By on January 4, 2008

ethanol.jpgEthanol is all-around more expensive than gasoline. You don't need to do the math to prove it– because Professor Emeritus Don Elliott of the University of Northern Colorado did it for you. In a letter to the editor of The Tribune, he refutes their misleading claim that ethanol is less expensive and produces less pollution per gallon than gasoline. Using a more realistic measure of cost per miles driven, he shows that a vehicle running on E85 needs 40 percent more fuel to go the same distance as one burning gasoline, and E85 would cost 9.6 percent more per mile driven. On the pollution issue, he figures in the emissions from the fossil fuels used to produce the ethanol as well as the greenhouse gasses E85 produces. When looking at the total pollution produced by each fuel, he computes E85 produces 15.5 percent more greenhouse gasses per mile. How's THAT for an inconvenient truth.

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26 Comments on “The Truth About Ethanol’s Cost...”

  • avatar

    Now that Iowa is behind us, maybe the politicians will come to their senses about ethanol and, if they want to use the product, import brazilian sugar cane ethanol…

  • avatar

    I’m not sure we want the sugar stuff. That’s more foodstuff ethanol which I think is a bad idea economically for the US. I think the government needs to subsidize R&D for cellulosic ethanol which is barely getting on its feet at this point.

  • avatar

    Strangely, McCain did well in Iowa after refusing to support ethanol. Could it be that even people in Iowa are starting to get it?

  • avatar

    That’s Great! I will be able to vote for the first time next November and I hope he makes it. I’m not a fan of any politician but I think he’s the least of all those evils.

  • avatar


    Don’t get too excited about any politician. Although McCain is good on the ethanol boondoggle, he’s terrible on the Bush tax credits for the extremely wealthy.

    There is, however, some hope if McCain did well in Iowa, that people are getting it.

  • avatar
    Virtual Insanity

    I’m leaning towards Huckabee. Chuck Norris supports Huckabee, so that means my vote is Chuck for President, Huckabee for Veep.

    In other news, thanks for the link. Now whenever I have to deal with the ethanol idiots, I can just hand them this, and say “someone smarter than you says your wrong,” and leave it at that.

  • avatar

    Ron Paul is for eliminating agricultural subsidies completely and he got 10% of the Republican vote.

  • avatar

    What tax on the extremely wealthy?

    There are no taxes specifically for the extremely wealthy. If you buy into that BS I got a good as new chrysler I will make you a great deal on.

    Everytime they try to tax the “extremely wealthy” all they do is cost a lot of above average people a lot of money and all sorts of people their jobs.

    Just give it up. The wealthy people consistently spend or invest their money. If you want to tax them, stop trying to outsmart them, and get them at the cash register. Don’t try taxing only things they buy either, its been tried, and failed. The wealthy just stop buying those things.

  • avatar

    It’s interesting that Dr Elliott brought this attention to the Greeley Tribune. Greeley is northeast of Denver and has historically been a cow town and still is. It is also a rapidly growing bedroom town for Denver. There seems to be a duality of personality in the town, that of the old-time beef folks and the modern, hip Subaru-wielding Denver commuters. Some folks are looking out for their industry (and the economic health of the nation) and the others are more “progressive” and looking for environmental “solutions”.

  • avatar

    Landcrusher: “Strangely, McCain did well in Iowa after refusing to support ethanol. Could it be that even people in Iowa are starting to get it?”

    I expect the hog farmers went for McCain; they would all want cheaper corn, which is not a feature of the ethanol program.

  • avatar


    Too funny, and likely true! Thank You.

  • avatar

    First off, just as in the Global Warming debate, ONE guy with a PhD saying something convenient is not conclusive proof one way or the other. The public should listen to scientists who spend their lives studying the problems we are concerned with. In other words, scientists should be listened to and their assessments respected within their own fields, but not outside their fields. Taking someone at their word on a subject simply because they have a PhD in something, never mind it might be Underwater Basket Weaving, is naive.

    Dr. Donald D. Elliot is a professor emeritus (retired) at University of Northern Colorado. His PhD dissertation was entitled “On a Class of Singular Integral Operators,” and he was a Mathematics Professor. He does not hold PhDs in material science, chemical or mechanical engineering, or physics. He may be able to do some mean algebra, but he is not qualified to judge the underlying issues of the E85 debate, and, in this case, should not be touted as an expert on anything more than the algebra involved.

    In general, I believe E85 is important because it can reduce our dependence on foreign oil, which was the intent when it was first touted, before the environmentalists decided it was greener, probably from listening to someone with a PhD who didn’t know what they were talking about! Reducing our dependence on foreign oil, and oil in general should be the main goal in developing alternative fuels, environmentalism second.

    E85 is a decent first thought, but it does seem like a one step forward and two steps back, since, if E85 replaced gas at the pump, we would be returning to a national economy based on rain that falls from the sky (to grow the corn), which we have little control over. Surely the Dust Bowl of the 1930s taught us an economy largely dependent on agriculture is not ideal.

  • avatar

    John McCain? You mean this John McCain from an April 2006 speech?

    But he (McCain) took more questions, including a pointed one on his immigration plan.

    McCain responded by saying immigrants were taking jobs nobody else wanted. He offered anybody in the crowd $50 an hour to pick lettuce in Arizona.

    Shouts of protest rose from the crowd, with some accepting McCain’s job offer.

    “I’ll take it!” one man shouted.

    McCain insisted none of them would do such menial labor for a complete season. “You can’t do it, my friends.”

    Some in the crowd said they didn’t appreciate McCain questioning their work ethic.

    Just as an FYI, $50/hr is about $15/hr more than what our average troop is making in Iraq.

  • avatar

    Shit if I could make $50/hr in Arizona for picking lettuce I would move tomorrow. I could use the excercise and less stress for twice what I make now. No wonder why the Mexicans keep coming in droves they get paid more then 60% of the citizens. Explains why produce is so damn expensive. Maybe he meant to say $5/hr.

  • avatar
    Virtual Insanity

    Fifty bucks an hour to pick letuce? What the hell did I just waste four years for a college degree for?

    And my question to E85 solving the foriegn oil problem…

    1)Where do you think that other 15% is gonna come from
    2)Where do you think the oil needed to produce E85 is going to come from

    and tertiary:
    What is our oil doing under their sand.

    I keed I keed.

  • avatar

    Okay, all ethanol haters heads up: the estimated true cost of gasoline is about $10.00/gal. Included in this are the following:

    l. The oil depletion allowance subsidy.
    2. The strategic petroleum reserve subsidy.
    3. The royalty payment in kind subsidy and attendant shenanigans estimated to have cost the government about $60 billion.
    4. The cost of the Iraq war which will be $1 trillion at least.
    5. The added cost of domestic security due to terrorists trying to get even for us messing around in their corner of the world and exemplified by the 9/11 attacks.
    6. The falling purchasing power of the dollar due to excessive reliance on oil imports.

    I could go on and on, but that’s enough for one comment. Ethanol is a bargain.

  • avatar

    Or maybe he meant $0.50.

    If I could make $50 an hour right now for picking lettuce, why am I filling out college applications? The only downside is that it’s a seasonal job so I’d have to do something else less lucrative, but possibly more fun, for the rest of the year.

  • avatar

    I could go on and on, but that’s enough for one comment.
    Trust me, you did. Please stop!

    Ethanol is a bargain.
    ONLY if properly consumed. Cheers!

    As a fuel ethanol is pretty useless due to:
    1. The fact that it has only 2/3rds the energy per gallon compared to gasoline. So, to run things the same way, you’d need to add 50% to everyplace gasoline is stored. You also need 50% more ethanol to replace any given volume of gasoline.
    2. Ethanol absorbs moisture, causing corrosion, which causes many other problems in turn.
    3. That moisture can cause other problems: Even a relatively small amount of water accidentally entering into the fuel can cause the gasoline and ethanol to separate into two layers, gasoline on top and ethanol/water on the bottom, rendering the fuel useless.
    4. Blending low levels of ethanol into gasoline tends to increase intake valve deposits.
    5. Ethanol increases the vapor pressure of blends meaning more air pollution and evaporative loss.

    Ethanol (like hydrogen) is a fuel of the future, one that one can only hope stays there for the rest of eternity!

  • avatar

    Thanks much, Engineer for your well-reasoned reply. Here are my responses to 97escort’s six-item list:
    1. The oil depletion allowance is a subsidy only if you think all deductions from taxable income are subsidies. Depletion is equivalent to depreciation, which isn’t controversial. Maybe you’re thinking of percentage depletion, but Evil Oil Companies lost that many years ago.
    2. If purchasing oil for the strategic petroleum reserve is a subsidy, wouldn’t purchasing a fire hose also be a subsidy?
    3. By “royalty payment in kind subsidy” I guess you mean treating royalties paid to governments as equivalent to tax payments is a subsidy. When minerals are owned by a government, it doesn’t matter whether it demands “royalties” or “taxes.” It’s like your landlord calling a rent hike an “adjustment.”
    4. Whatever the cost of the Iraq war, it should be evaluated against costs of alternative scenarios. As you recall, the shooting never stopped after the first gulf war.
    5. Islamic terrorists are attacking nations that never “messed around” in the Mideast. To put it another way: the 9/11 attacks are not our fault.
    6. By “falling purchasing power of the dollar” I guess you mean currency exchange ratios. That is influenced by many factors. I agree “excessive reliance on oil imports” is bad, and Japan (100% dependent on imported oil) should just stop it! Perhaps you have a plan for cutting imports. If so, please advise Congress. It is eagerly searching for a method that won’t (a) allow more domestic production, and (b) irritate anyone.

  • avatar

    Ethanol is heavily subsidized and heavy tariffs are placed on foreign imports. Ethanol is a clever way to avoid sanctions when subsidizing agriculture. To get the ethanol we need fuel. Burn a lot of fuel and get an energy equivalent of ethanol. Then burn the ethanol. You have just doubled the amount of energy required. Why not skip the middleman?(ethanol) Ethanol is a boondoggle and of know value if you are not in the government subsidized ethanol game. Without the subsidies the ethanol plants would be closing tomorow.

  • avatar
    Alex Rodriguez

    I agree with arush87, Ethanol’s primary purpose at this moment is to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, the environmental effects are secondary.

    Additionally, we are looking at an industry in it’s infancy, it will only get more efficient as it matures, and there are technologies in development that will lessen the dependency on corn. A mature ethanol industry using an efficient energy source holds a lot of promise as part of the solution to our energy issues. Look no further than Brazil.

  • avatar

    For all the hype about Brazil, the fact is the USA produces more ethanol than Brazil. There is nothing in grain based ethanol that is helping dependance on foreign oil. If you want energy independance drill for the oil in Alaska and offshore, of which there is huge quantities. This drilling would have much less environmental cost than producing corn based ethanol.

  • avatar

    Hey Alex, even if it is all about just reducing our dependence on foreign oil, ethanol’s not doing that either because it requires that foreign oil to produce. And then, because the gas mileage with ethanol is worse, we have to use more foreign oil to produce the extra ethanol necessary to propel our cars. The only advantage is money for those in on the game, and that’s only a select few.

  • avatar

    The question of the value of ethanol vs. gasoline as fuels involves is easy – if voluminous to determine. It needs to be looked at by someone who understands bioenergetics and involves answers to the following questions.

    1. How much energy does it cost to produce one gallon of ethanol? From raising the corn to harvesting, fementing and producing.

    2. How much energy does it cost to produce one gallon of gasoline (extracting, refining)

    3. How much energy do you get from one gallon of each?

    4. What are the pollutant ammounts associated with the production and utilization of each?

    5. What add on effects are there from the production of each (environmental damage to the wilderness or the delta) both immediate and long-term?

    6. What costs are involved in balancing those deleterious effects?

    6. What are the effects of each on the economy? More directly, what are the effects of re-purposing the corn economy and “de-purposing” the petroleum economy?

    Now, given that Ethanol starts with 35%-40% deficit in energy per gallon, involves significant amounts of energy to grow and harvest and may have significant and near-immediate impact on estuary quality (’ll bet that – on the overall pollution/ energy equation, gasoline is the lesser of two evils, not to mention the effects of increased corn prices felt in the supermarket.

  • avatar

    “I agree with arush87, Ethanol’s primary purpose at this moment is to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, the environmental effects are secondary. ”

    If that is the purpose then it is doing a poor job. US consumed 300 billion gallons of oil per year, ethanol makes about 5 billion. Adjusting for lower energy content, this is about 1%. But of course this is not really replacing oil, because it takes lots of energy (natural gas for fertilizer, coal, diesel).

    A more realistic statement would be that the purpose of ethanol is to provide profit as consumer and taxpayer expense (billions in fed and state subsidies, mandates, and tariffs that keep out ethanol from more efficient producers like Brazil).

    “Additionally, we are looking at an industry in it’s infancy, it will only get more efficient as it matures, and there are technologies in development that will lessen the dependency on corn. A mature ethanol industry using an efficient energy source holds a lot of promise as part of the solution to our energy issues. ”

    Infancy?! Ethanol has been guzzling at the taxpayer teat since the 1970’s!

    Every technology can be improved with time, but some just work better. If the government required bias ply tires I’m sure that they would have improved since the 1960’s, but radials are still better.

    There are many more alternativds (biodiesel from algae, butanol, heck simply not driving giant rigs), why ethanol? Seems like Republicans and Democrats both want to imitate the failed Soviet model of central planning – that’s right there from the government and they are here to help us – let them choose the fuels, not a free market.

    What about other ethanol technologies? If they are competitive, bring them on, if not then forget them. Cellulosic alcohol looks like an even bigger boondoggle than corn – advocates are asking for *additional* subsidies for chemically identical cellulosic, admitting it is even less efficient.

    “Look no further than Brazil.”

    Brazil’s climate allows them to make ethanol much more efficiently, even then they need subsidies (we’d import this but huge tariffs are in place to block efficient foreign producers). Brazil makes about same ethanol as US, but uses much, much less oil and has some domestic oil.

    If ethanol is totally uncompetitive at 100 dollar oil, we don’t need it. May the best technology win, not the one with the best lobbyists.

  • avatar

    Right on! Thx_zetec.

    Man! Those ADM lobbiests are something else, aren’t they!

    Keep the government out of letting the free market make decisions!

    Use corn for Fritos and Gummi Bears and keep it out of my injectors! Ha!

    I can see those posters now!

    Can’t you, Hillary!

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