The Myth of Ethanol

Discussion in 'Random Ramblings' started by Davaroo, May 19, 2008.

  1. Davaroo

    Davaroo Poultry Crank

    Feb 4, 2007
    Leesville, SC
    We hear it all the time - Ethanol fuel is the way of the future! But is it?
    You've no doubt noted the price rise of agricultural products these days, namely FOOD. This is being blamed, in part, on the use of arable land for ethanol production - land that might otherwise be growing food.
    In this light, I found this little gem over on Bob Plamondons site,
    I thought it was at least interesting:

    Bad Math and Ethanol
    My discussion of using trees and pasture to take care of one's share of greenhouse gases got a lot of interest last month, so I'll drop the other shoe and talk about ethanol production.

    There's a vigorous debate about whether it takes more than a gallon of gasoline to make a gallon of ethanol. On the face of it, this is obviously a dumb question, because distilled liquor was popular long before the invention of gasoline. Obviously, ethanol can be made without any fossil fuel inputs at all.

    Of course, this isn't really the issue. The real issue is politics. Or, more properly, the real issue is economics, but since most people don't believe in economics, they turn to politics, the magical land where dreams ... well, actually, it's a magical land where dreams go horribly wrong. But people keep hoping.

    If you do a little bit of basic homework -- for example, if you look at a map that shows America's arable land and read Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations (one of a handful of books that one really ought to read before considering oneself to be an adult, along with, say, Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel or even Deming's Out of the Crisis) -- the whole concept is ludicrous.

    Our productive land is already in production. Consumers are not willing to stop eating just so they can get gasoline from corn. Every acre you devote to ethanol production means that you need to plow up an acre of grazing land or knock down an acre of forest.
    The whole exercise becomes one of, "Ha! You thought the Brazilians were good at deforestation? You ain't seen nothin' yet!"

    Using some numbers from the Internet, it looks to me that replacing our annual gasoline consumption would require 188 billion gallons of ethanol per year. At roughly 328 gallons of ethanol generated per acre of corn, this would require 573 million acres. But the U.S. has a total cropland of only about 460 million acres (including pasture and hayland). We'd have to use every bit of it, plus more. We'd have to put 113 million additional acres under the plow just so we can starve to death on a full tank of fuel.

    Realistically, the land can't do double duty, so we'd need 573 million additional acres. In fact, we'd need a lot more than that, because the best land is already taken, so the new land won't be as productive. We'd have to plow the whole country from sea to shining sea -- and that's just to provide us with corn-based gasoline. And we'd still have to use fossil fuels for our diesel oil, jet fuel, home heating oil, natural gas, and electricity production.

    And for what? Knocking down all that forest and plowing all that rangeland would be a total disaster from a greenhouse-gas point of view. That's the land that's undoing the damage caused by the fossil fuels. We can't spare it.

    Replacing fossil fuels with ethanol is nuts. Claiming that doing so will save the environment is the looniest thing I've ever heard. Promoting ethanol as a party fuel that lets you drink and drive out of the same container would be a triumph of pure reason by comparison.

    This is a good example of Plamondon's First Law: "The alternatives are even worse."

    Some political pundits have recently been chanting a new mantra, "Our problems cant be solved by drilling!"
    Maybe not long term. But for the time being, until we come up with something else that really works, maybe we should look into that. The caribou will just have to cope for a few decades.
  2. EweSheep

    EweSheep Flock Mistress

    Jan 12, 2007
    Land of Lincoln
    Well said Elderoo! You can not say it any better than this!

    I figured Ethanol wont stay around forever or being replaced by coal.....we are just too greedy to know that! And we use too much of it!
  3. nccountrygirl

    nccountrygirl Songster

    Jul 31, 2007
    Sanford N.C.
    NC USED to be know as the tobacco state, now every where you go you see farmers now planting corn. I quess they plan to get rich off of Americas need for Ethenol.
  4. NS2A

    NS2A Songster

    Jun 11, 2007
    And it takes 3-5 gallons of water to make one gallon of ethanol. In southern MN, the water table dropped 300 FEET after a summer of the ethanol plant sucking all the water out of the ground.
  5. chickbea

    chickbea Songster

    Jan 18, 2007
    Corn is also a crop that needs intensive chemical fertilization, which pollutes runoff and groundwater!
  6. coffeemama

    coffeemama Barista Queen

    Mar 5, 2008
    I completely diasagree that we should be drilling in Alaska-what I do agree with is that Ethanol should not be seen as the saving grace. The main issue is not where we get our fuel, it is how much of it we use. Reduction in resource use is really the first step. IMO
  7. Davaroo

    Davaroo Poultry Crank

    Feb 4, 2007
    Leesville, SC
    I agree with you coffee. Reduction is one step, but it isnt the only one.

    Im all for things like hybrids ONLY being sold within the decade. People growing some of their own food, a la the WWII Victory Garden, is another great idea.

    We can also use geo-thermal power out West, erect generators in the heartland and put point of use solar power into effect.

    Atomic energy is also an option, albeit distasteful to some. We're now 40 years into our knowledge base on practical nuclear power - put it to use.

    There is no one simple solution yet, and it will take a multi-tiered strategy to get us going. Some hard decisions, some of them even draconian, will need to be made. And not just by us - the rest of the world is as guilty, if not more, than we.

    Petro fuel needs to die, but we're tied to it for the near future. That's one of the hard decisions we have to make - to face that or ignore it.
  8. Farmer Kitty

    Farmer Kitty Flock Mistress

    Sep 18, 2007
    Actually this country is behind. Other countries have moved onto Cellulose. It is made from grass.

    It doesn't really matter what we use if we don't learn to respect it and reduce the amount we use!
  9. barred rock'er

    barred rock'er In the Brooder

    Feb 15, 2008
    Middle Tennessee
    I do support drilling in anwr but only if we expand and build new refineries. whats the use in having more oil if we can't process it all?

    Also I heard that the alaskan pipeline has actually boosted the moose population. I think they said they where mating under the pipeline because of the warmth it emits.

    go figure!
  10. DuckyBoys

    DuckyBoys Songster

    Apr 2, 2008
    Quote:I agree with both points, yours and elderoo's.

    Yes, we should definately be cutting down on consumption. In fact I think it is criminal that we're fighting a war and NO ONE has asked the American people to contribute by cutting back on ANYTHING.

    OTOH - I see first hand - as do many here I'm sure - on how ethanol is impacting the price of feed, the backyard farmer, the small farmer, the large farmer, the corporate farmer...right on up to the consumer.

    I would like the Earth to be healthy, for pete's sake I WORK for a government environmental department, BUT I do not think environmentalist should be calling all the shots. They, like many scientists (myself included), can be narrow minded.

    We're being held hostage, in my opinion, by self inflicted environmental paranoia. The US is an environmental leader believe it or not, we do a pretty darn good job. Someone pat us on the back for once.
    Last edited: May 19, 2008

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