Ethanol: A "Solution" Without a Problem

In the probably insane hope of building common ground with a pack of climate change deniers, Amy Ridenour's National Centre for Public Policy Research has released a quite-reasonable report on the wrong-headedness of subsidizing and/or mandating the refining of ethanol from corn.

Ethanol from corn doesn't help in the fight to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and diverting corn from its higher use as a food source is counterproductive. This issue provides a lively demonstration of what happens when government responds to self-interested lobbyists rather than, say, scientists.

Anyway, here's a gold star for Amy . Maybe she'll figure out the whole global warming thing soon and start making sense on that issue, too. 


“This issue provides a lively demonstration of what happens when government responds to self-interested lobbyists rather than, say, scientists.”

IE., self-interested lobbyists.

Scientists are called negative things only when they produce science people don’t like.

Damn those scientists and their rigorous methods, transparency, and aggressive self-criticism of science.

Until ethanol is produced in an environmentally friendly way, this is the price we will pay for demanding a “cleaner” fuel.

It is a well known fact that producing ethanol from corn is the worst possible way to offset carbon emissions. The amount of CO2 released during the production of ethanol from corn is only slightly less, some would say more, than what is saved by burning ethanol in your vehicle. Given that each cob of corn that is used to produce ethanol is no longer available as food stock, it becomes clear that we have decided to feed the machines instead of the people. The price of corn is then determined by who will pay more for it. Since there is a subsidy for corn grown to produce ethanol it only stands to reason that most farmers will sell their corn to ethanol producers. The law of supply and demand will drive the price of corn used as food much higher due to lower availability.

The long and short of the whole argument is that until big business begins to produce ethanol using renewable energy, solar wind etc., and also begins to use materials that we normally discard as waste, food scraps etc., we will continue to take food out of the mouths of babes to feed our cars instead.

The simple solution is to mandate better fuel economy, not ethanol production.

Until that happens we will be forced to use the wrong solution. cyb3r_ph4ntom

It is from a biolgical point of view impossible to make ethanol from anything other than bacterial fermentation of an organic source (usually some sugar or complex sugar structure). Unless you’re speaking of some fancy organic chemistry using methane, and adding an alcohol group onto it you still need to get the carbon from somewhere. Really in all ways I can think of it, it is impossible to use solar/wind/tidal etc energy source to make ethanol it has to come from an organic source.

How about switch to better crop species, but lets be honest about ethanol from corn, this is just the first step and not the final in biofuels. There will many more developments and improvements.

Rather than rushing headlong into producing ethanol simply for the sake of producing an alternative fuel, we should wait until a better alternative comes along. Given the slow pace at which this technology is developing, I don’t believe there will be an alternative method of producing ethanol for a very long time. If ever. Once we get established with producing ethanol from corn, all thoughts of any alternative method will be met with steep resistance.

If ethanol can only be produced from a very narrow range of “biologicals” then it is possible that the “dream” of an ethanol economy is similar to the dream of a hydrogen economy.

The hydrogen fuel dream is nothing more than a way for the auto manufacturers to pull the wool over our eyes.

Hydrogen fueled cars are a negative energy gain as well as a detriment to the environment. Yet everybody from the government down to your local car dealer will tell you that hydrogen fuel will eliminate all vehicular pollution. While it is true that your car will only expel water, the process by which the hydrogen was produced will create more pollution than your car ever would.

Is the production and use of ethanol the same lie we are being told about hydrogen, only with a new twist? cyb3r_ph4ntom

In Canada the issue of ethanol as a fuel is highly politicized, as the Creekside blog points out:

…As it turns out, promoting renewable energy is the precisely the business of the agri-biz astroturf group Canadian Renewable Fuels Association - you know, the guys who promote ethanol, the practice of feeding corn to cars to produce a 1% reduction in GHG

See the entire post, about Conservative lobbyists and about the Conservative government cutting Environment Dept. funding for research, while giving money to Natural Resources Dept. for its ethanol program.

The Harper government is greedy and destructive.

It’s called distiller’s grain and is used as animal feed.
But I don’t know what it’s food value is compared to the original corn product.
I totally agree that using only corn kernels to produce ethanol is a bad plan.
Save the kernels for food products. Use the corn stalk, and other “waste”, for ethanol production…if we must.
But, something that doesn’t seem to get much attention is the huge CO2 emissions from ethanol plants. Both the fermentation process and the massive use of natural gas, or worse coal, defeats the whole idea of producing “clean” fuel…