The Truth About Cars » Bio-fuels http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Wed, 23 Apr 2014 11:48:14 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Bio-fuels http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/category/news-blog/bio-fuels/ US Energy Department Unveils Four-Year Strategy For Alternative Energy http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/us-energy-department-unveils-four-year-strategy-plan/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/us-energy-department-unveils-four-year-strategy-plan/#comments Tue, 15 Apr 2014 11:15:27 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=798026 South_Point_Wind_Farm

The U.S. Department of Energy unveiled last week a four-year plan that would advance the goal of energy security by building upon as many alternative sources as possible, further reducing dependence on imported petroleum.

Autoblog Green reports the 27-page plan illustrates the proposed aims of the DOE to double the amount of energy produced by renewables, improve battery technology, usher in advances in biofuels and hydrogen fuel cells, and push further electrification of vehicles.

In addition, the DOE also has strategies ready for testing the nation’s nuclear deterrent for safety, security and overall effectiveness, as well as boosting the tools needed to bring improvements on the nation’s security infrastructure.

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2014 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel Pulls 28 MPG Highway http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/2014-ram-1500-ecodiesel-pulls-28-mpg-highway/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/2014-ram-1500-ecodiesel-pulls-28-mpg-highway/#comments Wed, 05 Feb 2014 16:32:26 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=733673 2014 Dodge 1500 EcoDiesel

Truck Mountain may still be held by the soon-to-be-lightened Ford F-150, but the fuel-efficiency battle in the valley below is already underway, thanks to Ram’s 1500 EcoDiesel pulling the highest mile-per-gallon highway rating of any light truck in the United States at 28 mpg.

Through an announcement made by the Environmental Protection Agency’s FuelEconomy.gov website, the 1500 EcoDiesel also nets 20 mpg in the city to create a combined rating of 23 mpg; the four-wheel drive variant offers 27 mpg on the highway, 22 combined.

Fighting alongside its brother, the 1500 HFE’s 3.6-liter V6 gasoline powerplant puts out 25 mpg on the highway, 18 in the city, and a combined rating of 21 mpg.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles began assembly in late January at their Warren Truck Assembly Plant in Detroit, with deliveries expected by dealers — who will be allowed to place their orders February 7 — later this month. Once on the lot, expect to pay $30,465 to start, just $2,850 more than to purchase a 1500 that could answer the question about whether or not it has a Hemi. Trim levels available with the powerplant include Tradesman, SLT (both excluding short-bed/regular cab combos), Outdoorsman, Big Horn, Laramie and Laramie Longhorn.

The light-duty diesel pickup — the first to be offered since General Motors sold such trucks in the mid-1990s — is powered by a 3-liter V6 made by FCA subsidary VM Motori S.p.A. in Italy, and produces 240 horsepower and 420 lb-ft of stump-pulling torque, which is sent through a TorqueFlite eight-speed automatic to the bed and bonnet.

Aside from being fuel efficient, the 1500 EcoDiesel is also green thanks to its ability to use B20 biodiesel, and its urea-enhanced exhaust treatment system. The system, which comes with a particulate filter and selective catalyst reduction as well, reduces smog-producing nitrogen oxide emissions, allowing the truck to be compliant with pollution standards in all 50 states. The urea used to treat the exhaust must be replaced every 10,000 miles.

As far as sales are concerned, FCA has high hopes for demand of the 1500 EcoDiesel. Ram boss Reid Bigland estimates that up to 30 percent of 1500 sales will be diesel-powered.

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Audi Invests In Synthetic Gasoline From Sugar http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/audi-invests-in-synthetic-gasoline-from-sugar/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/audi-invests-in-synthetic-gasoline-from-sugar/#comments Sat, 01 Feb 2014 08:33:57 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=729082 Audis at an Oil Pump

Audi’s bio-fuel initiative is expanding into France through an investment by the automaker to Global Bioenergies, whose bio-isooctane could be the replacement for petroleum gasoline when the time comes to make the switch.

The bio-fuel is made from fermented sugar through genetic modification of E. coli bacteria to produce isobutane gas without poisoning the yeast utilized in the fermentation, an issue currently experienced in ethanol production. The longer-lasting process works with feedstocks like corn and sugarcane as well as straight sugar, and can also be adapted to use biomass such as high-glucose wood chips.

At the pump, bio-isooctane can go directly into a vehicle without modification to the engine and fuel-delivery system, or can be blended with petrogasoline in the same manner as E15 and E85. The biogasoline may also come with a lower price per gallon or litres, as the fuel can be produced much quicker and cheaper than ethanol and other bio-fuels.

For the moment, Global Bioenergies is building two working proof-of-concept production plants in Germany and France, whose total annual output is expected to be 100,000 litres. Audi’s investment will be used to help in the rollout of the new fuel as part of the automaker’s branded e-fuel strategy, with bio-isooctane completing the triad with Audi’s investments in ethanol and biodiesel for their complete lineup of vehicles.

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Gasoline Power To Dominate U.S. Highways Through 2040 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/gasoline-power-to-dominate-u-s-highways-through-2040/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/gasoline-power-to-dominate-u-s-highways-through-2040/#comments Fri, 20 Dec 2013 13:30:56 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=684682 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray

The green warriors who hoped EVs and hybrids would be the dominate force on the highways of America may need to wait a bit longer: the United States Department of Energy predicts gasoline will be the fuel of a generation until at least 2040.

In fact, the DOE’s Energy Information Administration states in a report issued earlier this week that 78 percent of all vehicles on the road in 2040 will still burn fossil fuels, though more efficiently; the EIA predicts an average of 37.2 mpg at that point in time. While 42 percent of all vehicles will use some form of advanced fuel-saving technology, plug-in hybrids and full EVs will each account for only 1 percent of sales.

As for the pump, the EIA believes a gallon of gas will rise to the equivalent of $3.90, with diesel tagged for $4.73. The agency also predicts 30 percent increase in miles traveled from 2012 through 2040, and overall fuel consumption in the nation’s transportation sector to fall by 4 percent.

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For First Time, E.P.A. Proposes Cutting Renewable Fuel Standards’ 2014 Ethanol Requirement for Gasoline Blends http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/11/for-first-time-e-p-a-proposes-cutting-renewable-fuel-standards-2014-ethanol-requirement-for-gasoline-blends/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/11/for-first-time-e-p-a-proposes-cutting-renewable-fuel-standards-2014-ethanol-requirement-for-gasoline-blends/#comments Mon, 18 Nov 2013 14:00:02 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=653906 rfs

While ethanol producers have been lobbying to increase the blend of that alcohol in standard gasoline to 15%, many in the auto industry have opposed that increase, saying that it could damage cars. Now the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has, for the first time, proposed reducing the ethanol requirement in the nation’s fuel supply. Actually, what they are proposing is a smaller increase in the overall use of ethanol, which means that the national standard may not be raised to E15.

Enough ethanol is being produced to meet the EPA’s current requirements. Most of that is used to make E10, a 10% ethanol / 90% gasoline mix, and E85, which is 85% ethanol. The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 and the Renewable Fuels Standard mandate increasing the amount of ethanol used in the national fuel supply, but the EPA is facing what has been called the “blend wall”. If any more alcohol is mixed into regular gas it will push the overall blend above 10%, which could create problems with the fuel systems of cars.

The requirements project a use of 15-15.52 billion gallons of ethanol and the EPA is recommending that refiners and blenders use a total of 15.21 billion gallons, within the lower range of the projections.

Says the EPA:

[The] EPA is proposing to adjust the applicable volumes of advanced biofuel and total renewable fuel to address projected availability of qualifying renewable fuels and limitations in the volume of ethanol that can be consumed in gasoline given practical constraints on the supply of higher ethanol blends to the vehicles that can use them and other limits on ethanol blend levels in gasoline.

The move was praised by the oil industry and criticized by ethanol makers and farmers.

Biofuel supporters were even more disappointed than those backing corn ethanol, with the EPA proposing to significantly reduce the cellulosic biofuel standard. Producers haven’t been able to make anywhere near the original standards.

The EPA said, “Based on an assessment of the available volumes of cellulosic biofuels, EPA is proposing to set the cellulosic biofuel standard at 17 million gallons, significantly lower than CAA target of 1.75 billion gallons (PDF).”

These are proposed changes in the rules. There will be a period for public comment followed by hearings before any of the proposals are given the force of law.

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Oregon Considers Per-Mile Tax On Fuel-Efficient Vehicles http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/01/oregon-considers-per-mile-tax-on-fuel-efficient-vehicles/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/01/oregon-considers-per-mile-tax-on-fuel-efficient-vehicles/#comments Fri, 04 Jan 2013 15:51:38 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=472333

“Everybody uses the road and if some pay and some don’t then that’s an unfair situation that’s got to be resolved,” said Jim Whitty, manager of the Oregon Department of Transportation’s Office of Innovative Partnerships and Alternative Funding.

Ah, yes. As with any number of current governmental activities, the rationale for per-mile taxation will be fairness.

With the recent American election safely delivered into the appropriate hands, there’s no longer any need to sugar-coat the facts of life in the United States, is there? So let’s not. The unemployment rate is dipping because many people have simply given up and have either stopped looking for work or have dropped off the five-year cliff beyond which the Bureau of Labor no longer considers people unemployed – as if being unable to find a job for five years and one day was somehow equivalent to swanning one’s way off to Sun City, AZ. Meanwhile, we’re reassured that the middle class hasn’t disappeared — it just looks like the lower class now.

This modern life, this grey parade of single mothers and hopeless, underemployed men listlessly piloting the oldest automotive fleet in the country’s history between 29-hour-a-week “part-time” jobs, dismal food, and lonely evenings lit only by the constant flickering of the Internet as the one-percenters and rich kids of Instagram breeze past in an ever more obscene panoply of tasteless, pumped-up hyper-SUVs and bluff-faced, BMW-based Rolls-Royces. It’s not just bad for morale. It’s bad for taxes. And if some of the nation’s proles have the nerve to swing a loan for a more fuel-efficient car in the hopes of simultaneously preserving scarce resources and making a long-term positive economic impact in their own lives… well, something will have to be done.

The Statesman-Journal reports that Oregon has started a pilot program to study the implementation of a per-mile travel charge. This was apparently done in response to stricter CAFE standards and concerns that a smaller fleet of more fuel-efficient vehicles would impact gas taxes, which are already declining as more and more people just stay home.

Under the pilot, about 50 participants in Oregon paid 1.56 cents per mile and received a credit for the gas tax they paid at the pump. Participants, which mainly included transportation officials and lawmakers, chose from five plans with different ways to track miles driven and pay their bill.

They could report miles driven using a smartphone application, a geographic positioning system device or a reporting device without GPS.

Participants could also pay a flat annual charge or opt out of using a gadget in the vehicle to record miles.

The existing state gas tax is thirty cents per gallon, so this program would effectively return revenues to the days when the notoriously thirsty Ford Explorer was simultaneously doing 400,000 units or more a year and punishing the buyer of each one with real-world fuel mileage in the 15-mpg range. If you’re wearing a tinfoil hat right now, you’ve no doubt considered a likely implementation scenario where the flat fee will be based on a very high annual mileage and payable in a high-three-figure lump sum, while the privacy-eroding GPS-tracking device will be easy to use and the most affordable choice.

Insofar as this program deliberately encourages people to hold on to older, less fuel-efficient vehicles, the Obama administration will surely have an opinion on Oregon’s antics. The state’s famously liberal urban residents might also have a strong opinion about a program that seems targeted at electric and plug-in vehicles. One question perhaps not covered in the pilot program is this: If a young man lets a pair of valets put two hundred miles on his father’s vintage Ferrari, will running it in reverse on a pair of jackstands result in a tax refund?

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Peak Oil, Meet Plateauing Demand http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/10/peak-oil-meet-plateauing-demand/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/10/peak-oil-meet-plateauing-demand/#comments Mon, 08 Oct 2012 15:17:22 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=462998

TTAC is no stranger to the topic of Peak Oil, but the theory has fallen by the wayside with the recent explosion in unconventional oil and gas. A study by the British think tank Chatham House argues that the biggest issue facing oil and gas producers in the coming century isn’t Peak Oil, but Peak Demand (summary here).

The crux of Chatham House’s argument rests on the reformation of the transportation industry – a desire for fuel-efficient automobiles, the expanding use of biofuels and government regulation mandating reduced carbon emissions has all led to a slackening demand for oil.

Those factors, combined with the rise in “unconventional” supplies, like shale gas could have drastic effects on the oil and gas industry. In 2009, 95 percent of energy used in the global transportation sector came from petroleum. In 2030, Chatham House estimates this number could be as low as 60 percent. One interesting component of this actually comes from China. Chatham House argues that because their fueling infrastructure isn’t so tied into “legacy” fuels like gasoline, there is significant potential for them to be on the leading edge of alternative fuel adoption.

The report cites the increasing adoption of fuel-efficient vehicles like hybrids, Generation Y’s reluctance to drive cars and the potential for CNG powered automobiles as some of the largest drivers of peak demand phenomenon. Among the unintended consequences of reduced driving would be a significant drop off in tax revenues for municipalities that levy a gas tax. Reduced sales of fuel would naturally reduce revenues.

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Biodiesel From Sewage Is Cheaper Than Ever http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/09/biodiesel-from-sewage-is-cheaper-than-ever/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/09/biodiesel-from-sewage-is-cheaper-than-ever/#comments Sat, 01 Sep 2012 13:00:01 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=458550 Click here to view the embedded video.

It’s not often publicly remarked upon, but the emphasis on biofuel capacity in the United States has a bit of an international political component to it. American farms exported well over 100,000 metric tons of corn and oilseed in 2010. Some major portion of that production was sent to oil-rich areas which are short on food. The E85 boondoggle can be viewed as a simple declaration to those nations: we can burn your food in our cars, but you can’t eat your oil.

America’s pretty good at producing another item besides food, however, and if early research is any indication, it could be used to run a significant portion of the nation’s car and truck fleet.

According to an article in Chemical & Engineering News, a new process developed by a team led by South Korean scientist Eilhann Kwon makes it easier to extract lipids from… well, you know:

Kwon and his colleagues found a cheaper feedstock for biodiesel production: sewage sludge, the semisolid material left over from wastewater treatment. This sludge is a rich source of lipids, the starting material for biodiesel. Most of sludge’s lipids come from bacteria living in it.

Kwon and his team used n-hexane to extract lipids from sludge pellets from a wastewater treatment plant in Suwon-City, South Korea. Compared to published yields of lipids from soybeans, the sludge produced 2,200 times more lipids per gram of feedstock. Sewage sludge is also a cheaper lipid source than soybeans, Kwon says. Each liter of lipids that the researchers extracted from sludge cost $0.03, while previously published data shows each liter from soybeans costs $0.80.

However, impurities including free fatty acids in the lipids extracted from sewage sludge would interfere with the conventional catalytic process for making biodiesel. So Kwon’s team developed a noncatalytic method that would work in the presence of free fatty acids and other impurities in the feedstock…

To test their idea, the team continuously fed methanol and the extracted sludge lipids into a reactor containing porous activated alumina and heated the reactor to 380 °C. Adding carbon dioxide to the reactor improved the reaction’s yield. The researchers’ method converted about 98% of the sludge lipids to biodiesel.

And there you have it. There’s nothing new about the idea of converting sewage sludge to energy: see this article for an early set of ideas on the topic. Furthermore, sewage sludge already has a cash value: you may be eating some of it right now. This new process maximizes the biofuel return, however, and makes it an attractive choice for future energy.

Will the day come when solar-powered home centrifuges generate biofuel from every toilet in the household? Well, it’s certainly no less likely to happen than, say, a national power infrastructure that would allow everyone in America to charge their Volt or Leaf on 220volt juice without browning-out the whole country every evening.

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Ask An Engineer: Natural Gas For Dummies http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/06/ask-an-engineer-natural-gas-for-dummies/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/06/ask-an-engineer-natural-gas-for-dummies/#comments Wed, 27 Jun 2012 15:49:48 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=450553

Westport Innovations has just signed a second deal with General Motors to produce light duty natural gas engines, and it’s probably not the last time we’ll be seeing these kind of partnerships forming. Natural gas vehicles have been explored previously on TTAC, but the technology hasn’t been fully explored in-depth, aside from some well-informed comments in various articles.

As a fuel for vehicles (light duty as well as commercial vehicles), natural gas has a number of attributes which fit well with our current political narratives and economic realities

  1. Natural gas is 30-50% cheaper than diesel per unit of energy
  2. Abundant domestic supply
  3. Environmental benefits (lower GHG and tailpipe emissions)
  4. Significant reduction in CO2, CO, UHC, NOx, SOx and PM emissions versus conventional gasoline and diesel engines.

Natural gas can be used across the full spectrum of spark ignition (gasoline type) and compression ignition (diesel type) engines with the appropriate enabling technologies. While spark ignition natural gas engines have been available for quite some time (such as the NG powered Honda Civic), compression ignition natural gas engines have required further development. The difficulty is that while natural gas burns cleanly, it is less likely to auto-ignite (octane rating of 120-130), unlike diesel, which has a lower octane number. This quality of natural gas is advantageous for a spark ignition engine as it prevents detonation and allows for higher compression ratios, but makes it detrimental for a compression ignition engine.

Westport has devised a dual-fuel direct injection system to enable natural gas substitution in a compression ignition engine. The fuel injector at the heart of this system is able to inject both liquid diesel and gaseous natural gas in precisely metered quantities directly into the cylinder. In this system, the diesel fuel ignites as a result of compression as it would in a regular diesel engine. The combusting diesel fuel initiates the natural gas combustion. 93-95% diesel substitution is achievable according to public documentation. This innovation is directed at the heavy-duty diesel market which includes everything from transport trucks to locomotives.

One of the main criticisms is the lack of infrastructure surrounding natural gas. Compressed natural gas (CNG) is easier to store and transport than liquefied natural gas (LNG) so it is the optimal choice for light duty applications. LNG has a greater volumetric energy density but is more expensive to store, transport and ultimately use in a vehicle as it must be kept cold and pressurized to remain a liquid.

Vehicles like the Civic Natural Gas have a reduced range relative to a gasoline Civic, but commercial vehicles, like transport trucks, are emerging as one of the prime candidates for natural gas engines. Large transport trucks are a significant contributor to green house gas emissions and are on the road enough to make the conversion cost effective – though LNG, rather than CNG, would be the fuel of choice. A relatively small number of LNG filling stations placed along major transport corridors could meet their fueling needs and present a great way to thoroughly evaluate the technology. Less complex CNG stations could be added if the decision was made to target light duty vehicles.

Going “all in” on CNG/LNG is a little premature at this point, but the adoption of natural gas as a transport fuel is a good first step in reducing our emissions while other alternative technologies reach maturity. More in-depth discussion is always welcome in the comments.

“Ask an Engineer” is hosted by Andrew Bell, a mechanical engineer and car enthusiast. Andrew has his MASc in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Toronto, and has worked on Formula SAE teams, as well as alternative fuel technologies in Denmark and Canada. Andrew’s column will explore engineering topics in the most accessible manner possible.

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Will Natural Gas Prevent Us From Reaching A Better Place? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/03/will-natural-gas-prevent-us-from-reaching-a-better-place/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/03/will-natural-gas-prevent-us-from-reaching-a-better-place/#comments Thu, 08 Mar 2012 16:56:18 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=434384

A brief piece in the Wall Street Journal’s “Dealbook” discussed the potential of natural gas powered vehicles, largely as a way to stop falling prices for natural gas.

One hope for many natural gas producers reeling from collapsing prices is wider adoption of natural-gas-powered cars.

The biggest hurdle so far: lack of infrastructure to refuel them.

But Steven Mueller, CEO of Southwestern Energy, says if 10% of passenger cars were powered by natural gas, gasoline prices would fall by $1.60/gallon and gas producers would get 4 billion cubic feet/day in demand.

The global supply of natural gas is way up, thanks to shale deposits in the United States and other locales. Currently, the Honda Civic GX is the best-known CNG vehicle on sale currently. Buses, taxis and other commercial vehicles have been running on CNG for years, but Dodge is set to introduce a Ram Tradesman that can run on CNG – other work trucks have been converted to run on natural gas by their owners (at significant expense), but this looks to be one of the first OEM-engineered work trucks with this capability.

An NPR report (sponsored by a natural gas lobby group) touched on President Obama’s visit to a big rig factory, some of which were powered by natural gas. Obama proposed – you guessed it - tax incentives for alternative fuel vehicles, including natural gas. Natural gas vehicles aren’t that popular around the world, but have a certain following – Brazilian Fiat Siena taxicabs, LPG powered Volvos and the famous Panther platform Crown Vics and Town Cars that serve as taxi and livery cars in Toronto all exist, albeit in very small numbers.

Natural gas could potentially be a “black swan event” for the auto industry, a cheap, clean-burning fuel that could allow for both domestic energy independence and the continued hegemony of the internal combustion engine. Drivers wouldn’t have to worry about foreign oil, range anxiety or battery bricking.

The obvious problem is the lack of infrastructure. Natural gas filling stations are scant, to put it mildly. But there are rumblings (so far unsubstantiated – but keep watching TTAC for more info) that building filling stations, be it for hydrogen or other fuels, is easier and cheaper than trying to develop serious long-range, quick charging, sustainable and affordable battery technology. If this turns out to be true, then it suggests that electric cars will be forever relegated to “second car/commuter car” status.

A final note: Israel, home of Better Place and their battery swapping stations, is said to have enormous shale oil and gas deposits (so much for the joke about the Israelites wandering for 40 years and finding no oil). Aside from the obvious geopolitical implications, what kind of future would that leave for the Better Place program?

 

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Kanpai! Toyota Turns Wood Into Booze http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/10/kanpai-toyota-turns-wood-into-booze/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/10/kanpai-toyota-turns-wood-into-booze/#comments Mon, 03 Oct 2011 19:16:02 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=413373

One of the biggest complaints about biofuel is that food is turned into fuel while people go hungry. Price hikes for staples have been blamed on ethanol production, especially subsidized ethanol production. Ethanol is usually made from sugarcane, corn, and beets. Grapes find their way into fuel tanks instead of wine glasses, rice is often driven instead of eaten.  Woodscraps and agricultural residue would be less of a moral and financial hazard if converted into fuel. However, it proved resistant against yeasts. Today, Toyota took reporters to a lab in Aichi and showed off a yeast that wood-scraps, dead leaves, straw etc find highly irresistible.

That genetically altered yeast will happily turn otherwise inedible plants and fibers into ethanol. That yeast has such a great appetite for scrap that Toyota hopes to soon “achieve production-cost parity with other liquid fuels such as gasoline.” The yeast on steroids is thought to be ready for deployment by 2020 and should help reduce CO2 emissions while driving.

My forebears were German brewers, and my Weihenstephan-trained father taught me that CO2 is a byproduct of fermentation (it’s the fizz in beer), but that’s another story. In the meantime, Toyota should rush this stuff to America, it will find a ready market here.

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Where Are Our Green Car Priorities? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/07/what-is-americas-fuel-economy/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/07/what-is-americas-fuel-economy/#comments Fri, 15 Jul 2011 17:04:42 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=402839

As a relatively pragmatic person who generally chooses the imperfect-yet-achievable path rather than agonizing over the perfect-but-unattainable goal, this chart [from a fascinating Boston Consulting report, in PDF here]  frustrates me. I understand why Americans choose hybrid-electric cars as their most favored “green car” technology, but from their it gets fairly crazy. EVs are fantastic on paper, but in the real world they’re still far too expensive, their batteries degrade, they have limited range, oh and did I mention that they’re freaking expensive? Biofuels, America’s third-favorite “green” transportation technology can be fantastic in certain limited applications, but the ongoing ethanol boondoggle proves that it will never be a true “gasoline alternative.” Finally, at the bottom of the list, Americans grudgingly accept only relatively slight interest in the two most promising short-term technologies: diesel and CNG. Neither of these choices is radically more expensive than, say, a hybrid drivetrain and both are considerably less expensive and compromised than EVs at this point. So why are we so dismissive of them?

And here’s how deep the irony goes: America is, apparently, far more sensitive to lifetime costs, and is particularly concerned with upfront costs. So if 56% of Americans are not willing to pay any extra upfront for a “green car,” and only 38% are willing to pay more upfront if it pays off over time, why do 64% claim to be interested in EVs? After all, the battery-powered cars that are currently on the market cost considerably more upfront (on average) than comparable hybrids, diesels and CNG cars. Even the most hard-core EV fans admit that buying an electric car now makes no financial sense, and even hybrids must be driven a huge number of miles to pay off its upfront premium compared to a comparable gasoline or CNG car. American consumers had some of the highest “don’t understand” response rates across the board, but when you break down the data you can’t help wondering if there should have been a few more.

But don’t blame Americans. After all, we’re so well-protected from our energy externalities (a topic I covered recently when I called for a serious push to increase gas taxes), that we couldn’t possibly be expected to know or care about fuel-efficient technologies as our $8/gallon-paying bretheren across the pond and around the world. As this chart shows, the US government lags other developed nations and regions in its fuel economy standard… but even this isn’t the real story. After all, the current argument being made by automakers is that they will be forced to put more cost into future CAFE-compliant cars which consumers will not find worthwhile if gas prices don’t rise. Which brings us back to the real issue:

The problem, it seems, is that America still sees “fuel efficient” cars and “green” cars as being fundamentally different. Just look at the rise of high-priced cars that are green for the sake of being green, and offer no chance paying back their additional costs compared to comparable cars that are simply “fuel efficient.” Fisker’s Karma is “green,” while a 335d is “fuel efficient.” Chevy’s Volt is “green” but the Cruze Eco is merely “efficient.” Tesla’s Roadster is “green” but a Lotus Elise is amazingly efficient. I could go on, but the point should be fairly clear: because “green” has become such an aspirational marketing trope, and because we are still so insulated from the price motivation that drives nearly everyone else on earth to save fuel, we can’t even evaluate the “green car” options out there in a way that makes any sense. In my mind, this is a troubling sign of the market failure that comes from hidden externalities… and as a believer in market solutions, I hope American consumers can start looking at alternative drivetrains with more objectivity in the near future.

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Senate Votes To Repeal Ethanol Tax Credits http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/06/senate-votes-to-repeal-ethanol-tax-credits/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/06/senate-votes-to-repeal-ethanol-tax-credits/#comments Fri, 17 Jun 2011 15:32:51 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=399203

Cracks continued to in the ethanol industry’s once-impregnable political vanguard, as the San Francisco Chronicle reports that the Senate has voted to roll back the Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit (VEETC) as well as import tariffs on foreign-produced ethanol. This rollback of multi-billion-dollar ethanol credits failed earlier in the week, when the Detroit News reports automakers came out in opposition of a bill that would have required that 95% of all cars built in the US be capable of running 85% ethanol by 2017. The Senate did fail to pass a repeal of a government ethanol blending mandate that underpins the VEETC, however, and funding is moving forward for ethanol blending pumps. Still, the Senate’s repeal of VEETC alone means taxpayers could save over $5b per year on subsidies, and as one expert puts it

“Looks like we’re going to be relying on the biofuels mandates to make sure blenders use biofuels, rather than bribing them to use it with $6 billion,” [Bruce Babcock, professor of economics and the director of the Center for Agricultural and Rural Development at Iowa State University] said.

In fact, Babcock thinks killing the subsidy could help ethanol because it would come out from the stigma of being a subsidized industry. And removing the subsidy may strengthen support for the mandate, and the tariff on imports.

Over to you, House of Representatives…

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What’s Wrong With This Picture: E15 Ethanol Is Coming Edition http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/06/whats-wrong-with-this-picture-e15-ethanol-is-coming-edition/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/06/whats-wrong-with-this-picture-e15-ethanol-is-coming-edition/#comments Fri, 10 Jun 2011 15:36:54 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=398121

Reuters reports that White House has approved a label for E15 ethanol blends, which warn motorists not to use the higher blend if their vehicle was built before the 2007 model-year. What Reuters won’t show you is the final label design that was approved… was it the EPA’s proposed design (above), or one of the ethanol lobby’s proposed alternatives (see gallery below). Clearly there’s a bit of a difference between the two, and the EPA was under quite a bit of pressure to not go with the orange-and-red “CAUTION!” version. In documentation from hearings on the E15 labeling issue [PDF], you can read executives and lobbyists expounding at length about the fact that ethanol is good for America, and that labeling shouldn’t discourage the use of E15. Which it doesn’t…. in 2007 and later vehicles. And if you check the EPA’s docket on the issue, you’ll find plenty of good reasons for preventing “misfueling”.  Luckily few gas station owners are likely to invest in E15 pumps anyway, so you may never actually see this label in the wild.

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Quote Of The Day: The Beginning Of The End Of Ethanol Edition http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/05/quote-of-the-day-the-beginning-of-the-end-of-ethanol-edition/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/05/quote-of-the-day-the-beginning-of-the-end-of-ethanol-edition/#comments Tue, 24 May 2011 23:47:58 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=396008

Over the course of TTAC’s coverage of US ethanol subsidies, I’ve often wondered why nobody made a political issue out of slaying an ever-growing waste of tax dollars ($6b this year on the “blender’s credit” alone). And with the political rhetoric about America’s debt prices rising, I’ve been wondering with more and more regularity when someone will finally take the ethanol fight to the American people, who are already voting against ethanol with their pocketbooks. But just last December, Al Gore explained why not even he, an environmentalist standard-bearer, could oppose the corn juice he knew was bad policy, saying

It is not a good policy to have these massive subsidies for first generation ethanol. First generation ethanol I think was a mistake. The energy conversion ratios are at best very small… One of the reasons I made that mistake is that I paid particular attention to the farmers in my home state of Tennessee, and I had a certain fondness for the farmers in the state of Iowa because I was about to run for president.

The Iowa primary is a key early contest in the Presidential election, and because Iowans grow and refine a huge amount of corn ethanol, campaigning against ethanol subsidies in Iowa is a non-starter. At least that’s what the conventional wisdom was before today, when, with nearly nine months to go before the primary, the impossible just happened.

Republican governor of Minnesota Tim Pawlenty announced his candidacy for the 2012 presidential election today in Des Moines, Iowa with a speech that emphasized the need for truth in American politics. And he put an exclamation point on that theme by standing in front of Iowan farmers and saying (among many other things):

I’m here today to tell Iowans the truth, too.

America is facing a crushing debt crisis the likes of which we’ve never seen before. We need to cut spending, and we need to cut it.big time. The hard truth is that there are no longer any sacred programs.

The truth about federal energy subsidies, including federal subsidies for ethanol, is that they have to be phased out. We need to do it gradually. We need to do it fairly. But we need to do it.

Did a Republican presidential candidate just take the position Al Gore said he should have (for environmental reasons) but didn’t have the guts to? Have we entered Bizarro World? Not exactly, as the Washington Examiner points out

Pawlenty added caveats — that it would have to be phased out and not immediately, and by saying, “I’m not some out-of-touch politician. I served two terms as Governor of an ag state. I fully understand and respect the critical role farming plays in our economy and our society. I’ve strongly supported ethanol in various ways over the years, and I still believe in the promise of renewable fuels – both for our economy and our national security.”

But he added that, “even in Minnesota, when faced with fiscal challenges, we reduced ethanol subsidies. That’s where we are now in Washington, but on a much, much larger scale.”

So, nobody said politics was going to be all inspiring all the time. Still, regardless of political predilections, anyone who has followed the ethanol mess should be able to agree that Pawlenty’s anti-ethanol rhetoric in pre-primary Iowa were good for the debate. Now that it’s been done, hopefully more candidates will break free of the fear that kept Gore captive and just do the right thing already.

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Ethanol In Germany: Education Is Not The Answer http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/05/ethanol-in-germany-education-is-not-the-answer/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/05/ethanol-in-germany-education-is-not-the-answer/#comments Sat, 14 May 2011 15:41:02 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=394928

TTAC has paid close attention to the fortunes of ethanol in the United States, where grossly wasteful subsidies have forced the corn-derived fuel into the fuel supply in growing percentages, drawing backlash from small but vocal portions of the population. But much of the ethanol ire is directed at higher blends like the recently-approved E15 and the increasingly-unpopular E85 mixtures. Meanwhile, most Americans regularly fill up their tanks with E10, which has become standard at pumps across the nation. But in Germany, where E10 was only just introduced, people are rejecting the low-ethanol blend that even the most vocal American ethanol opponents use every day. Initially, the biofuel industry in Germany blamed a lack of education for suspicion of E10, but according to Autobild, some 75 percent of German drivers now know whether their vehicle takes E10 (and most do)… but still, only 17 percent actually chose E10 for their last fill-up. And only 39 percent who know for a fact that their car can take E10 have ever used the ten-percent ethanol fuel. Why? Despite the high level of education, 52 percent of respondents still feared motor damage from the ethanol. Another 50 are opposed to “filling up with food.” Sometimes the more you know about something, the less you like it.

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Bipartisan Bill Seeks To End Cornerstone Ethanol Subsidy http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/05/bipartisan-bill-seeks-to-end-cornerstone-ethanol-subsidy/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/05/bipartisan-bill-seeks-to-end-cornerstone-ethanol-subsidy/#comments Wed, 11 May 2011 19:36:18 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=394631

Yesterday evening I directed some ire at President Obama’s continued reliance on ethanol as a major plank of his do-nothing transportation/energy agenda, noting

That extra money for 10,000 E15-capable pumps? That’s because no gas station owner will pay to install a pump for a kind of fuel that only cars built since 2001 can use… and which the auto industry has tried to ban. And why E15 in the first place? Because blenders can’t sell enough E10 to blend the government-mandated amount of ethanol and collect their $6b this year in “blender’s credits” to do so. A subsidy to support a subsidy which in turn props up yet another subsidy (I may have missed a subsidy in there somewhere). You can’t make this stuff up.

The “cornerstone” subsidy that all other ethanol subsidies support is the Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit, or VEETC, or “blender’s credit,” a $6b per year subsidy that directs 45 cents to refiners for every gallon of ethanol they blend with gasoline. The VEETC nearly died in December’s lame duck session, only to be revived as a way to buy votes for the President’s tax policy. Now, however, The State Column reports that a bipartisan Senate bill has been introduced that would eliminate both the VEETC and import tariffs on foreign-made ethanol. And with a rash of bad news coming out about ethanol, this could just be the opportunity to kill this wasteful government subsidy with fire.

Where to start with the myriad reasons to end government support of a fuel that has done little besides replacing High Fructose Corn Syrup as the number one “stealth subsidy” for the agricultural business? Let’s begin with news that proves the futility of underwriting this failed fuel, namely the Detroit News‘s report that ethanol production actually dropped 1.5% last year, despite the billions in subsidies it receives. Just as the VEETC needs subsidies in order to stimulate market demand for the fuel blends it already subsidizes, this dispatch proves that no amount of government money is a substitute for organic market demand. If the government needed an excuse to cut bait, this should be enough.

Another sign that ethanol subsidies have reached the limits of their efficacy: a report from GreenCarCongress, showing that 75% of all hybrid and AFV (alternative fuel vehicles) in the US are E85 “flex fuel” vehicles. That’s a sign of success you say? Think again. E85 consumption in 2009 only hit 71,213 thousand gasoline-equivalent gallons, which means each “green” flex fuel vehicle uses about 1/10th of one gallon of E85 per year. So even if people (or governments) buy flex fuel cars, they still choose not to run E85… which is no surprise, given that E85 regularly returns worse fuel economy. Unfortunately, the government’s ethanol blending mandate will basically require a huge sift back to E85 in order to work, so once again the government is trying to subsidize through a brick wall.

And as discouraging as these short-term signals are for the government’s attempts to create a sustainable ethanol industry (if, in fact that was the goal of ethanol subsidies), when stacked against the long-term costs one gets a real sense of the waste involved. According to a new book published by Stanford’s Hoover Institute,taxpayers will have spent “nearly half a trillion dollars” between 2008 and 2017 on a fuel that nobody wants to use. That’s right, Five Hundred Billion Dollars, or enough for more than ten auto bailouts (assuming zero payback). And while we spend $6b this year on the VEETC en route to that staggering price tag, the head of the Renewable Fuel Association still has the gall to whine that “the future of biofuels is tied to the price of oil.” Anyone else just throw up a little bit?

But despite all these signs that ethanol subsidies are accomplishing nothing at a huge cost, this new bill to eliminate the VEETC and ethanol import tariffs is no sure thing. Remember, far more than being about the environment or energy security, ethanol is about politics… namely the fact that Iowa is a key early presidential primary that no candidate wants to lose. Even the arch-Greenie Al Gore himself admits that he “regrets” his support for ethanol, but

One of the reasons I made that mistake is that I paid particular attention to the farmers in my home state of Tennessee, and I had a certain fondness for the farmers in the state of Iowa because I was about to run for president

With a presidential election looming in 2012, any efforts to kill ethanol subsidies will be met with stiff opposition from grandstanding presidential hopefuls, hoping to steal the Iowa primary. Here’s hoping that, for once, policy actually trumps politics.

 

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What’s Wrong With This Picture: Fixing Transportation Edition http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/05/whats-wrong-with-this-picture-fixing-transportation-edition/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/05/whats-wrong-with-this-picture-fixing-transportation-edition/#comments Tue, 10 May 2011 23:07:58 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=394498

President Obama devoted his weekly address to energy and transportation policy this week, speaking to the nation from an Allison hybrid bus transmission plant in Indiana. A White House blog post accompanying video of the President’s speech included a large infographic on “The Obama Energy Agenda And Gas Prices,” the transportation-oriented section I’ve excerpted above. This one section is actually a fairly good representation of Obama’s auto-related energy policy preferences, and illustrates why I often find myself criticizing the president here at TTAC.

One half of the graphic is devoted to electric vehicles, which it shows becoming rapidly cheaper without offering any sourcing for the numbers (Churlish cynicism, you say? Sadly, a little cynicism is called for when it comes to the White House and EVs). The numbers actually come from this DOE report [PDF], published last summer, which cites the DOE’s Vehicle Technology Program and assumes 100 mile range and 3 miles per kWh is a “typical battery.” Because the industry uses $/kWh, we’ll call this “typical” battery a 33 kWh unit… and find that the government assumes a 2021 price per kWh of about $150. The 2015 price breaks out to around$300/kWh. For some perspective,  a Boston Consulting Group study released early last year found that

Given current technology options, we see substantial challenges to achieving [the "holy grail" price of $250/kWh] by 2020.

Without a major breakthrough in battery technologies, fully electric vehicles that are as convenient as ICE-based cars—meaning that they can travel 500 kilometers (312 miles) on a single charge and can recharge in a matter of minutes—are unlikely to be available for the mass market by 2020.

Is Obama banking on Germany’s “miracle battery” or is there some other major battery breakthrough that has changed the game in the last year? Sure, Nissan claims to have beat down its Leaf battery costs to $375/kWh, but that was probably only possible due to its risky global tool-up to around 300k units worth of annual battery production scale, from Oppama to Sunderland to Smyrna. Will anyone else bet that big on EV batteries between anytime soon? At this point nobody seems anxious to bet bigger on EVs than Nissan has, making $150/kWh by 2020 seem highly unlikely.

But critics of Obama’s overemphasis on EVs can’t go much farther beyond dismissing his “1 million EVs by 2015″ goal as naive or unlikely to succeed… and ultimately such criticism will only inspire more EV subsidies. It’s the other half of Obama’s transportation “Energy Agenda” that’s the most fertile territory for serious attack. And no, not the “cleaner buses” point… it’s Obama’s reliance on biofuels as the second major plank of his energy strategy that rankles.

Huge swaths of the American business community have joined up with environmental groups to protest the continuing subsidization of ethanol, most recently when the EPA announced the E15 approval Obama trumpets in his infographic. That extra money for 10,000 E15-capable pumps? That’s because no gas station owner will pay to install a pump for a kind of fuel that only cars built since 2001 can use… and which the auto industry has tried to ban. And why E15 in the first place? Because blenders can’t sell enough E10 to blend the government-mandated amount of ethanol and collect their $6b this year in “blender’s credits” to do so. A subsidy to support a subsidy which in turn props up yet another subsidy (I may have missed a subsidy in there somewhere). You can’t make this stuff up.

Finally, we have the “commercialization of cellulosic ethanol,” a red herring that’s been touted by ethanol backers for at least three years now. The latest on that front? A case study posted at energybulletin.net notes

Based upon information provided by the corporation proposing the biorefinery, Frontier Renewable Resources LLC, owned by Mascoma Corporation and J.M. Longyear, I would not consider cellulosic ethanol to be efficient from an energy perspective.

The facility would have 6 boilers rated at 90 million BTU/hour that will operate 24/7 for 347 days per year according to information provided in the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Environmental Assessment. Converting the BTUs to megajoules, the boilers would generate 4.7 billion megajoules per year of energy that will be used to make ethanol.

The plant is projected to produce 40 million gallons of ethanol/year according to the DOE’s Environmental Assessment and Frontier’s air pollution permit application, which has an energy content of 3.3 billion megajoules of energy. The boiler energy consumed in making ethanol would be 1.43 times more than the energy content of the ethanol that they plan to produce. According to the DOE’s Environmental Assessment, timber harvesting, wood processing and wood transportation would require approximately 3.75 million gallons of diesel fuel per year. When diesel fuel energy use is included in the energy required for the production of the ethanol, the ratio of energy consumed/energy produced increases to 1.59.

Sound good? It had better, because the goal is to build four more or cellulosic”or “advanced” (read: made from anything other than corn) ethanol plants  in order to meet the (recently reduced) cellulosic ethanol blending mandates. Or, not. Remember, by law we have to use 36b gallons of this stuff by 2022, whether it makes any sense or not.

Ultimately, Obama’s transportation “Energy Agenda” is severely lacking in substance in terms of both long-term strategy and short-term policy. Half of the agenda seems to be waiting for EVs to cheapen up, while the other half seems to be not escaping the endless trap of ethanol subsidies (at a time when it such an escape seems most likely). Without trotting out the familiar campaign slogans (as I’m hoping to start a conversation on policy rather than politics), this is hardly the bold, new direction that Obama’s fans and detractors alike seem to expect from him (oh shoot, there’s a political lesson there… please ignore it).  Between natural gas, battery swap infrastructure and (gasp) a gas tax, there are plenty of options in Obama’s toolbox for charting a more daring, effective course for US energy and transportation policy… we’re just waiting to hear something, anything new.

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GAO: Government Ethanol Rules Actually Increase Gasoline Use http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/05/gao-government-ethanol-rules-actually-increase-gasoline-use/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/05/gao-government-ethanol-rules-actually-increase-gasoline-use/#comments Thu, 05 May 2011 17:07:16 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=393767

A massive study by the Government Accountability Office into “Opportunities to Reduce Potential Duplication in Government Programs, Save Tax Dollars, and Enhance Revenue” has turned up an interesting finding. It seems that the government’s desire to buy more “alternative fuel vehicles” (AFVs) may actually increase the amount of gasoline used by government fleets. Why? Because agencies largely buy E85 ethanol-powered vehicles to fulfill their AFV requirements, and there aren’t enough E85 pumps to actually fuel the fleet, forcing agencies to obtain waivers to buy regular gasoline. Hit the jump for the report’s full findings on this, the latest unintended consequence of America’s ongoing ethanol-subsidy boondoggle.

The GAO report finds to basic contradictions in the government’s AFV-boosting fleet strategy, to wit:

  • Increase the use of alternative fuels vs. the unavailability of alternative fuels.Agencies are required to increase alternative fuel use, although most alternative fuels are not yet widely available. Thus, agencies have been purchasing primarily flex-fueled AFVs, those that can operate on E85—a blend of up to 85 percent ethanol and petroleum—or petroleum. However, since E85 was only available at 1 percent of U.S. fueling stations in 2009, agencies are requesting waivers from the requirement to use alternative fuels. According to DOE, in 2010, approximately 55 percent of flex-fueled AFVs received a waiver. Further, some fleet operators indicated they use petroleum without a waiver when alternative fuels are available because it is either more convenient, less expensive, or both.
  • Acquire AFVs vs. reduce petroleum consumption. Agencies are required to purchase AFVs, but this requirement may, in some cases, undermine the requirement to reduce petroleum consumption. Virtually every agency has succeeded in acquiring more AFVs, but there have been only modest reductions in petroleum use and modest increases in alternative fuel use, due to the lack of available alternative fuels. As previously stated, the lack of available alternative fuels results in agencies using petroleum to fuel AFVs. In areas where alternative fuels are not available, purchasing more fuel efficient non-AFVs could reduce petroleum consumption more than purchasing AFVs.

Meanwhile, until we hear of specific plans to fix these fundamental issues, expect the waste and non-fulfillment of gasoline use reduction goals to continue, as President Obama recently pledged that every new government fleet vehicle purchase would be an AFV by  2015. E85 is widely considered to be the most common type of government AFV purchase, as they are relatively cheap and more robust for certain government tasks than hybrids and plug-ins. And, as Automotive News [sub] reports, the baseline ain’t great either:

In 2009, Obama’s first year in office, the U.S. government increased gasoline use in vehicles 3 percent from the previous year even as he boosted hybrid purchases to about 10 percent of the federal fleet from 1 percent in 2008, according to data from GSA and the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Overall government energy use fell about nine-tenths of 1 percent in 2009, the data showed. Figures for 2010 are scheduled to come out later this year.

And if the government is struggling to actually reduce its gasoline use with E85 vehicles, imagine how the rest of the US is doing. After all,

Vehicles that can run on E85 accounted for 37,590 of the 43,750 alternative-fuel fleet vehicles sold last year, according to the Energy Information Administration

Meanwhile, on the other end of the ethanol subsidy complex, the US Comptroller General used his testimony [PDF] to identify domestic ethanol subsidies as an “Opportunity to Reduce Potential Duplication in Government Programs, Save Tax Dollars, and Enhance Revenue” saying

Congress supported domestic ethanol production through a $5.4 billion tax credit program in 2010 and through a renewable fuel standard that applies to transportation fuels used in the United States. The ethanol tax credit and the renewable fuel standard can be duplicative in stimulating domestic production and use of ethanol, and can result in substantial loss of revenue to the Treasury. The ethanol tax credit was recently extended at 45 cents per gallon through December 31, 2011. The tax credit will cost $5.7 billion in forgone revenues in 2011. Because the fuel standard allows increasing annual amounts of conventional biofuels through 2015, which ensures a market for a conventional corn starch ethanol industry that is already mature, Congress may wish to consider whether revisions to the ethanol tax credit are needed, such as reducing, modifying, or phasing out the tax credit.

Instead, it seems the government is heading in the opposite direction, sinking yet more money into ethanol infrastructure. AN [sub] reports:

A U.S. Agriculture Department program that started in the last two weeks is pushing for 10,000 pumps in the next five years, he said. The U.S. has about 162,000 fueling stations, according to the association.

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New Ethanol Bill Faces Automaker Resistance http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/04/new-ethanol-bill-faces-automaker-resistance/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/04/new-ethanol-bill-faces-automaker-resistance/#comments Thu, 07 Apr 2011 22:15:17 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=390443

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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Ethanol “Blender Credit” Under Attack Again http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/03/ethanol-blender-credit-under-attack-again/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/03/ethanol-blender-credit-under-attack-again/#comments Wed, 16 Mar 2011 17:48:38 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=387564

At the end of last year, the Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit (aka “Blender’s Credit) very nearly expired before congress passed a one-year, $6b extension to the subsidy. The near-collapse of the largest “renewable energy” subsidy on the federal books came as the backlash built against the EPA’s approval of E15 (15% ethanol) blends for certain vehicles, with a huge coalition of industries, environmentalists and budget hawks coalescing around the idea of ending government support for corn-based ethanol. That coalition lost some momentum as the VEETC was extended in order to drum up support for the controversial tax bill that was passed during December’s lame duck session. But now, SolveClimate [via Reuters] reports that the brewing deficit battles have put the Blender’s Credit back on the chopping block, as a new bill seeks to cut the wasteful, inefficient and unpopular (outside of farm states) subsidy.

Sponsored by a Maryland Democrat and an Oklahoma Republican (Sens. Ben Cardin and Tom Coburn, respectively), the bill is being pitched as a bipartisan effort to correct “bad economic policy, bad energy policy and bad environmental policy.” And the Cardin-Coburn bill doesn’t stop at corn ethanol, but ends government subsidies for all forms of feedstock-based ethanol, including sugar beet-derived fuels. A competing Democratic proposal, forwarded by Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Jim Webb, would cut support only for corn ethanol. That bill would also

ower the tariff on imported ethanol to match the 45-cent-per gallon subsidy that will remain in place under what the duo calls “non-corn, second generation advanced biofuels.”

“Ethanol is the only industry that benefits from a triple crown of government intervention: its use is mandated by law, it is protected by tariffs, and companies are paid by the federal government to use it,” Feinstein said. “By lowering the import tariff to match the non-corn ethanol credit, we allow refiners to purchase cheaper, environmentally-friendly ethanol from foreign sources while at the same time preventing foreign producers from benefitting from U.S. subsidies.”

Both bills face challenges, as the House and Senate struggle to create a budget that will keep government operating.

the anti-VEETC crowd might wonder why ethanol tax credits aren’t at the top of the trim list. Mostly it’s because of a Capitol Hill aberration that draws a sharp divide between legislating and appropriating.And that is eternally frustrating to Kate McMahon with the advocacy organization Friends of the Earth. Congress, she emphasized, could operate more efficiently and thoughtfully if it took less of a piecemeal and more of a holistic approach to policy.

“The hard part is that the budget is in a different world from appropriations and you can’t legislate in the appropriations process,” McMahon, FOE’s biofuels campaign coordinator, told SolveClimate News in an interview.  “We could be doing both of these things at once and not doing them in silos. It’s an insane narrative. We need to be having a broader conversation.”

Still, perhaps the desire to create a leaner budget combined with bipartisan opposition to ethanol subsidies will be enough to send the corn juice scam packing. In any case, it seems that from here on out, the ethanol lobby will at least have its work cut out for it simply maintaining the status quo. And with the VEETC expiring again at the end of this year, 2011 could well be the year that the subsidy keeping ethanol afloat finally gets the axe.

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Killer Ethanol Continues To Confuse German Car Owners http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/03/killer-ethanol-continues-to-confuse-german-car-owners/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/03/killer-ethanol-continues-to-confuse-german-car-owners/#comments Mon, 07 Mar 2011 11:51:52 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=386416

Germany is in an uproar against ethanol. Last week, motorists celebrated a win against alcohol in their gasoline: Oil companies stopped the build-out of E10 gas stations. The matter still fuels the headlines. Over the weekend, German’s Die Welt newspaper shocked its readers with the news that the bio-benzene can ruin engines which supposedly are ok for the fuel.

“E10 is under suspicion to stress the engine oil harder than conventional fuel. This causes minimized viscosity and increased engine wear,” writes the paper. Supposedly, the stuff literally waters down the oil. Die Welt quotes Thomas Brüner of BMW who said: “The 10 percent ethanol increase the water in the engine. The water condenses and mixes with the oil. The oil gets diluted and ages faster.”

Ever since these news hit, you see more and more motorists checking their oil. Not for a lack of level, but for an increase. If the level rises, it’s caused by the ethanol water.  At the same time, the level of confusion is on the rise, and E10 sits unsold in full tanks.

Sunday evening. BMW sent out a press release in which the Munich car company  “supports the introduction of E10  in Germany.  The statements of Mr. Brüner do not refer to countries with a fuel quality as in the EU, they referred to countries with a lesser quality of fuel. Some older BMW vehicles require the anti-knock properties of Super Plus ROZ 98.”

Maybe you want to keep an eye on that dipstick.

PS: BMW today issued a flurry of press releases on this topic. In its third sixth missive (so far) (I get them in German and English, English version follows) BMW “would like to make the following clear:

  1. The condensation effect is a side effect of the normal combustion process – independently of the use of E10 – and therefore does not pose a problem.
  2. The oil-change intervals defined by BMW are not affected and therefore remain unchanged.
  3. The report’s falsely claimed link between the use of E10 fuel and “more rapid engine wear” does not exist.”
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German Buyer Strike Stops Ethanol http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/03/german-buyer-strike-stops-ethanol/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/03/german-buyer-strike-stops-ethanol/#comments Fri, 04 Mar 2011 08:51:00 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=386232

German motorists won an important battle against ethanol. They used a downright un-German tactic: Widespread insurrection. They simply won’t buy the stuff. An edict handed down from Brussels ordered that Super has to contain 10 percent of ethanol. An alliance from Germany’s ADAC autoclub to Greenpeace said the new gasoline is a work of the devil, it is liable to ruin cars, and the environment. That didn’t impress Brussels.  But then, a buyer strike did set in.

Motorists in Germany shun the ethyl with ethanol and buy 98 Super Plus high-test instead, reports Das Autohaus from Germany. Refiners and gas stations are sitting on full tanks of unsold Super E10. On the other hand, there already are shortages of the more expensive, but also more energy-laden Super Plus.

Yesterday, gasoline companies pulled the emergency brake and declared that they would stop the roll-out of Super E10 in Germany. The pathetic petrol is only available in less than half of Germany’s gas stations.

Economy Minister Brüderle joined the fray and does what he does best: Run down the clock. He announced a “gasoline summit” where stakeholders should explain their position. No date has been set. At the summit, pretty much everybody will be against the bio-benzene: Customers don’t want it, auto clubs warn against it, environmentalists such as Greenpeace warn that the fuel will increase CO2 production. “E10 can ruin cars and the environment,” says Greenpeace.

The European Auto Maker Association ACEA is pouring gasoline in the fire by publishing compatibility lists that add to the widespread confusion.

Says the list: “It is important to note that the compatibility of vehicle with petrol depends both on the petrol octane rating and its ethanol content. The vehicle’s octane requirement must be met and the ethanol content of the petrol may not exceed the compatibility limit. In case of doubt, drivers are advised to contact their dealer.”

No wonder everybody avoids it like the devil the holy water.

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House Votes To Ban E15 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/02/house-votes-to-ban-e15/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/02/house-votes-to-ban-e15/#comments Mon, 21 Feb 2011 17:16:26 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=384540

The EPA’s decision to allow E15 ethanol in public pumps has been something of a lesson in the way politics can trump common sense. The decision was motivated by intense pressure brought to bear by the ethanol industry, which is facing a serious problem in the form of a “blend wall.” The industry first tried to get the EPA to approve the 15-percent ethanol blend before research was complete, and the agency’s approvals came first for 2007 model-year and later vehicles, and was expanded shortly thereafter to 2001 and later models. In the meantime, a number of industries have come out against E15, suing the EPA to stop the approval and calling for congressional hearings. Now, with few reasons left to support E15 outside of propping up the staggering farm-state ethanol industry and huge portions of the economy coming out against it, the House has voted “overwhelmingly” to ban E15 from America’s gas pumps.

The Detroit News reports that two separate amendments concerning ethanol were approved and attached to the House version of an ongoing funding resolution required to keep government funded. The first would deny funding to any EPA efforts to implement its E15 approval, the second would end a tax subsidy so fuel stations could install pumps that can dispense varying amounts of gasoline and ethanol. Bill sponsor Rep John Sullivan explains

The EPA has completely ignored calls from lawmakers, industry, environmental and consumer groups to address important safety issues raised by the 50 percent increase in the ethanol mandate issued over the past year. Putting E15 into our general fuel supply could adversely impact up to 60 percent of cars on the road today leading to consumer confusion at the pump and possible engine failure in the cars they drive,

Between these bills and the pending lawsuits against the EPA’s approval of E15, the rollout of the fuel blend could well be dead on arrival. Of course, the Senate still must approve similar measures, and farm-state senators could well scuttle the House’s legislative efforts to stop E15. Still, the biofuel lobby is becoming increasingly marginalized by the widening attacks on the legislative and legal fronts. And since the subsidies underlying the whole “blend wall” problem were only barely approved for one more year, we could be moving into the end of times for America’s wasteful experiment with corn-powered cars.

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Regular, Premium, or… Opium? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/02/regular-premium-or-opium/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/02/regular-premium-or-opium/#comments Mon, 14 Feb 2011 18:00:50 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=383854

Nothing makes this bloggers day like finding a story that highlights how the world of cars interacts with every facet of our national life… and few stories illustrate the universal impact of cars and fuels like the Atlantic’s recent piece on one man’s attempt to turn Afghanistan’s opium poppy crop into biodiesel. The plan was to help Afghanistan’s poorest farmers use poppy seeds to create biodiesel, but along the way the plan ran into the challenges of diplomacy, bureaucracy, foreign occupation, environmental issues and cultural conflict. In fact, all of the complexity and struggle involved with the military occupation of a foreign country come out in this fascinating piece, which begins:

Back in the fall of 2008, Michael Bester and a business partner, both Army veterans doing contract work in Afghanistan, hit on the equivalent of the counterinsurgency’s trifecta: a way to improve the lives of ordinary Afghans, eliminate the illegal opium trade, and take the Taliban’s money. “We had been in villages where children were dying because they didn’t have proper medicine, because they didn’t have refrigerators,” Bester told me. Light up the villages, and perhaps you could empower Afghans to resist the Taliban. And the fuel? Most any feedstock would work, but one compelling option was the ubiquitous poppies that stoke the Taliban’s lucrative drug trade. Why not turn them into biodiesel instead?

Make diesel, not drugs! Read the whole thing here.

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