moldybluecheesecurds 2

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

How much more can we hate ethanol?

Folks rip it for being made from fossil-fuel intensive corn, for having less energy per gallon, and for getting subsidies. But here's my deal on ethanol:
  1. You got anything better to stick in your tank? Don't tell me about hydrogen or cellulosic ethanol or any other pipe dream of a fuel. Do they sell it at Super America?
  2. Where does oil money go? OPEC. Where does ethanol money go? Farmers. Half of ethanol plants are owned by corn farmers in cooperatives.
  3. Heard ethanol will increase food prices? Not by as much as higher oil prices, which add a shipping premium to all those supermarket foods. And to reference #1, do you have a better plan?
Ethanol. Imperfect, but better than nothing.


rick said...

Argument 2 notwithstanding, is it known that ethanol is cost-effective? We use petroleum to fertilize and harvest the corn, and then we truck it to gas stations, most of which are far from cornfields.

Regarding argument 2: we already spend so much of our land growing subsidized corn. Perhaps more ethanol is better than more high fructose corn syrup, but we won't get much of either without topsoil. (for example, see below figure 11.1:

jff said...

The energy balance for ethanol is positive (1.25), meaning we get 1.25 units of energy for every 1 unit invested. This is one reason that ethanol cannot displace petroleum in significant quantities.

The topsoil issue is a significant one, which is why cellulosic ethanol (from native grasses) would be a much better manner of producing ethanol. Unfortunately, the price per gallon is still commercially prohibitive (although one could argue the same for federally-subsidized corn ethanol...).

An interesting blog post by an energy expert recently noted that any biomass-derived fuel is probably a poor investment because photosynthesis is so inefficient (compared to solar).