E85 Boondoggle Of The Day: Comment?

Edward Niedermeyer
by Edward Niedermeyer

The EPA is currently soliciting comment on a proposed waiver to allow 15 percent ethanol blends (E15), and despite enduring a year of hard knocks, the ethanol lobby is making a desperate stand to reverse its declining fortunes. Peruse already-submitted comments, and you’ll notice that Growth Energy (the new K-Street tip of the ethanol spear) dominates the list with a host of spurious “supporting materials.” The group’s main argument (PDF) is fine-tuned for the jobs-crazed economic-political climate, centering around the assertion that “according to one estimate, allowing blending of E15 has the potential to create at least 135,000 jobs.” Which sounds great as long as you don’t look at the “hidden” cost of increasing blending credit receipts. Needless to say, Growth Energy isn’t asking anyone to go there, having helpfully created some talking points to help make commenting easier. We suggest commenting on the proposed waiver as well, but rather than dutifully regurgitating GE’s talking points why don’t you go through our E85 archive first. Or check out a few recent news stories after the jump which illustrate our unrelenting skepticism of so called intermediate ethanol blends.

For starters, check out this recent post to GM’s Fastlane blog, detailing the need for more testing of intermediate ethanol blends. In the words of GM Biofuels Implementation Manager, Coleman Jones, “GM is a big supporter of ethanol as an alternative fuel to help reduce petroleum use, but with respect to mid-level blends, there is a lot of testing that needs to happen before such a change is made.” Jones states that the only testing to be done on the engine impacts of E20 were done six years ago in Australia, and those showed catalyst damage on 40 percent of tested vehicles. And this comes from ethanol’s biggest backer outside of the energy industry. Not that GM is backing away from ethanol, though. As Jones puts it, “ widespread use of E85 is the best and likely the only way to meet the 36 billion gallons of ethanol in 2022.”

Of course the “mandatory flexibility” approach is going to run into trouble as well, especially since California is preparing fuel carbon standards which the ethanol lobby claims “unfairly targets” their grift. Er, industry. The SF Chronicle reports that the rules, aimed at reducing fuel “carbon density,” take into account not only the carbon released through consumption, but also through production. Naturally, corn ethanol has some of the worst production-end carbon intensivity, a fact that Growth Energy’s Wesley Clark is happy to obfuscate. “Why should American ethanol makers be made responsible for Brazil’s policies on deforestation?” asks the former General, demonstrating his new-found K-street debate-shifting ninja skills. Because midwest corn ethanol scores worse than any other fuel, with land-use changes factored in. Sir.

And as goes California, so goes every other halfway-crunchy state in the union these days. Oregon’s legislature is considering a host of anti-ethanol bills, as local pols begin to smell the populist blood in the water. “I hate ethanol,” admits Eugene Rep Vicky Walker. Why? Because like our own Menno, Ms Walker has seen her Prius mileage drop since E10 hit the streets.

Edward Niedermeyer
Edward Niedermeyer

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  • Engineer Engineer on Apr 23, 2009
    The alternative fuel process to watch is carbon to syngas followed by syngas to liquid fuel. It’s currently too expensive, but at least it scales up. The US has large quantities of cheap low quality coal to make into syngas. And all that garbage (82% carbon-based) would make a fine feedstock for such a scheme. Did you look at the references for CHOREN and Range Fuels. They're doing exactly that. Range Fuels call their technology cellulosic ethanol to stick with the flavor-of-the-month, and grab some subsidies. Another case of Uncle Sam blindly sabotaging a workable altenative fuel.
  • Pch101 Pch101 on Apr 23, 2009
    with that level of distortion-capability you should run for office. Funny, I was going to say the same of you! For some reason that you've failed to substantiate, you think that chewing on energy and running it through an esophagus is inherently superior to using a spark and air to burn it. That's just not particularly logical. The fact that we can eat corn has nothing whatsoever to do with whether we should or shouldn't run vehicles with it. That point cuts both ways. On one hand, the fact that we chew on it at summer barbeques doesn't make it particularly "green" -- since when did burgers, ribs and Wonder Bread become environmentally friendly? On the other hand, the fact that we put butter on it and get it stuck in our teeth doesn't make it particularly bad for fuel, either. We judge energy sources based upon other factors (energy output, production capability, emissions, transportability, etc.), not on whether it doesn't taste good. Alcohol as a motor fuel is perfectly fine. Your local drag strip will vouch for that, as would Henry Ford, who was making flex fuel cars long before they became a CAFE loophole. But there are flaws related to producing the amounts of it that we need. The ability to swallow it has nothing to do with those. I’ve been clear that government has a role to play. That role does NOT include the ability to develop or even identify the fuel of the future. You're entitled to believe that, but you are wrong to assume that everyone shares your view. Unless you believe that inventors should have access to cash without supporting their need for it, government obviously has to decide which ones to choose, and which to reject, if it is going to dole out the incubator money to experiment with it. A guy who requests $100 billion to experiment with monkey methane is rightfully going to be rejected, and the government should be able to send him to the door without a free marketeer claiming that the feds are anti-primate. Ethanol obviously works as a fuel, at least on a small scale, so it's fair to study it further. That doesn't mean that we should commit all of resources to it or use corn to produce it, but it deserves a look.
  • 28-Cars-Later "Here's why" edition_cnn_com/2018/06/13/health/falling-iq-scores-study-intl/index.html
  • 28-Cars-Later Seriously, $85. GM Delta I is burning hot garbage to the point where the 1990 Saturn Z-body is leagues better. My mother inherited an '07 Ion with 30Kish otc which was destroyed in 2014 by a tipsy driver with a suspended license (driver's license enforcement is a joke in Pennsyltucky). Insurance paid out $6,400 when it was only worth about $5,800 IIRC, but sure 10 year later the "hipo" Delta I can fetch how much?
  • Buickman styling does not overcome powertrain, follow the money. labor/materials.
  • VoGhost It's funny, until CDK raises their prices to cover the cost. And then the stealerships do even more stealing because they're certainly not taking the hit - why do you think they make all those political donations? So who pays in the end?
  • VoGhost I was talking today to a guy who pulled up in an '86 Camry. Said it ran like a top, got 30 mpg, the AC was ice cold and everywhere he goes, people ask to buy it. He seemed happy.
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