By on October 18, 2008


Nearly all the ethanol brewed in the United States is from yellow feed corn; while development into green technology may be hailed by conservationists, it may produce little if any benefit to our lives, and may even trouble them.

Consider the points: If a gallon of gasoline had a price tag of $3.03 (ah, those better days), it would take $3.71 to extract the equivalent from corn for that gallon of gas (similar inefficiencies go for soybean-produced biodiesel as well). And if mass production is perfected, each E85 gallon would still pump 16 pounds of carbon into the atmosphere!

Even if Americans turned our entire corn and soybean arsenal into biofuel, they would replace just 12 percent of our gasoline usage and a paltry 6 percent of diesel, while squeezing supplies of corn- and soy-fattened pork, beef and poultry. Not to mention Corn Flakes.

However, there is a biofuel still in production that in my opinion would fare better than E85 – cellulosic ethanol. Sources for the fuel include agricultural and forestry waste, municipal solid waste, paper pulp, and fast-growing prairie weeds.

And the energy output from it would be two to 36 times that of the gasoline input! Along with that, it will produce 1.9 pounds of carbon dioxide, a 91-percent reduction of gasoline.

I certainly hope this cellulosic ethanol project works, for it obviously outperforms corn. Corn Flakes, anyone?

Dale Satre
Seventh-grader, J. Douglas Adams Middle School

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14 Comments on “E85 Boondoggle of Day: 7th Grader Just Says No To Corn...”

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    That was excellent! High Five, Dale.

  • avatar

    Way to go, Dale. When the fuel takes more energy to produce than it provides, it is a no win for your pocket, the planet, or just about everybody, unless you are a corn farmer.

  • avatar
    George B

    Gasoline is now selling for $2.459 per gallon here in Plano, Texas. Even if the original feedstock was free, it’s fairly expensive to separate alcohol from weak mixtures of water and alcohol.

    While bio-fuels get the attention and political help, I believe that the potentially economically viable alternative to gasoline is making methanol from coal. The following Forbes article throws cold water on the economics of even this cheaper than corn ethanol way of making an alternative to gasoline.

    Despite the current dip in gasoline prices, I’d start down the road making our car fleet compatible with alcohol fuels. I’d require fuel sytems to use materials that are compatible with ethanol and methanol so cars could be converted if gasoline became more expensive per BTU than alcohol. Flex-fuel-lite without the cost of the optical sensor.

  • avatar

    All the ethanol production is simply an agricultural subsidy; it serves no genuine purpose.

    The energy-independence silliness also gets on my nerves. Our energy sources are very diverse, the primary being Canada. Forcing US customers into the use of extremely expensive domestic energy isn’t really helping anyone. Oh yes, you politicians: offshore drilling is not going to change the world oil price by a penny!

  • avatar

    As annoying as middle schoolers can be, I really have to admire how well he states his point.

  • avatar

    @ arapaima
    Had a bad experience with a middle schooler lately?

    Mmm, soy-fattened.

  • avatar

    like.a.kite> Middleschoolers & highschoolers seem to like to throw things a peoples rides because it’s funny….at least around here.

  • avatar

    Ethanol should be consumed orally as God intended

  • avatar

    Most kids are unable to give a serious comment about a contemporary issue without coming off like nails on a chalkboard. It’s not that their point is bad or wrong, they just come off poorly because they still speak like a kid, they’re too mechanical (what they say is usually a string of factoids) and they’re usually smug as hell. As I re-read the letter a few times it starts to sound more and more like my stereotype.

  • avatar

    Although there’s no proof that this was written by a seventh-grader, I agree with his (her) sentiments exactly.

    I’m sure that ADM the corn “farmer” does not.

  • avatar

    Whether or not he’s real, whether or not he wrote that letter himself, the content of the letter can’t be refuted.

    This is nothing more than an educational problem.

    The people who graduate from high school without knowing the difference between positive and negative.

    Those people grow up and become votors or (eep!) politicians.

    For this, I blame the government schools…

    But for that, I have to blame … us, because we allow government schools, even after having suffered their damaging impact over the last several decades.

    Yeah, it’s a big nasty circle, isn’t it?

  • avatar

    If this is real, it’s refreshing to see a person of any age actually showing some logic and critical thinking skills. This country seems to be sorely lacking in these.

  • avatar

    Please, I didn’t hear this much preaching in church.

    Ethanol from corn returns 25% more energy than it consumes according a University of Minnesota study from 2006. Biodiesel actually returns ~93% more energy.

    There are very few cellulosic ethanol plants operating and they collectively produce only a few million gallons a year; they’re still in research phase trying to master the techniques to mass produce cellulosic ethanol. The corn ethanol plant the next town over from me produces 50 million gallons a year.

    Ethanol from corn is not a long term solution but it is the best we have now. We are and should be researching new technologies. But ethanol from corn serves a purpose as a gasoline oxygenate (unless you want to go back to MTBE). It also helps US farmers who have struggled with under priced corn for years. Corn was $1.99 a bushel in 1973; in 2005, it was $2.04/bushel. That’s part of the reason so many farmers invested in ethanol plants.

  • avatar

    Ethanol from corn is wealth redistribution.

    From Standard Oil to ADM.

    Evidently, wealth redistribution is all the rage.

    These days.

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