Ethanol Backfire?

By John O'Dell September 13, 2007 Ethanol's big in the Midwest, where farmers are establishing new acreage records for the amount of land devoted to the corn used to make it .

The Detroit 3 automakers all are pushing ethanol, which is mixed with gasoline (usually 5 percent to 15 percent ethanol in the blend) to help oxidize it and to help stretch our petroleum supplies a bit.

But we caught this sign, of discontent it seems, posted under the prices at a Shell station in Dearborn, Michigan, less than 2 miles down Michigan Avenue from Ford Motor Co.'s world headquarters.

In three days of driving around the Detroit-Dearborn-Auburn Hills area visiting U.S... auto executives recently, we didn't spot another sign like it.

We wonder, though, if it doesn't signify that there's been a bit of rethinking of the ethanol experiment as people find out the plant-based fuel reduces mileage because it packs less energy wallop per gallon than gasoline.

Especially perplexing is the fact that the oil companies aren't reducing the price of ethanol-blended gasoline to reflect the decline in fuel efficiency.

What's your thinking on the subject?
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blackadder5639 says: 3:03 PM, 09.13.07

Unless there is a cost-effective way of producing ethanol and thus making E85 significantly cheaper than regular gas and diesel, ethanol is not going to work.
 
Besides, I think ethanol has the potential of causing more environmental problems. I can imagine that it takes a agricultural resources to produce enough ethanol as fuel. Secondly, agricultural resources may be focused on ethanol for cars instead of food for humans. Thirdly, if ethanol proves very lucrative worldwide, it could lead to more widespread deforestation as forests are cleared for ethanol farms.
 
I suspect that in countries like Brazil, ethanol is cheaper than gas and diesel and that's why it's successful. But even in thesuccessful case, the strain on agricultural resources and deforestation remain serious shortcomings.
 
Electric cars (if the battery problem can be solved) and biodiesel (which is made from wasste material and not fresh corn) are probably better long-term options.

steve_ says: 9:10 PM, 09.13.07

I don't think that ethanol is much of a solution, largely for the same reasons that Blackadder has listed. Plus it's too subsidy dependent now. And while I planted a clump of switchgrass in my yard last week for grins, I don't have a lot of hope that biodiesel will deliver the goods anytime soon either.

karens says: 1:00 PM, 09.14.07

Having grown up amongst the corn and bean fields of Illinois I can understand the farmers excitement and hopes for ethanol. However, I am also skeptical that ethanol will be making them rich.

kyfdx says: 7:37 AM, 09.15.07

Ethanol is the payback for all the money that ADM lobbyists spread around Washington.
 
The process is government-subsidized at every level. Without the subsidies, ethanol is more expensive than gasoline and less efficient. Its only positive is that it is a renewable fuel source. However, even that attribute might not be true, once the energy used to grow the corn and process the fuel is factored in.
 
Now, it seems that food prices are rising, due to the acreage that is being converted to corn for ethanol production.
 
Disregarding the negatives of ethanol production, the best case scenario is a 5% decrease in petroleum usage for automobile transportation. It seems it would be easier and more cost effective to achieve that through fleet mileage goals and incentives, than with the ethanol boondoggle.

tbakke says: 1:44 AM, 09.17.07

I've seen several signs like this here in Madison, WI. Sadly, one gas station took it away, but another still has it. I try to get 100% gasoline whenever possible.
 
Ethanol is not the solution. If anything Brazilian ethanol is closer to the solution, but the US (and many other countries) are getting this all wrong.

ateixeira says: 10:29 AM, 09.19.07

They use E10 here in MD, and I've noticed a small drop in efficiency since the switch.
 
Subsidies should only be short-term. After a while they have to be able to stand on their own.

drdr2 says: 1:01 PM, 09.21.07

All motor vehicle gasoline in MN contains 10% ethanol.
  
You can buy non-ethanol fuel for off road use. I put it in my outboard boat motor and lawnmower. The non-ethanol fuel isn't advertised like this, though.

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