Ethanol is stupid, really stupid, ask Sel Graham

It is a challenge to explain what a stupid idea ethanol is as an additive to gasoline.

Let me try.

My friend, Sel Graham, West Point officer, petroleum engineer and attorney, has been beating on the stupidity of ethanol for years–it is less energy producing, at about 85 % of the BTUs per gallon than gasoline, but it produces more carbon dioxide per gallon. So ethanol is stupid for every gallon added to gasoline, reducing mileage and increasing carbon dioxide production.

This article by CBS, as usual emphasizes one aspect, the harm to the land and the water run off, increasing nitrate pollution of water run off and turning prairie land into crop land, but CBS neglects other considerations because journalists are generally very poorly informed.

Not enough is said about diverting food stocks to fuel. People on the planet are paying for the diversion with higher food costs.

Ethanol production from tropical lands has diverted land from food to fuel for another reason why costs for food have increased.

So, pray tell, what’s the benefit except to farmers, who now benefit from a dramatic increase in corn prices, now increased by more than 100 % ?

Ethanol is corrosive to transport in pipes, so it must be trucked. Production of ethanol draws down water resources and so the water and carbon foot print of ethanol is not a pretty thing to calculate.

But it’s worse than that,

From Sel’s essay below:

A gallon of gasoline contains 124,262 British Thermal Units (BTUs) of energy and 19.56 pounds of carbon dioxide. A gallon of ethanol contains 76,000 BTUs and 12.57 pounds of carbon dioxide. Ethanol has only 61% of the energy of gasoline. It takes 1.635 gallons of ethanol to do the same amount of work as one gallon of gasoline. This 1.635 gallons of ethanol emits 20.55 pounds of carbon dioxide. Ethanol emits more carbon dioxide into the air than gasoline. Thus, ethanol emits more carbon dioxide into the environment than gasoline.

How does ethanol affect mileage? A gallon of ethanol has 48,262 less BTUs than a gallon of gasoline. Ethanol production last year was 13,300 million gallons. This 13,300 million gallons times 48,262 BTUs equals 641,885 billion BTUs less than gasoline. The average vehicle requires 6,821 BTUs per mile. Thus, ethanol causes consumers to lose 94 billion miles of free travel annually due to its poor mileage.
Overall, as Sel Graham would point out–ethanol is not a little but a lot stupid and it does not make sense. It doesn’t even do what the corn ethanol advocates assert, make for more energy independence.

Here’s teh whole Sel Graham essay, since he deserves more than just a snip as above.

Sel says:

Our National Security Must Come First

Americans must seriously consider the national security of the United States above all else. National security must come before self-interest, apathy, or simple neglect. There are too many national politicians from both parties advocating ethanol or tolerating ethanol by agreeing to “All-of-the-Above” energy or just not paying attention.

Our greatest national security problem is foreign oil imports. It is costing Americans $314 billion annually. In addition to this massive drain on the general economy of the United States, there is the negative effect on American jobs, income, tax revenue, royalties, debt, and balance of payments.

In addition, there is a more obvious direct harm to national security. Dependence upon foreign oil, current source of 59% of the oil providing our transportation fuel, could bring our nation to a standstill if interrupted. In 1973, at the time of the Arab Oil Embargo, foreign oil imports were only 26%, making us more than twice as vulnerable today. Foreign oil imports are a national security emergency.

Corn ethanol is the only viable renewable fuel attempting to replace foreign oil. Potential future production of other renewable fuels, because of low yield, is de minimus (so minimal as to be trifling). Because of ethanol production, no serious thought is given to the quick elimination of foreign oil imports. Yet, no serious thought has been given to ethanol production, either. America is asleep at the national security switch.

Ethanol production is declining after having reached its peak in 2011. The following is annual ethanol production in thousands of barrels:
2008 221,637
2009 260,424
2010 316,617
2011 331,646
2012 314,714
Estimated 2013 309,000 (from 8 months of data)

Clearly, ethanol production peaked in 2011 and is now declining.

The key question is: How is ethanol doing in replacing foreign oil imports? Last year, foreign oil imports amounted to 3,107,825 thousand barrels. The ethanol production of 314,714 thousand barrels that year was only 10% of foreign imports. It is impossible for ethanol to ever replace foreign oil imports. Thus, if ethanol cannot replace foreign oil, there is no reason for ethanol.

How is allegedly “clean” ethanol improving the environmental picture? Using ethanol emits more carbon dioxide into the air than using gasoline. A gallon of gasoline contains 124,262 British Thermal Units (BTUs) of energy and 19.56 pounds of carbon dioxide. A gallon of ethanol contains 76,000 BTUs and 12.57 pounds of carbon dioxide. Ethanol has only 61% of the energy of gasoline. It takes 1.635 gallons of ethanol to do the same amount of work as one gallon of gasoline. This 1.635 gallons of ethanol emits 20.55 pounds of carbon dioxide. Ethanol emits more carbon dioxide into the air than gasoline. Thus, ethanol emits more carbon dioxide into the environment than gasoline.

How does ethanol affect mileage? A gallon of ethanol has 48,262 less BTUs than a gallon of gasoline. Ethanol production last year was 13,300 million gallons. This 13,300 million gallons times 48,262 BTUs equals 641,885 billion BTUs less than gasoline. The average vehicle requires 6,821 BTUs per mile. Thus, ethanol causes consumers to lose 94 billion miles of free travel annually due to its poor mileage.

How does ethanol affect the price of gasoline at the pump? Refineries must pay for a Renewable Identification Number (RIN) for every gallon of ethanol which is not produced below the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). The cost of these RIN waivers are passed on to consumers. The Wall Street Journal has called this a “Unicorn Tax,” a tax on something which does not exist. The 2013 RFS demands that 16.55 billion gallons of ethanol equals [42 gallons equals one barrel] 394 million barrels be blended with gasoline at the pump this year. Through August 2013, only 206 million barrels of ethanol had been produced, so only about 309 million barrels of ethanol are expected to be produced this year. Therefore, the projected shortfall in ethanol production is 85 million barrels (3.6 billion gallons). The Energy Information Administration reported that, as of October 30, the RIN price has averaged about 66 cents per gallon in 2013. Thus, ethanol has increased the price of gasoline at the pump about $2.4 billion.

In summary, ethanol increases gasoline prices, destroys mileage, emits more carbon dioxide than gasoline, and hurts rather than helps national security. Which brings us to the question: Is there any need to continue ethanol production since it provides no help in national security? The answer is “No!”

What can replace foreign oil? Domestic oil can and should replace foreign oil. US oil production has been increasing annually since 2008, no thanks to the government. US oil production in 2012 was 340 million barrels more than in 2008. The increase is largely due to new shale oil discoveries.

Domestic oil is always cheaper than foreign oil. According to the DOE, the average price of domestic oil was $94.52 per barrel in 2012, while the average price of imported foreign oil was $101.00 per barrel. Since domestic oil was $6.48 per barrel cheaper than foreign oil, American consumers would have saved $20 billion if domestic oil had replaced foreign oil.

There is an urgent need for common sense to prevail in energy. The security of the United States is at stake.

Seldon B. Graham, Jr.

SelGraham@austin.rr.com

Here’s the link to the CBS article on how ethanol production is a big problem for land use in the US Mid West.

http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-205_162-57611891/making-corn-based-ethanol-badly-hurting-environment-ap/?pageNum=5

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13 responses to “Ethanol is stupid, really stupid, ask Sel Graham

  1. Facts don’t matter to true believers! Sad…………

  2. Thank Bush for ethanol, of course he also said hydrogen powered cars were the future of transportation and you know how far that got.

    • Obama greatly extended the mandated for former governor Vilsak when he first got into office.

      This isn’t a red or blue issue, it is a purple issue.

  3. The Government website http://www.afdc.energy.gov/vehicles/flexible_fuel_emissions.html says: “Carbon dioxide (CO2) released when ethanol is used in vehicles is offset by the CO2 captured when crops used to make the ethanol are grown”

    While that makes sense to some degree, doesn’t that assume that I only burn ethanol to make and transport ethanol?

    • I wonder if the life cycle analysis really added the extra fuel required from lower heat value, the ~0.5 mole of CO2 produced per mole of ammonia fertilizer made, CO2 emissions from farming, etc. It didn’t seem to, but I didn’t read the paper in detail. You then have all the transport of ethanol. Even if it is a break even on CO2, it is a bad deal because it costs more in fuel and food.

  4. Carbon dioxide released when fossil fuels used in vehicles is offset by the CO2 captured when crops used to make food are grown.

  5. It looks like in about 5 years we will be oil import neutral. As in the amount we abs(import – Export) ~= 0

    I don’t think energy imports as a national security issue will hold water for much longer.

  6. I’ve come around to NG being a base-load fuel in the transportation sector, ala Pickens. Plenty of NG available to fuel the transport fleet, and the density/distribution aspects are technologically simple to defeat. Just keep the Gubment out and let the Gas Barons figure out the market. The counter-point efforts by the Corn Growers lobby is hilarious. Here in CO, we harvest so little corn that we import corn for the Everclear industry…by law.

  7. Another key point is that ethanol destroys internal combustion engines (ICEs).
    This is well known in the boating and shipping industries. Ethanol is ‘hygroscopic’ (a chemist’s word that means it absorbs water directly from the air) – and air around boats is especially damp. It is a basic fact of chemistry that when you bring iron (engine blocks) and oxygen (air) and water (wet ethanol-rich fuels), you get rust. The heat of actually burning the fuel inside a steel engine block makes it happen even faster. Rust is not good for ICEs.

  8. Commentary and analysis from someone intelligent and knowledgeable…

    BURN THE HERETIC!!!

  9. tadchem: That’s great news for EV’s and gubbament motors.

  10. For all who think you can believe a “petroleum engineer” but not someone in agriculture to be honest about petroleum competition, please consider; Nearly 1/3 of the corn that goes in for ethanol production, comes back out as a nutrient rich livestock feed (Dried Distillers Grain – DDG) because biological fermentation only uses the starch in corn. With that statement, I’m assuming you’re smarter than the enviros at National Geographic who condemn corn production because “corn is livestock food, not human food”. Exports of corn, including DDGs have risen steadily over the last ten years – the starvation of people world wide because of ethanol is a rope-a-dope accusation. The price of corn is now less than it was when the RFS was signed. Much of the price spike the media attributes to corn is due to the drought of 2012 and investment institutions needing somewhere to put their money when the stock market collapsed six years ago – when the RFS was signed. Farmers and landowners have willingly put 31 million acres of cropland into the Conservation Reserve Program, Wetland Reserve Program, and Wildlife Habit Program. Millions more acres have been offered but rejected due to other spending priorities. There was no “pristine prairie” to be plowed under for corn production – its been gone for over a century. The price of gasoline is estimated to be slightly over one dollar a gallon less than it would be if we weren’t adding 14 billion gallons to the fuel supply. Next time you’re at the pump, ask yourself if you would want to pay 40 cents more per gallon than the price of diesel – where gas prices were before the push to ethanol. Then ask yourself if you want petroleum’s carcinogenic MTBE back as an oxygenate? And last, ask yourself why you read a web site that, like the media “idiots” you despise, only tells one side of the story without giving equal time to both sides and letting you decide for yourself!!!

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