By on April 7, 2011

How things change in a few years! Just a few short orbits of the sun ago, automakers like GM were some of the biggest boosters of ethanol subsidies. Now, the Detroit News reports

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers – the trade association representing General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co., Chrysler Group LLC, Toyota Motor Corp. and eight others – opposes a bill sponsored by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, that would require 90 percent of all vehicles to run on E85 – a blend of 85 percent ethanol – by the 2016 model year.

Shane Karr, vice president for government affairs, said the mandate “would cost consumers more than $2 billion per year” for flex fuel vehicles if automakers passed on the full cost “even though consumers will have little or no access to alternative fuels. Therefore, such a mandate is essentially a tax with little consumer benefit.”

In the face of this new opposition, the Renewable Fuels Association has even taken to employing the rhetoric of market economics to justify market-manipulating ethanol subsidies. And it doesn’t seem to be convincing anyone. If anything, Harkin’s bill may just hasten the death of existing subsidies, which are under pressure as both Democrats and Republicans seek to trim the federal budget.

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32 Comments on “New Ethanol Bill Faces Automaker Resistance...”


  • avatar
    FromaBuick6

    Great.  I get to pay more for food all so I can get worse MPG.  Oh, and while we’re at it, let’s encourage poor farming practices so the cost of food eventually goes up even more.

    I’m so sick of these people.

  • avatar

    If you want to let Harkin know what a stinky bill this is, you can contact him at his DC office,
    (202) 224-3254. Such calls really are important. I’ve already made mine.

    • 0 avatar
      Truckducken

      David, congratulations and good advice which I unfortunately cannot follow. My issue, having spent much of my life in Iowa, is that I’d be unable to avoid going on a tirade. Harkin is a Stalinist disaster. Folks who call Obama a socialist should check this guy out to see what a real one looks like.
      The rest of you: please make your calls! But just remember ADM only needs to make one call to outvote you.

  • avatar
    HerrKaLeun

    Good to see that GM opposes subsidizing a non-viable business plan…… how things change after just a year.

  • avatar
    Ubermensch

    So glad to know that my Senator is continuing to push this boondogle.  E85 can’t die soon enough.

  • avatar
    ixim

    Harkin, I can understand – those subsidized farmers are his constituents; although, with rising food prices, partly due to the ethanol boondoggle, they don’t need them. But, for any other politician, killing ethanol should be a no-brainer. [I know, exchange of favors; enviro-baloney arguments, etc., etc.].

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      It is enviro-baloney.  Ethanol is loser from an environmental prospective.  More energy is used to farm the crops for it and producing it than is offset from not burning petroleum.  US farming is very energy intensive.  So, don’t blame environmentally responsible people.  I know of no educated “enviro” folks who support this boondoggle.  Instead , look to big agribusiness like ADM.  They support it because it makes them rich.  Just another special interest business group out for themselves at the expense of everybody else.  No amount of greenwashing is going to change the facts.

      • 0 avatar
        thornmark

        Golden, you are correct, corn ethanol production requires more energy than it displaces, every study not fund by the ethanol lobby agrees on that:
        Cornell ecologist’s study finds that producing ethanol and biodiesel from corn and other crops is not worth the energy:
        In terms of energy output compared with energy input for ethanol production, the study found that:

        corn requires 29 percent more fossil energy than the fuel produced;
        switch grass requires 45 percent more fossil energy than the fuel produced; and
        wood biomass requires 57 percent more fossil energy than the fuel produced.

        In terms of energy output compared with the energy input for biodiesel production, the study found that:

        soybean plants requires 27 percent more fossil energy than the fuel produced, and
        sunflower plants requires 118 percent more fossil energy than the fuel produced.http://www.news.cornell.edu/stories/july05/ethanol.toocostly.ssl.html

         

    • 0 avatar
      YellowDuck

      @golden2husky – Not true.  It does *not* take more energy to produce corn-based ethanol than the fuel contains.  That is a myth.  The best studies show a net energy balance of about 40%.  But anyway that is a red herring.  The real value of ethanol to the US is not its energy replacement, it is its *petroleum replacement* value per se.  Yes, a lot of energy goes into growing corn and making ethanol, but almost none of that is in the form of gasoline or diesel – it is mostly coal and natural gas.  So, you are using relatively abundant domestic energy sources to make a replacement for liquid petroleum, which is not abundant domestically.  The petroleum replacement value of corn ethanol is on the order of 8:1.  Eight MJ of liquid fuel replacement per MJ liquid petroleum consumed.  From that standpoint it makes sense.

      Having said all that, mandating broad E85 compatibility is still very stupid.  If all the corn in the country was used to make ethanol, you would still only replace 15% of the gasoline used.  And there is no way we are going to use even 50% of corn for that purpose, so anything higher than a 10% blend is useless in the grand scheme of things. 

      If cellulosic ethanol comes online as a realistic biofuel option, then at that point the increased supply might mean that higher blends start to make sense.  But by that point I suspect we will just be combusting the cellulose to make electricity for our EVs!

      • 0 avatar
        ixim

        I don’t have the reference, but, IIRC, 40% of this year’s US corn crop [inedible, maybe] will go for motor fuel.

      • 0 avatar
        charly

        40% is with using average maize, but the extra demand pushes more maize to be grown and one should use the energy consumption for those more marginal maize crops as input into the calculation for energy balance. If you do that the numbers aren’t good.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    Ethanol is no longer funny. People are starving. It has got to stop.

    “Rush to Use Crops as Fuel Raises Food Prices and Hunger Fears” by Elizabeth Rosenthal in the New York Times on April 7, 2011 at page A1.
     

  • avatar

    All that’s left is for John Kerry to say “I was for the ethanol before I was against it”.

  • avatar
    tparkit

    From the web:
    “Meanwhile in the (ethanol support) camp, Iowa’s Republican Senator Chuck Grassley and North Dakota’s Democrat Senator Kent Conrad have been rallying the troops to push for the Senate leadership to extend the biofuels measures. Their letter has been signed by Senators including Sam Brownback of Kansas, Kit Bond of Missouri and Tom Harkin of Iowa, along with Senators from the Dakotas, Minnesota, Nebraska, Illinois and Michigan.”

    I dearly hope the Tea Party can dispatch some of these sonsofbitches the next time around.

  • avatar
    couper

    as citizens wise up to the premature death of their gas engines due to ethanol, the corn industry resorts to psychological warfare. they’re pushing their garbage thru NASCAR as all-American, patriotic,green,responsible : whatev. the low revs of a street car [especially a city commute] do not dissipate the damage. ask a boat [a hole in the water you throw money into] owner. so very few car owners recognise the actual source of the destruction and go on to unfairly (?) blame the vehicle manufacturer. Detroit [et al] can well afford the suits and lobbyists to defend the side of bread that gets buttered and needs to make this argument as their priority of future investment.

    • 0 avatar
      mazder3

      Go up to your local landscaper and ask much they like ethanol. There won’t be a one who does. Many have needed to buy new equipment as the cost to repair the damage from ethanol eating away gaskets and gumming up carbs is more than buying new.

    • 0 avatar
      SimonAlberta

      I really don’t know what to believe on this issue. I accept what people are saying about engine damage but I have run an old 1983 Dodge full-size van for nearly 400,000 kms on 10-15% ethanol blend and it is still going strong.
       
      The only engine issue is slight oil burning due to perished valve stem seals but I can’t say that is ethanol related, 28 years and high miles the more likely culprit there. I’ve had no fuel line or carburetor issues (well, the Carter BBD carb is a piece of junk but that is not germain)…perhaps old fashioned engines are immune to ethanol damage?

  • avatar
    TrailerTrash

    As I heard someone say last night….

    when we start burning our FOOD for fuel, it’s the beginning of the end.
    The world has 2 valuable resouces, fresh water and food.
    Both are in decline since humans cannot stop their growth rate.
    Now we are beginning to burn one of these for our cars.

    Extrordinary.
    Really.

  • avatar
    philadlj

    Whenever I see one of those FlexFuel badges – or an ad for ethanol during a NASCAR race, for that matter – I either sigh or do a facepalm. Raising corn at the unnatural industrial scale we need to feed ourselves is unsustainable enough as it is. American corn-based ethanol is waste of corn, a waste of energy, a waste of money, and a waste of time. Whatever needs to be done – politically or practically – to get rid of it as an fuel option in America – cheaper hybrid/EV tech, eliminating subsidies, more drilling for oil and natural gas – I’m all for it. Corn Ethanol needs to go away…yesterday.

    • 0 avatar
      M 1

      Not all of us are (D) voters drinking the kool-aid. I bought a FlexFuel Suburban because checking that box gives me lots and lots of much higher-quality stainless steel parts. But I have no intention of running that crap.
       
      Enjoy your facepalm.

  • avatar

    Corn ethanol is the Rube Goldberg bipartisan HOAX of a “biofuel” that just keeps on getting.

    There is actually a glut of gasoline in this country and the world market…only speculators can tell us why thats not reflected in prices. Consequently, ethanol will always have a price obstacle…and as light-duty fuel efficiency gets better, that obstacle gets higher.

    Corn is kinda of a crappy product anyway. Its got big crop rotation needs and the water, erosion, fertilizer and diesel is not exactly sustainable agriculture.

    Ethanol is not able to be piped and requires dedicated tankers that are always empty on the backhaul. 

    The shame is the real biofuel, biodiesel, gets the short end of the stick in any renewable fuel discussion.

    • 0 avatar
      asapuntz

      If people are willing to pay extra for the flexibility diesel affords, what’s so bad about a couple bucks to make gasoline engine designs ethanol-tolerant?

      Fuel flexibility seems a decent goal, economically and environmentally. There’s nothing wrong with ethanol itself, aside from reduced range due to lower energy density. It can come from sources other than corn and, depending on production methods, it can be carbon neutral.

      Seems to me that most of the objection is over corn subsidies, not more robust engines.

      Anyway, we know the US isn’t especially keen on diesel’s cost/benefit, but the ethanol one seems easier.

      • 0 avatar
        couper

        asapuntz – some of us oil burners [diesel] do NOT care to pay more for a fuel that requires less processing. for our engines we can cut corn/veg oil with kero or home oil at a buck or two cheaper per gallon and continue to run with less internal damage(s). gasoline ignition/combustion is a whole different science. yes, fuel flexability is a very admirable goal – economically and environmentally; considering the final cost(s) to the end user [we automotive dependents].

  • avatar
    asapuntz

    > some of us oil burners [diesel] do NOT care to pay more for a fuel that requires less processing

    I’m talking about paying more for the engine to give fuel flexibility. Diesel engines cost more than “basic” gasoline models, but give you more flexibility when it comes to fuel selection.

    Flex fuel gas engines probably have less of a price premium – after all, they’re just dealing with corrosion issues, not higher pressures/temperatures – while providing improved fuel options. Ethanol can be derived from a variety of sources, not just corn.

    So, while not as flexible as diesel, flex fuel engines provide options for the future, if we want to reduce dependence on crude. In the meanwhile, it’s also insurance against a tank of “bad gas”.

    Also, I believe biodiesel has some of the same issues as ethanol blends – lower energy density and corrosion due to increased water content. To use it in higher % blends, the engines need some minor improvements.

    • 0 avatar
      couper

      + 1 – tks for the expanded reply. well put …

    • 0 avatar
      SimonAlberta

      This water content issue has me confused. Here in Canada one of the pros to using ethanol blended fuel was supposedly that it serves as a gas-line anti-freeze in winter because it absorbs the water in the fuel lines making them dryer.
       
      In any case, since when has water in the fuel system led to corrosion – hasn’t all fuel always contained water and aren’t the fuel systems designed to cope?

    • 0 avatar
      rpn453

      Since it is questionable that it will ever happen, let’s wait until we can produce ethanol in a sustainable economic way before requiring that I spend any amount of money on a compatible engine.


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