Yeah, I said it. Fuck Ethanol. That stuff is a terrible terrible idea. And I’m going to tell you why.
First off, ethanol is inefficient. I’ll defeat the pro-ethanol efficiency argument right now – the argument for it is that the higher octane rating (about 104 octane for E85). That’s all well and good if you’re running a car with extremely high compression, advanced timing, or lots of boost. Unfortunately, most flex fuel vehicles don’t take advantage of this. The reality is that ethanol has far less power than gasoline.
A gallon of E85 has an energy content of about 80,000 BTU, compared to gasoline’s 124,800 BTU, so you would need approximately 1.56 gallons of E85 to travel the same distance as you could on 1 gallon of gasoline, by the calculations. The reality is that vehicles optimized for E85 don’t get quite as horrible fuel economy, but close. The rule of thumb is that ethanol has about 70% of the fuel economy of normal gasoline.
But, you say, its cheaper than regular gas? Really? Not when you take into account the lower fuel economy. In fact, recent testing indicated that running ethanol could result in costs that were 22.8% MORE than running gasoline, simply due to the fact that ethanol was cheaper, but not cheap enough to make up for its lack in energy content.
Now, you argue, so what – I’m willing to live with that just like some people are willing to pay a premium for a hybrid or electric car, even when the cost of purchase far exceeds the gas savings an average consumer would see. There are further drawbacks.
First, its terrible for older vehicles. Alcohol is a corrosive solvent; anything exposed to ethanol must be made of corrosion-resistant materials. Now, E10 doesn’t seem to pose a huge problem to classic cars. However, as ethanol content increases, so will the stress on parts that weren’t designed to run the fuel. In fact, the Senate proposed a bill to switch from mandatory E10 up to E15. Now, obviously, this was a push by the corn lobby as a way to get rid of their surplus ethanol which the consumer has clearly rejected. In a free market, they would not need to mandate ethanol – we could simply have pumps that dispense E85, E10, E15, or pure gasoline in various grades and let the marketplace speak – in reality, the marketplace has spoken an uniformly rejected E85, and I suspect that the marketplace would overwhelmingly choose pure gasoline over E10 (which has resulted in diminished fuel economy even as we legislate improved fuel economy). If E15 becomes a reality, the collector car enthusiast will be required to replace their fuel filter, fuel lines, carbs, and potentially even upgrade their fuel system to pump more fuel so that the car can receive enough energy, due to the diminished power of ethanol infused fuels.
Furthermore, ethanol is terrible for the environment. Growing corn is an intensive process that requires pesticides, fertilizer, heavy equipment and transport. Any of the clean air/carbon savings are getting eaten up in this process, even if it is reducing dependence on foreign oil. Commercial Farming accounts for 18% of all greenhouse gas emissions, and 41% of that is directly attributed to agricultural production. One just needs to take a look at the dead zone at the end of the Mississippi River Delta Dead Zone to see the effects of industrialized farming run off on the environment.
Finally, ecological devastation aside, ethanol production has had a significant impact on food prices. First, think about crop displacement. A single acre of corn has the potential to produce 300 gallons of ethanol per growing season. So, in order to replace a small percentage of petroleum product usage, American farmers would need to dedicate more than 675 million acres, (over 70 percent) of the nation’s 938 million acres of farmland, to growing feedstock. Second, the reality is here – 24% of the United States corn crop is mandated to go to the production of Ethanol (no doubt a result of politicians rewarding support from their constituents). The result? Corn prices have almost doubled, from $3.49 a bushel in July 2010 to $6.10 in January 2011.
So there, I said it. I’d rather have dependence on foreign oil. Even if the US only gets 48% of its oil from foreign sources. Until a real, viable alternative energy source exists I’ll take the lesser of two evils.