Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Ethanol:Profitable Only With Tax-Breaks and Tariffs

Current grain-based ethanol production systems damage soil and water resources in the U.S. and are only profitable in the context of tax breaks and tariffs.

The current focus on ethanol from corn illustrates the risks of exploiting a single source of biomass for biofuel production. A growing percentage of the U.S. corn harvest – 18% in 2006 – is directed towards grain ethanol production. This has not only resulted in record-high corn prices, it has produced strong incentives for continuously-grown corn, higher-than-optimal use of nitrogen fertilizers, the early return of land in conservation programs to production, and the conversion of marginal lands to high-intensity cropping. All of these changes exacerbate well-known environmental problems associated with intensive agriculture.

From The Ecological Society of America's policy statement on "Biofuel Sustainability." The Ecological Society of America is the country's primary professional organization of ecologists, representing 10,000 scientists in the United States and around the world.


At 1/15/2008 9:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

General Motors announces partnership with Coskata to make ethanol from garbage this would produce pump prices that are 50 cents to $1 less per gallon than gasoline -- even before federal ethanol subsidies.

The cars that can use this fuel are already in production and the first GM/Coskata commercial ethanol (from garbage) plant could be running within one year.

If we call ethanol made from corn, corn ethanol, what will we call ethanol made from garbage?

At 1/15/2008 12:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

From your link:

"Coskata President and Chief Executive Bill Roe said the firm will seek other partners and expects to have a plant capable of making 100 million gallons annually by the end of 2010. The fuel would be mixed with gasoline to create E85, a blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gas."

The California experience with E85 is highly instructive. E85 is highly corrosive requiring its own infrastructure as well as cars specifically designed to withstand its corrosive effects. Auto makers, and gas stations lost millions on E85 because consumers did not want to buy a fuel that is less efficient than gas (ie. you can't go as far on a gallon of ethanol as you can on a gallon of gas). Additionally, ethanol has to be trucked to its destination because it cannot be shipped by pipeline (not exactly carbon neutral).

This article doesn't account for the cost to bring the product to market. There is not sufficient information provided to say whether ethanol from garbage will be any more economically viable than ethanol from corn whether used in 10% blend or as E85.

At 1/15/2008 7:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

amen bro! leave it to george bush to select ethanol as his administration's only energy solution.

now we can have $3.00 gas and $10 bread!!!!!

At 1/20/2008 4:20 PM, Blogger Bill Anderson said...

Oh the "anonymous" crowd strikes again. "Ah the joys of 'plausible deniability".

Myth: Ethanol requires trucking it around
Fact: Ethanol can be sent via pipeline.

Yes, you can ship ethanol and E85 via pipeline. You can't ship it down the same pipe as you do oil because well, it cleans the pipe of the oil. Also, does "anonymous" think that all these gas stations have pipelines to them? They don't. They use *gasp* trucks. Just what do you think is in those tanker trucks?

As far as "efficiency", ethanol is not less efficient than gasoline, it is more efficient when used properly. Efficiency is not measure by how much energy a substance contains, but by how much net energy is obtained during the consumption of the fuel as compared to it's original estimate of energy content.

"Anonymous" is ignorant and needs to learn basic terminology.

Also, the relationship between energy content of fuel and distance traveled is not a one to one mapping.

My E85 powered vehicle gets 80% (more in some conditions) of the fuel economy that it does on G100. Therefore, it goes further on $2 of E85 than it does on $3 of G100 or E10. Fact.

The cost to bring to market ethanol is the same regardless of the source. The only thing the feedstock changes is the cost to produce. That "anonymous" needs to go to an economics and business class.

In fact, the ability to produce it from such a variety of feedstocks means the cost to deliver may be lower in many cases. For example, diverting household trash at the local landfill to an on-site ethanol plant does not increase the cost of transportation to the plant because that infrastructure is already running every day.

Take the daily inflow, produce ethanol and ship locally. To compare this, most cities do in fact get their gasoline trucked in. If you reduce that supply line usage by 85% (or 40 or 50) you reduce the net energy, pollution, and cost of the fuel going into your tank.

The major benefit of alcohols as fuel is that they are cheaper, safer, and can be produced from many feedstocks in nearly any populated area.

What is more efficient and less polluting: shipping oil from Saudi Arabia to the US, pipelining it to refineries, converting it to gasoline and pollution, then trucking across the country to gas stations; or using "waste" material already being collected, diverting it to an onsite conversion facility, and trucking the resulting alcohol to local gas stations?

When we did not have a local Ethanol plant our E85 was more expensive. Using locally produced E85 our E85 per0gallon price is more than 40% lower than gasoline. That means we spend less money to travel the same distance even if you used the artificial 2/3rds claim instead of real world results.

If the cost of the local ethanol reduced by another 30-50 cents, the difference will be tremendous. Apply this to any major city and you've got a helluva shift.

Further, while many talk of ethanol in terms of transportation, it is also of use in producing electricity. If the energy in this new process is low enough, it would make sense to also and/or alternatively use this to make all-in-one sites that take in "waste" using existing infrastructure, produce ethanol, and output electricity.

At 1/20/2008 5:04 PM, Blogger Bill Anderson said...


You led with a statement reflected in your title, but didn't back it up in your post. What's up?

For someone of your caliber, I expect better. I'd also like to see you turn your attention to what would be the profitability of gasoline/oil if the US stopped using troops to "protect" the oil.

Oh and to the anonymous who said "3$ fuel and 10$ bread":
The price of oil is a greater influence in the price of food. After all you can't ship food via pipeline, right?

The invasive cost of oil will have a far greater effect on food prices than ethanol. From packaging to distribution, production to plastics, oil is the main driver these days.

Transitioning to an alcohol based transportation industry, and a concomitant alcohol based plastics industry is key to eliminating this problem.


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