Monday, December 10, 2007

Is Ethanol really right for the economy and environment?

(i.e., How politics trump logic.)

The fundamental Physics of corn Ethanol indicate that we are putting a lot of money into something that is inefficient, doesn’t compete with sugar cane Ethanol, will foul our air even more, and ultimately will cause inflation (food and transportation).

Corn ethanol requires about 1 gallon of fossil fuel (input) to create 1.3 gallons of ethanol. Additionally, ethanol has 67% of the energy content of gasoline.1 Therefore, a car that goes 20 miles with one gallon of gasoline will only go a little more than 17 miles2.

Put another way, without subsidies, it will cost an additional 15% to go the same distance as with gas. (Not economical.) Meanwhile, we are burning something to power our vehicles. (Not really green.) Meanwhile, food prices increase due to shifting of valuable land to corn production. (Ex: Cows are fed corn.) A longer term problem is the issue of crop rotation: Every farmer knows that crops need to be different from year to year or the same nutrients will be depleted through overuse. For the longer term, shifting to ethanol is not sustainable!

The quick analysis does not even take into account the additional water that is required, nor the additional pesticides and fertilizer!


- Not economical - Not eco-friendly
- Causes inflation - Not sustainable

However, it sure helps politicians [1] say they’re doing something, and [2] not have to deal with “normal” farm subsidies.

The alternatives? Ensure that the “essence” of what we use for fuel is free. Oil is, in fact “free”. It is sitting in the ground. It needs to be extracted, refined, transported and available for distribution (stations). Corn (the essence of ethanol) is not free (water, land use, chemicals, etc.)

Like oil, the “essence" of the following sources are all free… the energy just needs to be extracted, refined, transported and distributed:
Solar energy. Wind energy. Wave energy. Geothermal energy. They provide sustainable energy in an energy-independent way.

But these present tougher problems to sell to the American people, and require more thought and more bi-partisan support.

Write your representatives and tell them you're interested in serious long-term solutions to our energy independence!

1) From the October 2007 edition of National Geographic
2) Efficiency factor (EF): 1.3 x 0.67 = 0.87 20 mpg x EF = 17.4 miles



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