Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Ethanol: Dangerous, Delusional Bullshit

Ethanol is not just hype -- it's dangerous, delusional bullshit.

Ethanol doesn't burn cleaner than gasoline, nor is it cheaper. Our current ethanol production represents only 3.5 percent of our gasoline consumption -- yet it consumes twenty percent of the entire U.S. corn crop, causing the price of corn to double in the last two years and raising the threat of hunger in the Third World. And the increasing acreage devoted to corn for ethanol means less land for other staple crops, giving farmers in South America an incentive to carve fields out of tropical forests that help to cool the planet and stave off global warming.

So why bother? Because the whole point of corn ethanol is not to solve America's energy crisis, but to generate one of the great political boondoggles of our time. Corn is already the most subsidized crop in America, raking in a total of $51 billion in federal handouts between 1995 and 2005 -- twice as much as wheat subsidies and four times as much as soybeans. Ethanol itself is propped up by hefty subsidies, including a fifty-one-cent-per-gallon tax allowance for refiners. And a study by the International Institute for Sustainable Development found that ethanol subsidies amount to as much as $1.38 per gallon -- about half of ethanol's wholesale market price.

The ethanol boondoggle is largely a tribute to the political muscle of a single company: agribusiness giant Archer Daniels Midland (ADM).

Today, ADM is the leading producer of ethanol, supplying more than 1 billion gallons of the fuel additive last year. Ethanol is propped up by more than 200 tax breaks and subsidies worth at least $5.5 billion a year. And ADM continues to give back: Since 2000, the company has contributed $3.7 million to state and federal politicians.

From "Ethanol Scam: Ethanol Hurts the Environment And Is One of America's Biggest Political Boondoggles," in RollingStone Magazine

MP: The chart above shows the 5-year return on ADM stock (+200%, top blue line) vs. the S&P500 (+60%, bottom red line).


At 7/31/2007 10:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Quite correct but, someone has figured out how they can make money on this anyway.

At 8/01/2007 6:49 AM, Blogger holeydonut said...

I'm curious - historically, at what point do government subsidies get lifted?

Do subsidies become permanent in the sense that the market now expects the subsidized price and fails to accommodate an equilibrium price without subsidies?

At 8/01/2007 9:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Subsidies get lifted when the beneficiaries can no longer pay the rent on their politicians. (Contrary to popular opinion, our politicians can't be bought, only rented.)

At 8/02/2007 7:34 AM, Blogger juandos said...

"Do subsidies become permanent in the sense that the market now expects the subsidized price and fails to accommodate an equilibrium price without subsidies?"...

Can you say, " war on poverty "?

Then there is that much ballyhood Ponzi Scheme called Social Security ...

Those subsidies haven't been lifted because voters like politicos can only be rented except the politicos are using YOUR money for the rent checks...

Obvious hat-tip to anonymous...

At 8/02/2007 8:07 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Where does ethanol (aka grain alcohol or ethyl alcohol) come from? It is made by distilling any fermented brew, whereas ethyl alcohol boiling point is below both that of water and (dangerous) methyl alcohol. Ethanol is the alcohol that we drink in beer, wine, and cocktails.

It takes energy to create it during the distillation process. It is by no means a "free" and unlimited energy source. It requires a food substance with sugar and/or carbohydrates to create the fermented brew. The higher the sugar content of the crop, the more efficiently it can be brewed. Thus, sugar cane is a much better source than corn. It is true that by growing corn, we are also "growing" an energy source that is, in fact, replishable. However, to make ethanol a reasonable, cost-effective energy source, a vast amount of corn must be grown - far, far more than we can possibly can. Plus, corn is a major food source. It is either ethanaol or food, but not both at the same time in any viable economic scenario. It is far easier and better to reduce enerygy consumption than it is food consumption. Better to import energy than it is to import food.

Ethanol is but wishful thinking. It cannot work. We best find a much better new source of energy, such as hydrogen production - perhaps by tapping into an unlimited geothermal source, such as the Yellowstone caldera that can produce steam to drive turbines which can produce electricity so as to release hydrogen from water. And from that, power up fuel cells.

As for subsidies, consider the venture in developing SynFuel (oil from coal) during the 1970's. It still exists. It still reaps vast fortunes and government subsidies. And there is yet no SynFuel.


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