Ethanol must go!
In June, the Biden regime raised the amount of ethanol required to be produced in 2022 to 15 billion gallons. The supposed reason was to "reduce our reliance on foreign oil," which we easily do could do by drilling for more oil. It also eliminated previous exemptions from oil refineries and provided $700 million for 195 biofuel producers in 25 states. Ethanol got a big boost in 2005, when the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program was created under the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPAct), which amended the Clean Air Act (CAA). The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA) further amended the CAA by expanding the RFS program. Since then, the EPA has been increasing the required amount of production nearly every year. But is ethanol renewable? Is it good for the environment? Does it reduce our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions? Does it impact food prices? Is it bad for your car engine?
The claim that ethanol is a renewable fuel is not only dubious, but a lie. In a study dating back to 2009, a Cornell agricultural scientist found that an acre of U.S. corn yields about 7,110 pounds of corn for processing into 328 gallons of ethanol. But planting, growing, and harvesting that much corn requires about 140 gallons of fossil fuels. The energy economics gets worse at the processing plants, where the grain is crushed and fermented. As many as three distillation steps are needed to separate 8 percent ethanol from 92 percent water. Adding up the energy costs of corn production and its conversion to ethanol, 131,000 Btu are needed to make 1 gallon of ethanol. One gallon of ethanol has an energy value of only 77,000 Btu. This means that 70 percent more energy is required to produce ethanol than the energy that actually is in ethanol. Ethanol is not a renewable resource.
Is ethanol good for the environment? The EPA's own data show that corn ethanol is worse for the environment than conventional gasoline. In 2010, the agency published a 1,100-page document that detailed the environmental and economic effects of the Renewable Fuel Standard. The EPA found that ethanol-blended fuel increases "emissions of hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxides, particulate matter and other pollutants," and that will "lead to increases in population-weighted annual average ambient PM [particulate matter] and ozone concentrations, which in turn are anticipated to lead to up to 245 cases of adult premature mortality." Ethanol production has led to sizable increases in associated environmental impacts, including nitrate leaching, phosphorus runoff, and soil erosion. The nitrogen oxides are the same compounds that the European Union is trying to restrict farmers from using to grow their crops and feed their animals. Ethanol is not good for the environment.
As far as greenhouse gas emissions go, it's not looking good. Research funded by the National Wildlife Federation and Department of Energy found that ethanol might be 24% more carbon-intensive than gasoline due to emissions resulting from land-use changes to grow corn, along with processing and combustion. Ethanol does not reduce carbon footprint.
How does ethanol impact food prices? A study recently published by the National Academy of Sciences found that the Renewable Fuel Standard increased corn prices by 30% and the prices of other crops by about 20%. It also expanded corn acreage by 8.7% and total cropland by 2.7%. All of this requires more petroleum products and more fertilizers and results in more damage to the environment. Ethanol has an inflationary impact on food prices.
Let's look at the impact on your car engine. Ethanol tends to absorb and hold water. In your gas tank, this can cause many problems. First, if the temperature drops significantly, the water separates and drops to the bottom of the tank, and the engine will not run when it sucks up the water. Second, the gasoline loses about three octane points, reducing energy density and power. Third, the ethanol can gum up the fuel system.
What about damage to the engine? The EPA has admitted that ethanol can cause damage. First, ethanol leans the air/fuel ratio (increases the proportion of oxygen relative to hydrocarbons), which can lead to increased exhaust gas temperatures and potentially increase incremental deterioration of emission control hardware and performance over time, possibly causing catalyst failure. Second, ethanol can cause materials compatibility issues, which may lead to other component failures. Ethanol is not good for the internal combustion engine.
Ethanol is not renewable. It is bad for the environment. It increases GHGs. It increases food prices. It's bad for your car. We need to get rid of this misallocation of farmland and resources. We need to stop burning our food in our cars.
Image: Tony Webster.