Latest posts by James H. Rust (see all)
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The EPA has put out a proposal to reduce the amount of ethanol mixed with gasoline to be reduced in 2014 by 3 billion gallons from the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) mandate of 18 billion gallons. The renewable fuel industry is asking their members to write to the EPA asking the original mandate be kept. This lobbying will be very intense.
Ethanol from corn reminds me of the sonnet by Elizabeth Barrett Browning: “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.” The re-write for ethanol from corn is: “How bad is ethanol from corn? Let me count the ways.”
One could write a book about negative features of ethanol from corn. It take more energy to produce it than contained in the product. Ethanol has two-thirds the energy content of gasoline; so you get two-thirds the mileage using ethanol as a fuel.
Ethanol absorbs water which makes it a corrosive material for storage in metal containers. For this reason ethanol or ethanol-gasoline blends are not transported in pipelines. Ethanol is transported in tankers or rail tank cars. Now there is concern about ethanol blends causing corrosion in underground storage tanks (UTS) with environmental problems from leaks. Organizations demanding EPA concerns are discussed in this paper.
Because diesel fuel is involved in all aspects of ethanol from corn production and transportation is a big reason it requires more energy to make ethanol than the product contains. The energy balance has to go from the corn field to the gas tank. Diesel fuel is involved with tilling, planting, harvesting, and transporting corn to a refinery. A lot of energy is expended in converting corn to ethanol. Pipelines are the most energy efficient means of transporting fuels; however, ethanol has to be transported by diesel-fueled tankers.
Corn is a debilitating crop that requires much water and fertilizer for its growth. A Purdue University study claimed 18 inches of rainfall is necessary for a thriving corn crop. With a corn yield of 150 bushels per acre and 2.4 gallons of ethanol per bushel of corn, this requires 1,360 gallons of water for plant growth per gallon of ethanol. Add in 200 gallons of water to process corn into ethanol yields a water requirement of 1,560 gallons of water per gallon of ethanol. The 2014 EPA proposed 13 billion gallons of ethanol from corn mandate requires 20 trillion gallons of water annually. This is more water than 320 million Americans use for all activities. The 20-40 billion gallons of water used annually by the oil and gas industry for hydraulic fracturing (fracking) pale in comparison to ethanol requirements.
Proponents of ethanol say water requirements are unimportant because most of it is rainfall. This argument is specious because the water could be used for something more important like growing food for consumption. Another factor is irrigation is widely used in corn production–especially in times of drought like the summer of 2012. Withdrawals from the Ogallala Aquifer are seriously depleting this major water resource in the Great Plains.
Due to political maneuvers in corn states, the country is saddled with an industry that produces 13 billion gallons of ethanol annually. This requires over 5 billion bushels of corn grown on more than 36 million acres. The vast land requirement led to a devastating article on environmental problems producing ethanol from corn. “The secret, dirty cost of Obama’s green power push” by AP writers Dina Capiello and Matt Apuzzo on November 12, 2013. Millions of acres of wet and grass lands were cleared for corn crops and runoff of fertilizer from corn fields has helped create 6000 square miles of a dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico at the Mississippi River mouth.
Vehicles running on ethanol generate higher concentrations of ozone than those using gasoline, especially in the winter, Stanford researchers have found. That could create new health concerns in areas where ozone hasn’t been a significant problem before. A report by the National Academy of Sciences also confirmed ozone producing problems using ethanol as a fuel.
Ethanol is damaging to fuel lines, carburetors, and other parts of older engines. Increasing ethanol use above the 10 percent mixture of ethanol and gasoline (E-10) is expected to ruin cars older than 2001 and all two-cycle engines used in lawnmowers, chain saws, weed eaters, leaf blowers, and a host of other small motor applications. With 13 billion gallons of ethanol being used at this time, the “blend wall” is reached in which all gasoline produced in the United States is mixed with 13 billion gallons of ethanol results in E-10 mixtures.
The renewable fuel industry frequently claims ethanol from corn lowers the price of transportation fuels. This claim is patently false. The Department of Energy recently published the “2012 Renewable Energy Data Book” which gives the average 2012 ethanol price of $4.48 per gallon of gasoline equivalent and the average 2012 price of gasoline of $3.29. The 35 percent higher price for ethanol also existed for prices from 2000 to 2011.
Due to the great corn demand for producing ethanol, the price of corn has escalated from about $2 a bushel in 2005 to as high as $8 a bushel in 2012. Corn is a mainstay food crop for the world. It is not only food for humans, but a major source of feed for poultry, pigs, and cattle. Higher food prices in poor nations has produced life threatening problems for the poor living in those countries.
The Arab Spring that swept across North Africa in 2011 is reported to be partially due to higher corn prices. “U.S. biofuel expansion has cost developing countries $6.6 billion in higher food costs,” estimates Tufts University economist Timothy A. Wise in Fueling the Food Crisis, a report published by ActionAid. A 10-minute video interview with Wise about his research is available here.
This is a short list of reasons to encourage the EPA to stay with the proposed 2014 ethanol mandate of 13 billion gallons. Much pressure from the renewable fuels industry will be exerted to stay with the EISA mandate of 14.5 billion gallons. Lawsuits are being proposed.
Fortunately, Energy Citizens provides an easy way to write to the EPA and demand they follow their proposed guideline for 2014 ethanol use via the notice that follows. After making this contact, forward this notice to associates and ask them to send similar letters. The renewable fuels industry and environmental movement supporters will generate hundred of thousands of letters asking to abandon this reduction.