QOTD: Ethanol? Or Ethanot?

Matthew Guy
by Matthew Guy
qotd ethanol or ethanot

Sure, let’s start with week with a political question. Why not? It’s not like we’ve never had an opinion or two around here (that goes for both the writers and readers).

Last week, noise was being made and digital ink was being spilled concerning the issue of ethanol. What do you want to see in your tank?

It’s a thorny issue, for certain. On that, and only that, both sides of the argument seem to agree. Beyond there, each camp has staked a claim and appear ready to vigorously defend it.

Proponents of making E15 (fuel containing a blend of about 15 percent ethanol) available year-round say it would increase the demand for ethanol, which is made from corn in most instances. This in turn would increase the demand for that crop, raising its price and helping farmers, some of whom are struggling to make profits this year. E15 also generally costs 3 to 10 cents a gallon less than normal gasoline with lower amounts of ethanol, reducing the cost of a fill up.

Those opposed to the stuff will quickly point out some farmers are in the bind mentioned above thanks to tariffs created by the very same administration. It cannot be argued that ethanol packs less energy per gallon than gasoline, reducing efficiency and wiping out the cost savings. They also argue that corn should be produced to eat, not to make fuel, and it’s a really bad idea to burn your food.

Ethanol’s effect on the atmosphere is hazy, with some sources claiming its evaporation creates smog while others saying it is cleaner burning than pure gasoline. I didn’t do well enough in science class to have an opinion here.

Right now, sources approximate that America devotes one-third of her corn crop to ethanol production. In 2000, that number was just five percent.

What’s your take on the ethanol puzzle?

[Image: iowapublicradio.org]

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2 of 103 comments
  • Jeff S Jeff S on Oct 16, 2018

    I would feel better about ethanol if it were not forced on us right away. Having to junk a perfectly good vehicle and power lawn equipment to throw the farmers a bone after hurting them with a tariff war with China is more political. I think if we are going to use ethanol for environmental purposes we should either make ethanol out of crop waste or grow something like switch grass instead of using a crop that is a direct source of food. Maybe someone could find a use for sea weed which has become a real problem in coastal resort areas. There is a never ending source of sea weed and it is a problem to dispose of it. Better to use a waste product which would solve multiple issues.

  • Pwrwrench Pwrwrench on Oct 17, 2018

    Ick! Don't get me started. Ethanol is bad news for most engines. To take advantage of the fuel the engine needs a higher compression ratio. I know there have been some variable compression engines made, but I don't think there are any currently for sale. There are all sorts of subsidies for ethanol production, and AG in general, in the USA. One of the largest is for water. In California 90% of water used in AG comes from taxpayer subsidized projects; the Central Valley Project, the California Aqueduct, the All American Canal (and Coachella Canal) and many other canals and dams. AG pays a bare fraction of the cost of those works that make the Roman aqueduct look like a kid's ditch project. Most of the cost is borne by ratepayers and taxpayers in cities and suburbs. Many of whom do not get any water from those works. There is also subsidy for the pumping of water out of the Ogalalla Aquifer. All over the Mid Western states from South Dakota to Texas there are pumps running on subsidized electricity or diesel. BTW the guy that repairs my chain saws, weed wackers, leaf blowers, etc. makes a good profit on selling Ethanol Shield which mitigates the bad effects of the E10. No 100% gasoline available in California unless you go out of your way to buy race gas or Av gas. There are the special fuels for outdoor equipment without ethanol, but they run as high as $40 per gallon. Sold by the quart. If California goes the E15 route I predict a similar rash of failures as when the "oxygenated" fuel first started about 30 years ago. There will be fuel leaks, fires, and poor running/stalling vehicles. I see a few vehicles here with a "Flex-Fuel" or E85 sticker on them. I checked and the nearest place I could find to buy that stuff is 40 miles away. Yep the E10 reduces emissions on vehicles for the first moments before warm-up and CAT function take over. That's less and less time as the fleet gets newer. Most vehicles built in the last 25 years of into closed loop in less than a minute.

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