By on November 30, 2007

2007-08-20ethanol.jpgOn the very day that congressional leaders (in some sense of the word) are squabbling over the next gen Corporate Average Fuel Economy ethanol loopholes, USA Today repeats a study's declaration that "Anything's better than ethanol blend E85, even ordinary gasoline." The Pardee Rand Graduate School's analysis of alternative fuels calculated the individual and societal costs and benefits of gasoline-powered vehicles, gas-electric hybrids, high-tech diesels and flex-fuel vehicles (running on E85). "Unless gasoline prices, averaging $3.10 a gallon now, rise above $4 and average $3.50 or more the next few years, or ethanol prices drop a lot, diesel's the best overall solution; E85's the worst." Pardee Rand reckons a (theoretical) E85 driver could spend as much as $1,600 more than a gas-powered comrade, while a diesel driver could save as much as $2,300. Hey, guess who helped fund the research? General Motors and Ford Motor. "They aren't crazy about the results," researcher John Graham admitted. Neither are we, until we hear what the researchers meant by "societal costs."

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

Recommended

29 Comments on “USA Today: Ethanol Sucks...”


  • avatar
    GS650G

    They pretty much killed MTBE as a oxygenator when they kowtowed to the enviromentalists. Now we are stuck with alcohol, unless the EPA is prepared to let engines manage the fuel air mixture without help from worthless additives. I can understand wanting older engines to burn clean but most cars today can do just fine on gas without the additives. They would get better overall economy and simplify the refining process. But that would help the oil industry, can’t do that.

  • avatar
    carguy

    Yes but the corn lobby won’t rest until both people and cars are filling up on tax payer subsidized high fructose corn syrup. The collective good is not a corporate goal – follow the money.

  • avatar
    B-Rad

    Somehow I doubt this study will have any affect on our leaders.

    GM and Ford must be pretty pissed, though. Maybe something good will come out of it, but that’s doubtful as well. This isn’t the first time ethanol has had bad publicity.

  • avatar

    I Love Diesel.

    –chuck

  • avatar
    N85523

    B-Rad,

    I agree with you. It isn’t the first time E85 has had bad publicity, but that doesn’t seem to matter. Folks keep mindlessly blabbering about how it is the ultimate solution and the otherwise rational folks in places like Nebraska and Iowa all have ethanol fever. I see a very ugly end to ethanol when the great yellow bubble bursts, and it will. It’s just a question of how far Congress is willing to subsidize it.

  • avatar
    Virtual Insanity

    Best argument for Ethanol I have ever heard…

    Well, its basically corn alcohol, and race cars run on alcohol and can go a long time on a single tank at 150mph, so I think it would be good to use.

  • avatar
    NBK-Boston

    To begin with, there is a difference between E10 clean-air mandates (replacement for MTBE) and E85. While the latest engines might burn clean enough without an oxygenate, how many cars on the road fall into that category? Right now, the average lifespan of a car in the American fleet is something approaching ten years. We’ll have to keep using oxygenates, at least seasonally, until enough time has passed that most cars will be modern enough to burn clean on straight gas, and the few that don’t will be too few to matter.

    More to the heart of the study, though, are the assumptions they make about E85’s price and economy. Regarding economy, they assume, based mainly on present experience, that E85 yields 25% worse fuel economy on a volumetric basis (i.e. mpg vs. mpg, ignoring the fact that E85 has a lower energy density). That isn’t wrong, mind you, if you are pricing fuels on a volumetric basis as well — apples for apples and all that.

    My point is simply that while current flex fuel vehicles are built around gasoline, and burn ethanol (inefficiently) only as an afterthought, it should be possible to build an ethanol-optimized engine that takes advantage of ethanol’s higher effective octane and squeezes more miles and performance out of each gallon than present models do. It should even be possible, if you are willing to screw around with variable boost turbos and the like, to build an engine that can switch back and forth between the fuels while avoiding a serious mileage penalty — a real flex-fuel vehicle. That sort of circumstance would change the conclusions dramatically. Whether or not it is realistic to expect mass production of such vehicles is another question.

    Also, the study notes ethanol’s status as a corn-product, and E85’s popularity as a political sop to agricultural interests. It does not seem to study seriously the possibility that saner heads may eventually prevail in Washington so that we’ll remove tariffs and start importing ethanol from Brazil or other low-cost producers. Or even the possibility that some of our present research will pay off and lower-cost domestic sources will become viable (i.e. cellulostic ethanol).

    Without exploring these possibilities — without modeling what the costs and price points would have to be to make optimized cars or lower cost production a viable way to get ethanol off the ground, this study just repeats what we already know — conventional E85 is a pointless waste of time.

  • avatar
    glenn126

    What interested me about the article was the fact that these boffins not only gave us the “Mr Obvious” information about how badly E85 sucks (literally), but they essentially said that the (gasoline) hybrid car is “nearly” there with overall efficiency of the diesel car.

    Well, what about the “societal costs” of polluting 17 times more per vehicle (HC, CO, NOx) compared to a hybrid, AND spewing out potentially carcinagous particulates?

    With this in mind, the clean hybrids win hands down. In my humble opinion.

    But then those of you who know me, already know I’ve voted with my wallet twice, with a 2005 Prius and now a 2008 Prius.

    Even so, once (and if) the cleaner diesels (only a few hundred percent dirtier than a Prius) come out, I “might” consider one for a tow vehicle (2nd rig). Assuming the emissions equipment doesn’t remove all the benefits of high MPG, of course. (Except for one thing – I LOATH how diesel fuel smells, LOATH getting my hands near a diesel pump and LOATH standing near the pump as my shoes, are car carpet, inevitably stink for hours after that). Rented a Vauxhall diesel in the UK two years ago – clattery, truck-like, awful. They’ve got to do a lot better to convince me.

  • avatar
    glenn126

    I guess I should have said “except for three things” but edit seems to be busted again.

  • avatar
    KatiePuckrik

    As always, I agree with you Mr Glenn126. My next car will a Toyota Prius (If I decide to get rid of my lovely Toyota Yaris!). Hybrids are cleaner, more reliable and more efficient. When a hybrid idles, it emits nothing, but when a diesel idles it is still burning fossil fuels and pumping out pollutants.

    Also, diesels aren’t as efficient as they think they are. VW makes the best diesels powertrains in the world, but the VW Golf Plus 2.0 sport TDI DSG does 34.4 mpg in urban conditions and 54.3mpg in highway conditions and emits 164gm/km. The Toyota Auris 1.6 Petrol T-spirit Auto does 33.2mpg in urban and 47.9mpg in highway and emits 161gm/km. Very little difference between the 2 and the petrol engine is a regular petrol engine, no hybrid powertrain hidden away!

    I’m sticking with petrol for the time being.

    But I think you are being harsh about how diesels sound. I’ve driven and heard a few and they don’t sound like Massey Freguson tractors anymore! They’re much quieter. The Jaguar S-Type is so quiet it’s difficult to differentiate between a diesel and petrol engine!

    But, back to topic, I don’t know whether Ethanol has taken off in the UK. I’ve seen no adverts or any indication that petrol companies are using it.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    Do we use the corn, or is the corn involved in a sinister plot?

    “When a Crop Becomes King” by Michael Pollan in the NYTimes on July 19, 2002:

    Like the tulip, the apple, and the potato, zea mays [corn]… has evolved with humans over the past 10,000 years or so in the great dance of species we call domestication. The plant gratifies human needs, in exchange for which humans expand the plant’s habitat, moving its genes all over the world and remaking the land (clearing trees, plowing the ground, protecting it from its enemies) so it might thrive.

    Corn, by making itself tasty and nutritious, got itself noticed by Christopher Columbus, who helped expand its range from the New World to Europe and beyond. Today corn is the world’s most widely planted cereal crop. But nowhere have humans done quite as much to advance the interests of this plant as in North America, where zea mays has insinuated itself into our landscape, our food system — and our federal budget. … So why begrudge corn its phenomenal success? Isn’t this the way domestication is supposed to work?

    The problem in corn’s case is that we’re sacrificing the health of both our bodies and the environment by growing and eating so much of it. Though we’re only beginning to understand what our cornified food system is doing to our health, there’s cause for concern. … We know a lot more about what 80 million acres of corn is doing to the health of our environment: serious and lasting damage. …

    So it seems corn has indeed become king. We have given it more of our land than any other plant, an area more than twice the size of New York State. To keep it well fed and safe from predators we douse it with chemicals that poison our water and deepen our dependence on foreign oil. And then in order to dispose of all the corn this cracked system has produced, we eat it as fast as we can in as many ways as we can — turning the fat of the land into, well, fat. One has to wonder whether corn hasn’t at last succeeded in domesticating us.

  • avatar
    Justin Berkowitz

    @Robert Schwartz

    Thank you for quoting that. Michael Pollan (who also wrote the book “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”) has been leading the intellectual charge of taking Big Corn to task for screwing up everything. Not only have they made my Coca Cola taste awful, but they are helping to increase America’s dependence on petrochemicals.

    Most people think Ethanol Cars = Corn = grown in the U.S. = no need to import foreign oil. This is patently false. We grow our corn by flooding the land with petrochemicals derived directly from sweet crude oil. If you read Pollan’s book, he goes into the math breakdown, but it’s a substantial amount of oil needed for every ear of corn. It’s still oil in your ethanol car’s tank, just indirectly.

  • avatar
    glenn126

    Not forgetting that when the oil taken into account to PRODUCE ethanol, as well as the (minimum I’ve seen in over 20 cars since 1979) 7% reduction in MPG from 10% ethanol in the gasoline, you come out BEHIND. In plain English, USING MORE (60% IMPORTED) OIL. Not to mention giving the knuckle dragging mouth breathing sub moronic imbeciles in Washington something else to p!ss away OUR money on, with subsidies to their pals in big agro-industry. (The myth of the family farm getting much long-term out of ethanol is just that).

  • avatar
    glenn126

    Katie, I was unlucky enough to get one of the last old-gen Zafira’s in 2005, and as soon as we got back in the states, not a month later, I read an article in a new Brit car mag that an all new 1.9 diesel and all new Zafira had come out. So my Massey-Ferguson experience was hopefully not to be repeated, and of course, with so VERY few modern diesel cars around me (i.e. virtually none) – and so many around you – I’ll defer to your expertise on this point!

    However, I can tell you what a not-fun experience it is to breath the air near a big honking monster Dodge Ram with Cummins diesel and stovepipe sized exhaust pipe. Gak, it’s awful…

    But you’ll see for yourself in January, you wrote elsewhere.

  • avatar
    Virtual Insanity

    I guess it wouldn’t be wise to mention to Katie or Glenn that I have room in my dream garage for a nice Duramax or Powerstroke Dually…

  • avatar
    Dman

    Well GS650G,
    Around here (Maine) it was NOT the enviromentalists that killed MTBE. It was the knee-jerk reactionaries who were certain it was polluting the ground water. The enviromentalists, like my self, were askingg for proof of this, we were never shown found it.
    I will never forget, during the debate on removing MTBE in Maine, seeing a wagon driving down the road with big stickers saying “MTBE is killing ME”. As I passed the car, I noted two kids in baby seats and the parents in the front. They were both smoking cigarettes. That just about said it all to me.

  • avatar

    Hey Glenn126, come take a whiff of my B100 burning TDI. It smells like french fries.

    I make all my fuel at home and only buy petro-Diesel when the thermometer gets below freezing around here, which is rare.

    I just wish I could buy a Diesel-powered something car OTHER than a base model VW sedan with steel wheels and cloth seats. I really envy the folks in Europe who have CHOICE in vehicles and engines. I’d really love a little two-seater roadster, like an Alfa Romeo Spider, or an Audi TT… both available with Diesel power in Europe. I still have another 100,000 or so miles left to drive my 2002 Jetta, so maybe I’ll have that choice for my next car…

    I hope.

    –chuck
    http://chuck.goolsbee.org

  • avatar
    jkross22

    I love the outcome of this study!! GM and Ford fund this thing thinking it’ll be a positive PR move, and then the tablecloth gets yanked off the table along with all the china. I love it!! Bastards had it coming.

    This corn facade won’t get front page time until ordinary people elect different representatives. The corn lobby (and farm lobby in general) is a tick living off the taxpayer teet. Bad analogy for the mix of bodily fluids, but you get my bile-laden rant.

    I’m for anything that gets us less dependent on foreign oil, and E85 ain’t it. If we think it’s tough now, just watch what’s going on with Czar Putin. Oil is going to get a lot more expensive, and it’s not just our eternal friends, The Saudis, who are going to dictate exactly how expensive it’s going to be.

  • avatar
    tankd0g

    While it’s possible to build E85 only cars with high compression engines that get excelent economy and power, it doesn’t matter. There will simply never be enough ethanol to go around to have it be our main fuel source, to switch the world’s oil based economy to a fuel who’s fortunes is almost completely at the mercy of mother nature very dangerous. Look at what happens to oil prices when a hurricane knocks over a couple Gulf oil platforms for a few months. Imagine an entire year’s ethanol crop being wiped out by a draught. Could a country even recover from something like that? Would other countries even have any excess capacity to export their fuel even if we said “name your price”?

    Here’s the good news. You can have a diesel engine that runs on ethanol or diesel. It’s what we should be putting in hybrid’s right now. Or we could be using gas turbine engines which can run on an even wider variety of fuel. Use the fuel source which is readily available, don’t be dependant on just one vulnerable source. That’s what I hope to see in the future.

  • avatar
    jkross22

    Roger that, tankd0g…

    Bring on the flux capacitor.

  • avatar
    Redbarchetta

    The engines already exist. If you get rid of the tappet valve it’s easy. I have a design that does just that, unfortunately it’s just on paper and in my head right now since I don’t have the resources to develop it, right now that is. I also have a design for a variable boost turbo I like to call a “wine bottle turbo”. There is already a company in the northeast that has a design similar to my engine in principle already in production. Check these guys out it’s neat stuff.

    http://www.coatesengine.com/

    Unfortunately the existing auto companies are set in there ways, mostly do to all the money that have poured into this 100 year old design, so they are resistant to try something truely new with the ICE.

    Ethanol makes sense as an alternative alongside many other fuels but not in it’s current money grabbing fashion. We really need to kick these current lousy pols out and get some people with real vision and zero ties to the farm lobby.

    Can we do a recall on congress like in California? I know it’s a pipe dream but it really needs to be done, these guys aren’t helping the situation they are making it worse.

  • avatar
    Redbarchetta

    chuck the clean diesels are coming unfortunately I don’t think we will see it in an Alfa when they finally come back. I personnall can’t wait for the chance to be able to buy another Alfa. But Honda has theirs coming next year along with Subaru planning one for 2009-10 I think. Isn’t Nissan bringing one stateside soon too, scabbed from Renault. Possibly in hybrid form.

  • avatar

    GM has responded to the report. Basically, they’re saying that the authors didn’t consider “the significantly lower cost of second-generation ethanol that will be made from cellulosic and biomass feed stocks. Most estimates show the cost of making Gen2 ethanol at $1 or less a gallon before distribution costs.” Ethanol significantly undercutting the price of regular gas? On what planet? The majority of its cost comes down to transportation: it can’t be stuffed into existing pipelines. And if GM thinks the state and federal governments are going to lower taxes on fuel, they’re kidding themselves. Nice try GM. Click here for the full Reuters press release.

  • avatar
    starlightmica

    GM’s factoring the cost of vaporware? Then again, they’re advertising the Volt on TV, so what else is new?

    The energy bill that just got through the compromise committee has extended the E85 incentive another 5 or so years and kept separate car & truck classifications to meet the proposed 35mpg fleet average.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/01/washington/01energy.html?hp

  • avatar
    jthorner

    Traditional farm subsidies are under constant attack thanks to the WTO. Politicians have found a way to boost farm subsidies AND look like they are environmentalists at the same time. Push ethanol use. Tell the voters on the coasts that you are working hard to reduce the use of foreign oil while telling the voters in the midwest that you are pumping billions into their pockets.

    Most people are poorly informed about most things and are happy to be accept whatever looks like answers to their fears. Religious leaders have known this for centuries and politicians know it as well.

  • avatar
    jthorner

    ” It should even be possible, if you are willing to screw around with variable boost turbos and the like, to build an engine that can switch back and forth between the fuels while avoiding a serious mileage penalty — a real flex-fuel vehicle. ”

    A little higher octane cannot fully make up for the much lower energy content of alcohol. Yes, it can slightly be made up for with some version of variable effective compression ratios as you suggest, but not the whole thing.

  • avatar
    jthorner

    “The majority of its cost comes down to transportation: it can’t be stuffed into existing pipelines.”

    I know that transportation of ethanol is a big issue, but can you provide any substantiation for this assertion that the transportation costs are the predominant cost factor?

  • avatar
    Virtual Insanity

    jkross22:

    Where we’re going, we don’t need roads…

  • avatar
    glenn126

    jthorner, ethanol cannot go through oil pipelines, because it mixes with water (condensation inside the pipelines) and then it’s a nice “margarine” mess when it comes out, apparently. Butanol (a 4 carbon alcohol) can be run through oil pipelines, and is virtually a drop-in replacement for gasoline. But, like ethanol, we do not have enough land to grow enough sugar beets to make sufficient fuel to take care of our current fuel requirements. But I’ve said it before – our future is not going to be “one” motor fuel, but many means of moving around. The oil age will be seen, in future history, as a unique period (assuming humanity survives, that is).

    Someone mentioned using old frying oil in their VW and taking me to task over my Prius about it. Well, sure, I’d love to be able to use used McDonald’s oil, if I had a diesel, but frankly we all know there are only “so many” McDonalds and other restaurants actually around, aren’t there?

Read all comments

Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Recent Comments

  • SCE to AUX: I was shocked to see an SSR in the wild the other day. The Hummer EV will do better, but I wouldn’t...
  • SCE to AUX: Yeah, I’ll bet the engineers didn’t think of that. Have you seen the armor plate under the...
  • CaddyDaddy: Ya, but when Dalton got to Missouri and the Roadhouse, the Riv was the one to go with for the Dirty Work.
  • Corey Lewis: You do British condescension so well!
  • Old_WRX: If they don’t offer that interior in magenta crushed velour fabric it would be such a shame.

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Who We Are

  • Matthew Guy
  • Timothy Cain
  • Adam Tonge
  • Bozi Tatarevic
  • Chris Tonn
  • Corey Lewis
  • Mark Baruth
  • Ronnie Schreiber