol-water mix is vaporized, the ratio can go as high as 2/3 water mixed with 1/3 ethanol. That can also be configured with a 75% efficient fuel cell.

      Ethanol-water can also replace heating oil for the home and business, and CPH production power at ethanol refineries and power plants. This technology can also be used in farm tractors and long haul trucks, to produce and ship agricultural crops, especially crops contributing to the production of the fuel.

      The ethanol industry is being transformed with advanced technology integration: onsite biogas digesters, gasification systems, integrated cellulosic, and onsite manure and algae production. These upgrades will dramatically improve the productivity and the environmental footprint of ethanol refineries. So all this haggling over the issues will soon be a thing of the past. When all the hidden problems of fossil fuels, including Black Carbon Soot, are factored-in, ethanol-water to hydrogen could be several times cleaner than conventional fuels. We are yet to exploit the full potential of domestic ethanol.
      • 5 Years Ago
      "Is it possible that opponents to ethanol want us to find clean renewable energy sources rather than a solution that only fixes some of the problems we are already experiencing???"

      Which is an admission of greed. Because the fixing some of the problems leads to fixing most of the problems. Every voice raised against ethanol supports big oil, big government and the continuation of addiction to foreign oil. You all are terrified that a process as simple as making bathtub gin is starting us down the road to real energy independence.

      Marxist opposition to domestic ethanol is funded by OPEC and CCP.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Ray is using old information and biased information. The studies done by David Pimentel and Tad Patzek are not credible. They’re based on outdated, under-estimated and over-estimated information. Pimentel-Patzek studies have been discredited by most of the scientific community. Their studies used corn yield that was below average, gallons of ethanol extracted per bushel that were below average, over-estimations for irrigation water (most corn is not irrigated), over-estimations for distillation energy used, inaccurate credits for byproduct distillers grains and corn oil, over-estimations for the amount of fuel and energy used to produce the crop, and on and on. Their agenda was to make corn ethanol and other forms of ethanol look bad, and they did that by twisting the facts and using fuzzy math. For example, more credible studies show miscanthus with a 5 fold return, biodiesel with a 3 to 1 return, and switch grass with a much higher return.

      Ray says gasoline consumes 22,000 BTUs per gallon – that’s way off. This is old data for a conventional domestic oil well. Ship oil thousands of miles from the Middle East burning dirty bunker fuel, or get crude oil from 2X Canadian tar sands and deep offshore wells, and you’re looking at much higher energy consumption for crude oil, plus a substandard environmental footprint. Furthermore, Ray didn’t add in the hundreds of billions of dollars we shell out for the military protection of our oil supply, which consumes huge amounts of BTUs in the form of dirty diesel fuel, jet fuel, and bunker fuel.

      Ray low-balls the amount of ethanol we produce. Last year, we made 9.5 Billion gallons, not 8, and this year we’ll make over 10.5 billion gallons. Every year it’s going up, scheduled to grow 12% a year or more, as we build the industry out. In contrast, gasoline consumption is going down. In California, and most other states, it’s been going down every year. Last year it went down over 5%, and the oil industry has been closing refineries. Ethanol is chipping away at petroleum based fuels, and so is biodiesel.

      Ray is telling you all the problems we have with ethanol, yet Brazil has converted to ethanol and become energy independent. Ray says we can’t do that. Others say: “Yes we can!”

      Ray harps on the problem of making too many ethanol blends. We are already circumventing that with localized blender pumps. And some vehicles get better mileage on E-20 or E-30 than they get on regular gas. Every vehicle is different. Ethanol is about 25 to 50 cents a gallon cheaper than gasoline, and based on interviews, consumers are buying it because it’s made in the USA and it benefits farmers - instead of a price-fixing oil cartel.

      Ray does not have a realistic view of what we need to do. He wants you to stay hooked on imported oil. We’ve been trying to get automakers to increase fuel efficiency for decades. And what happens? They resist and hire lawyers to fight it. So that hasn’t worked. What we need to do is produce as much domestic fuel as we possibly can for the cheapest possible price – and get off of imported oil. And we need to get our vehicles running on these alternative fuels. It costs less than $150 more to build a vehicle that is ethanol compatible. All new vehicles sold in the U.S. should be able to run on alternative fuels. Brazil did it, and we can do it. High mileage, high torque, “Ethanol Optimized” engines are next.

      Ray - There’s no “bang for the buck” when you stay addicted to foreign oil – That’s the no-brainer - not what you suggest.

      The “big bang for the buck” is integrating Algae and “Farmer’s Ethanol”. We’re going to grow massive quantities of algae feedstock on waste streams, and we’re going to get Cellulosic Ethanol, Biodiesel, animal feeds, nutritional supplements, fertilizer, electric power, and more. We are replacing foreign oil with domestic fuels.
      • 5 Years Ago
      What horse-hockey. The basis of "Indirect Land Use Change" is that we will devote many more acres to corn, thus less acreage to Soybeans. As a result of this, the "theory" goes, Brazil will chop down Rain Forest to plant more soybeans.

      1) Corn Acreage is, actually, falling due to higher, and higher yields.

      2) Brazil has "Reduced" its Soybean Acreage from 58 Million Acres to 53 Million Acres since 2003.

      3) Brazil has 150 Million Acres of Fertile Land lying Fallow in the Cerrado.

      4) The Sugar Cane area is 1,000 Miles South of the Rain Forest

      5) Corn is selling, Today, for $3.22/bu. This is a little less than $0.06/lb (how many pounds of corn did You eat today?)

      6) The Box of Corn Flakes in your cabinet "might" be $0.02 more expensive than 2004 due to the added cost of corn (about a Half a Penny for the HFCS in your 2 litre Coke.)

      7) Our future Marginal oil WILL come from Tar Sands.

      8) Ia State University Study concluded that the presence of 700,000 Barrels/Day of Ethanol in our market LOWERED the price of a Gallon of Gas by approx. $0.35/Gallon.

      9) Without the "phony balony" Iluc dreamed up by Searchinger (a lawyer, not a scientist) et al, Ethanol reduces CO2 emissions by 69%.

      10) And, last (but not least,) Corn Ethanol is wholesaling (Without Subsidies,) Today, for $1.56/gal. Unleaded gasoline for $2.00/Gal.

      11) Oh, wait, one more. We haven't lost 4,000 Dead American Children "protecting" the Corn Fields, and we haven't Spent $800 Billion doing it. And, the last I looked the 5th Fleet was in Abu Dhabi, not Minnesota.

      No American Kids Died for MY Fuel.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Excellent post. It boggles the mind how the proponents of what in essence is a death culture are able to trash ethanol based on such phoney baloney arguments that are clearly false.

        It's not about corn, it's not about food. The real issue is getting off oil and the people, nay the parasites, that don't want us to do this. Ethanol could get most cars off oil in less than 5 years if there was a concerted effort to promote it, from whichever source best applies locally.
        • 5 Years Ago
        corn ethanol is dirty and polluting as well as majorly corrosive to engines that aren't specifically built to run on it. As the world population continues to explode there is no reason to be creating more dirty fuels when there are clean alternatives, particularly when there are people starving from hunger in this world. Millions have died from hunger compared to your paltry thousands that have died in your twisted war about oil which if you really know the facts, wasn't about oil at all.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Corn ethanol subsidies totaled $7.0 billion in 2006 for 4.9 billion gallons of ethanol. That's $1.45 per gallon of ethanol (and $2.21 per gal of gas replaced).
      Even with high gas prices in 2006, producing a gallon of ethanol cost 38¢ more than making gasoline with the same energy, so ethanol did need part of that subsidy. But what about the other $1.12. Not needed! So all of that became, $5.4 billion windfall of profits paid to real farmers, corporate farmers, and ethanol makers like multinational ADM. Why is it the farm states put up with this?!

      Where did those subsidies come from:
      1. 51¢ per gallon federal blenders credit for $2.5 billion = your tax dollars.
      2. $0.9 billion in corn subsidies for ethanol corn = your tax dollars.
      3. $3.6 billion extra paid at the pump.

      That's quite a bit when you figure it only made us 1.1% more energy independent and only reduced US greenhouse gases by 1/19 of 1%.
        • 5 Years Ago
        One of your numbers is a subsidy. If you're going to include that other questionable data, you at least have to include the $400 billion a year we spend defending oil routes.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Ray, in 2008, researchers at Ia State Univ. published this study that showed the American people SAVED approx $0.35/gal "At the Pump" as a result of Ethanol.

      We use a little over 140 Billion Gallons of gasoline/yr. That would make the savings on the order of $50 Billion/Yr.

      Kinda puts that $0.46/gal tax credit (on 11 billion gallons) in "perspective," doesn't it?

      As for "energy independence:" We Import on the about 11 million Barrels of petroleum/day. We are, currently using close to 800,000 Barrels of Ethanol/Day. If you deduct 20% (the approx. "true" loss of mileage) we're, still, cutting our Imports (the marginal barrels of which are, at present, from the Middle East) by about 6%.

      Put another way, That's $1,200,000,000.00 that's "Staying Home," Every Month.

      One Billion, Two Hundred Million Dollars/Month that "Builds Our Economy," and not the Economy of Saudi Arabia, and the UAE.

      I've never heard of any Radical Iowa Corn Farmers plotting to blow up the Sears Tower, or the Astrodome.

      No American Kids Died for MY Fuel.
      • 5 Years Ago
      What we need is to realise the forced link between ethanol and corn is contrived, as there are better sources of ethanol, from kelp to hemp, and all this politicized debate is just wool over people's eyes.

      Ethanol works if it's made from a mix of plants in a systemic farming environment, monoculture is just farming entropy and it's killing the soil and ruining the markets, both financial and food.

      People need to educate themselves, build their energy economies locally and cut out big business and big government, hives of parasites that they are, out of the equation.

      Nobody up there will change the world for the better, we all have to do it for ourselves.
      • 5 Years Ago
      The stickiest question about ethanol is this: Does making alcohol from grain or plant waste really create any new energy?

      The answer, of course, depends upon whom you ask. The ethanol lobby claims there's a 30 percent net gain in BTUs from ethanol made from corn. Other boosters, including Woolsey, claim there are huge energy gains (as much as 700 percent) to be had by making ethanol from grass.

      But the ethanol critics have shown that the industry calculations are bogus. David Pimentel, a professor of ecology at Cornell University who has been studying grain alcohol for 20 years, and Tad Patzek, an engineering professor at the University of California, Berkeley, co-wrote a recent report that estimates that making ethanol from corn requires 29 percent more fossil energy than the ethanol fuel itself actually contains.

      The two scientists calculated all the fuel inputs for ethanol production—from the diesel fuel for the tractor planting the corn, to the fertilizer put in the field, to the energy needed at the processing plant—and found that ethanol is a net energy-loser. According to their calculations, ethanol contains about 76,000 BTUs per gallon, but producing that ethanol from corn takes about 98,000 BTUs. For comparison, a gallon of gasoline contains about 116,000 BTUs per gallon. But making that gallon of gas—from drilling the well, to transportation, through refining—requires around 22,000 BTUs.

      In addition to their findings on corn, they determined that making ethanol from switch grass requires 50 percent more fossil energy than the ethanol yields, wood biomass 57 percent more, and sunflowers 118 percent more. The best yield comes from soybeans, but they, too, are a net loser, requiring 27 percent more fossil energy than the biodiesel fuel produced. In other words, more ethanol production will increase America's total energy consumption, not decrease it. (Pimentel has not taken money from the oil or refining industries. Patzek runs the UC Oil Consortium, which does research on oil and is funded by oil companies. His ethanol research is not funded by the oil or refining industries*.)

      Ethanol poses other serious difficulties for our energy economy. First, 8 billion gallons of ethanol will do almost nothing to reduce our oil imports. Eight billion gallons may sound like a lot, until you realize that America burned more than 134 billion gallons of gasoline last year. By 2012, those 8 billion gallons might reduce America's overall oil consumption by 0.5 percent. Way back in 1997, the General Accounting Office concluded that "ethanol's potential for substituting for petroleum is so small that it is unlikely to significantly affect overall energy security." That's still true today.

      Adding more ethanol will also increase the complexity of America's refining infrastructure, which is already straining to meet demand, thus raising pump prices. Ethanol must be blended with gasoline. But ethanol absorbs water. Gasoline doesn't. Therefore, ethanol cannot be shipped by regular petroleum pipelines. Instead, it must be segregated from other motor fuels and shipped by truck, rail car, or barge. Those shipping methods are far more expensive than pipelines.

      There's another problem: Ethanol, when mixed with gasoline, causes the mixture to evaporate very quickly. That forces refiners to dramatically alter their gasoline to compensate for the ethanol. (Throughout the year, refiners adjust the vapor pressure of their fuel to compensate for the change in air temperature. In summer, you want gasoline to evaporate slowly. In winter, you want it to evaporate quickly.) In a report released last month, the GAO underscored the evaporative problems posed by ethanol, saying that compensating for ethanol forces refiners to remove certain liquids from their gasoline: "Removing these components and reprocessing them or diverting them to other products increases the cost of making ethanol-blended gasoline."

      In addition to the transportation and volatility issues, ethanol will add yet more blends of gasoline to the retail market. Last year, American refiners produced 45 different types of gasoline. Each type of gasoline needs specific tanks and pipes. Adding ethanol to the 45 blends we already have means we will be "making more blends for more markets. That complexity means more costs," says David Pursell, a partner at Pickering Energy Partners, a Houston brokerage.

      There's a final point to be raised about ethanol: It contains only about two-thirds as much energy as gasoline. Thus, when it gets blended with regular gasoline, it lowers the heat content of the fuel. So, while a gallon of ethanol-blended gas may cost the same as regular gasoline, it won't take you as far.

      What frustrates critics is that there a
      • 5 Years Ago
      The above article claims that petroleum based fuels have a better environmental footprint than ethanol – That’s False. That’s only if you include indirect land use change theory - junk science. We have pending legislation to suspend that for 5 years, and we may even REPEAL indirect land use change entirely - from the flawed provision in the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act. It will probably never be scientifically proven, because it’s based on false assumptions and inaccurate information. No matter how good your computer modeling is, using false assumptions and inaccurate information is going to give you false conclusions. Pressure is on the EPA to drop it, and without indirect land use change theory falsifying the numbers, corn based ethanol and soy based biodiesel both have excellent lifecycles that are over 50% better than petroleum based fuels. And it goes a lot higher than that, if you calculate the true lifecycle of crude oils.

      Furthermore, cellulosic ethanol is being integrated into existing corn ethanol refineries. We are starting to get another 400 gallons per acre from the cobs and the corn stover. Also being integrated with corn ethanol are onsite sources of manure, biogas digesters, and biomass gasification units - That will make corn ethanol refineries energy self-sufficient with CHP electric power and waste heat used for distillation. Algae is also being integrated into the corn ethanol waste stream. This will mitigate and exploit waste CO2, waste heat and nutrient-rich waste water effluent. the algae will provide addition onsite feedstock for more ethanol and corn oil, plus a variety of additional co-products, including complete protein food and feed suplements, bio-fertilizer and bio-plastic. In the near future, these upgrades and the coming “ethanol optimized” engines that get diesel-like torque and better mileage than gasoline, running on cheaper fuel, will make the lifecycle of ethanol way better than petroleum based fuels.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Ray says corn ethanol is bad economically and environmentally. Yes yes he does.

      According to a Duke University-led study, "Converting set-aside [land] to corn-ethanol production is an inefficient and expensive greenhouse gas mitigation policy that should not be encouraged until ethanol-production technologies improve."

      This is another in a long list of studies that dent the credibility of corn based ethanol as a viable source of environmentally or economically sound energy. In early February, a University of Minnesota study said that corn based ethanol is worse for the environment than gasoline.

      This Duke study has similarly dreary things to say about corn-based ethanol:

      Duke: Also, by the researchers’ accounting, the carbon benefits of using ethanol only begin to show up years after corn growing begins. "Depending on prior land use" they wrote in their report, "our analysis shows that carbon releases from the soil after planting corn for ethanol may in some cases completely offset carbon gains attributed to biofuel generation for at least 50 years."

      The researchers claim that cellulosic ethanol based on switchgrass would be better. Of course, the problem with cellulosic is that it's yet to be proven on a large scale.
      "Until cellulosic ethanol production is feasible, or corn-ethanol technology improves, corn-ethanol subsidies are a poor investment economically and environmentally," Jackson added.

      For now, setting aside acreage and letting it return to native vegetation was rated the best way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, outweighing the results of corn-ethanol production over the first 48 years. However, "once commercially available, cellulosic ethanol produced in set-aside grasslands should provide the most efficient tool for greenhouse gas reduction of any scenario we examined," the report added.

      The worst strategy for reducing carbon dioxide emissions is to plant corn-for-ethanol on land that was previously designated as set aside -- a practice included in current federal efforts to ramp up biofuel production, the study found. "You will lose a lot of soil carbon, which will escape into the atmosphere as CO2," said Piñeiro.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Ah, Raymond, do you think you're messing with "kids?"

      No one is converting "set-aside" (CRP) to corn production. In fact, as the amount of ethanol produced is rising, the amount of acres devoted to corn is falling. The added amount of ethanol is, largely, coming from steadily improving yields (which are achieved, btw, with less, and less fertilizer.)

      The MINNESOTA numbers only work if the set-aside land has been in Native Grasses for More than 15 Years, by the way. Same with Duke's.

      I am not aware of Any CRP land that has been in "Native" Grasses for 15 Years.

      In the year 2012 the world will Lose aprox. 5 Million Barrels of Oil/Day. We will "pick up" only about 1 Million. Meantime, we're coming out of Recession, and India, and China, combined, will be using close to 3 Million Barrels/Day more oil than they are, today.

      And, you want to wait ten, or fifteen years until "Cellulosic" can kick in what Corn is kicking in, now?

      I don't think so.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Galop, where are you getting your propaganda facts? Fox News? You say "The added amount of ethanol is, largely, coming from steadily improving yields (which are achieved, btw, with less, and less fertilizer.)" Yet this is contrary to what Iowa, Illinois, and Missouri Agricultural extension offices are reporting. The cost of corn products has risen drastically compared to the prices of other grains purely due to the mass amounts of corn that are being made into ethanol. Additionally the increased yields are coming from better fertilizers but that in no way means that they are clean, non-polluting products.
        Simply put, corn ethanol is not the answer to the environmental or foreign oil dependence problems we face. There are better alternatives pure and simple.
        You can buy your flex-fuel vehicle if you want, but don't be surprised when the corrosive ethanol causes a faster depreciation and higher maintenance costs than other vehicles. You will be paying much more in the long run.
      • 5 Years Ago
      What we need are cheaper corn products, not more expensive ones used for fuel. Where are we going to get our high fructose corn syrup for sodas and cheep beef if all that nasty corn is used for fuel?
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