More From the Science-Based Administration

Every study I have ever seen has said that corn ethanol is only marginally energy-positive when its growing and production costs are considered and barely breakeven on CO2.  In other words, it costs a lot and does nothing, even before one considers negative effects to food prices and land use.

So of course, the Obama administration may soon demand that we subsidize more of it

Burdened by falling gasoline consumption and excess production capacity, ethanol producers appealed to the government on Friday to raise the 10 percent limit on ethanol in most gasoline blends to as high as 15 percent.

Ethanol plants are closing across the country and some ethanol producers are declaring bankruptcy. The appeal will require the Obama administration to decide whether to increase federal support for the industry, which has already benefited from an array of subsidies, tax credits and Congressional production mandates.

"Approving the use of ethanol blends up to 15 percent is a necessary and positive step," said Bob Dinneen, president of the Renewable Fuels Association, an industry lobbying group, "to ensure the full potential of a robust domestic ethanol industry."

The Environmental Protection Agency and the Energy Department have been testing higher ethanol blends. The E.P.A. has nine months to review the request, but it could decide before that to increase the blend cap slightly, to 12 or 13 percent.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu has indicated that he would favor at least a small increase in ethanol levels unless auto companies said there was a risk the change would damage their products.

At least the article is marginally honest - its starts with the true reason for the mandate - improving the bottom line of favored businesses, not energy or environmental policy.  Chu seems to be joining Krugman as another Nobel prize winner turned political hack.  In the past I have had Chu's supposed gravitas thrown at me in climate debates -- I think this should settle just how Chu makes choices between what science tells him vs. what politcal pressures are demanding.


  1. DrTorch:

    "Every study I have ever seen has said that corn ethanol is only marginally energy-positive"

    Really? Because I've read a few studies that said corn ethanol is energy negative.

    In the end, after sifting through several studies, and trying to decipher what's being unsaid, I accept that it's slightly energy-positive...but only if done right.

  2. anon:

    Even if you assume the proponents' most optimistic numbers, it is only slightly net positive (IIRC, about 1.3 BTU out for every BTU in).

    Now for a quick homework problem, calculate the number of acres necessary to replace 50% of the country's current oil consumption -- assume all energy inputs to make ethanol are from ethanol, which is from your corn.

    Once you've done that, compare the acres to the area of a midwestern state.

    Wake me up if you end up with less than two dozen Iowas of nothing but corn - no houses, cities, roads, lakes, just total area. (I got 34.5 Iowas, but that was several years ago).

  3. Brad Warbiany:

    “Approving the use of ethanol blends up to 15 percent is a necessary and positive step, to ensure the full potential of a robust domestic ethanol industry.”

    Wow... He's not even rent-seeking under the ruse of saving the environment or reducing our dependence on foreign oil...

    It's just a blatant call for government to give them jobs.

  4. perlhaqr:

    Damnit, I don't want my gasoline to cost more and have lower energy density!

  5. IgotBupkis:

    The important question no one ever hears is, "how much damage does ethanol usage do to cars?" The stuff SUCKS UP moisture, meaning you're applying water over time to various internal mechanisms that generally don't respond well to water-encouraged oxidation -- aka "rust" -- So are we getting not even doubly screwed, here, but triply so? Are we
    a) Paying to subsidize ethanol production
    b) paying higher prices in the supermarket
    c) paying more for maintenance on our cars? Shortening the life-span of the same, requiring faster replacement as well?

    Depend on "the government solution" to screw you up six ways from hell. It likely is.

  6. IgotBupkis:

    > I accept that it’s slightly energy-positive…but only if done right.

    I accept that it's totally brain-damaged, and "done right" is only possible if you include "not doing it at all" as one of the options, AND take that option.

  7. Ted Rado:

    As a chemical engineer, I am amazed how much nonsense is being spouted by our leaders re the alternative energy field. Any second year engineering student could quickly calculate that ethanol, wind, sun, and all the other proposed energy schemes will never be able to supply large amounts of energy reliably and at an acceptable cost, for fundamental and insurmountable reasons. The DOE's main purpose seems to be to shove money out the door to fund crazy research and keep the professors happy. Thet can then claim they are "doing something".

    The first thing is to do a paper study in which it is assumed that the proposed scheme will work as the proponent hopes. The calcs will determine raw material requirements, efficiency, feed material supply, capital and operating costs, etc. If it turns out that, even if the scheme works as hoped, it is no good, then it is dropped. No need to spend jillions of dollars on R&D on something that is not doable even if it works.

    Ethanol is a great example. It is not only uneconomical, but there is not enough land to produce very much of our needs, and most of it, if not all, would be consumed in its production. Yoohoo! Is there an engineer in Washington?