Ethanol is corny idea

Producing ethanol from corn and using it for fuel sounded like a great idea.
Aug 22, 2013

It is a renewable energy and would help the U.S. rely less on Middle East oil. Additionally, many feel ethanol does less harm to the environment than gasoline emissions.

However, the program in a lot of ways has done much more harm than good, both in the political landscape and in our own garages.

It turns out, ethanol-laced gasoline also gets worse gas mileage than traditional fuel.

And to top it off, many engineers and mechanics have concluded that ethanol is harmful to engines — especially small engines like lawn mowers, snow blowers, chain saws, generators and other two-cycle engines.

Boat motors also need ethanol-free fuel, and most marinas sell it. However, if you gas up your boat en route to a marina, you most likely will be putting ethanol fuel into your vessel’s gas tank, which can lead to serious issues down the road.

Some believe using gasoline with less than 10 percent ethanol might be OK, but the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2011 increased the amount of ethanol permitted in gasoline to 15 percent, despite strong opposition from the small-engine association.

Small-engine dealers in the Tri-Cities area are encouraging their customers to find ethanol-free gasoline, which isn’t easy to come by, to use in their small engines. In the Tri-Cities, premium gasoline at the Citgo station in Grand Haven and Ferrysburg and the Oaklea store in Robinson Township are ethanol free.

Some opponents charge Sen. Tom Harkin, a Democrat from the corn-rich state of Iowa, with masterminding the ethanol scam.

So, why is it so hard to pull the plug on the program?

Corn ethanol was always touted as a “stepping stone” to advanced fuels. That is still true in theory. But with the government supporting traditional ethanol for so long, it’s time to refocus our efforts on non-food-based fuels.

It’s time to write your congressman, senators and the White House and tell them what a corny idea ethanol fuel is.

Our Views reflects the majority opinion of the members of the Grand Haven Tribune editorial board: Kevin Hook, Cheryl Welch, Matt DeYoung, Alex Doty and Fred VandenBrand. What do you think? E-mail us a letter to the editor to news@grandhaventribune.com or log-in to our website and leave a comment below.

 

Comments

moey

I agree with most of what you said. But who cares if you get less mpg with ethanol I would put water in my tank if it would give me 5 mpg. Most boat motors do not need ethanol free gas. They need gas that has not sat in a tank for months in the sun, that is where the problem comes into play putting ethanol in gas for boats it does not "stay fresh". Who drains their fuel tank at the end of the year?

SLNativeSince1864

Moey is correct about storage, but it can also cause phase separation and loosen deposits within the engine or deteriorate filters and gaskets. Corn ethanol is about 200 proof. Mmmm...corn whiskey. I wouldn't say there isn't a use for it. I'm sure the Nunica Bar (and grocery) could sell it.

retired DOC

Studies have shown that you get a much better return on the energy used to energy gained from switch grass than corn. But the switch grass lobby is not as strong as the corn lobby.

davewali

I never thought using corn was a good idea, anyway. It raises the price of corn not only for us to eat, but also for food producers that use corn as feed. Higher food prices all around is NOT a great idea in MY book.

Zegota

Your so right Dave, besides it also ties up farm land growing corn for Ethanol but it seems that greed and selfishness is too strong for some people to realize the effect this has on food prices. I will not use Ethanol and I will not support the use of it.

American17

Many see the price of a gallon of gasoline and think of it as an annoyance. They complain about it when filling up, but we don’t understand the reasons for the price of increases and decreases. A large factor in determining oil prices is OPEC (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries). OPEC was formed in 1960 for the sole purpose of controlling oil supplies. In fact OPEC consists of 12 member countries (Algeria, Angola, Ecuador, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Venezuela) and controls over 80% of the world’s proven oil reserves and roughly 40% of the world’s current oil production.

In America, cartels – formal agreements among companies to fix prices and dictate sales rules – are bluntly illegal. But the world’s largest cartel – OPEC, is not only recognized as a legal entity, it’s protected by U.S. foreign trade laws. So it sounds like we are dependent on countries who may not be our biggest fans right? Where did we go so wrong?

Our past 6 U.S. Presidents have made the statement at one point or another that we as a nation need to eliminate our dependence on foreign oil suppliers such as OPEC, but it has obviously not happened. The reason we have not been able to do so is because we have not allowed a free market to exist in the motor fuels business. Think about it, with the EPA limiting the amount of other, non-petroleum based fuels (such as ethanol) to enter the market, they are essentially mandating motor fuel derived from oil. So let’s take a look at why they would limit an alternative such as ethanol.

There are many arguments out there today that shed a negative light on ethanol fuel. Some of the most popular arguments state ethanol production takes food out of the mouths of starving people in 3rd world countries, ethanol is a very inefficient form of fuel and actually costs more to make than gasoline, ethanol hurts the economy because of the tax dollars used to fund incentives, and my personal favorite that burning ethanol is far worse for the environment than gasoline. So let’s take each of these and dissect them and share some facts on each of these topics.

First, when ethanol is produced, it is in most instances today it is produced utilizing #2 yellow dent corn or field corn. The uses for field corn vary a great deal, but the predominant use has been animal feed both domestically and abroad. When ethanol is produced, it is not the only product that comes out of the ethanol plant. In fact only approximately 1/3 of each kernel of corn is converted to ethanol. Another 1/3 is carbon dioxide (CO2) which many ethanol manufacturers capture and sell to other industries for use. The remaining 1/3 is the non-fermentable portion of corn which is dried and sold back into the market place as animal feed, more commonly referred to as Dried Distillers Grains (DDG). Distillers grain is a a concentration of fat fiber and protein that when mixed into the animal feed supply gives livestock producer’s an advantage with lower cost feed. In essence ethanol production not only provides U.S. consumers a cheaper fuel supply, but also provides a lower cost of feed.

Second, ethanol is produced using agricultural products that we would refer to as home grown here in the U.S. while over 40% of the alternative is shipped to the U.S. from half way around the world. A gallon of ethanol uses less than 3 gallons of water to produce while a gallon of gasoline takes 41.5. While ethanol gets a negative reputation for the costs, labor and time to grow the corn take it to the ethanol producer and create ethanol petroleum refiners and gasoline producers do not even account from those activities. The labor of drilling wells in foreign land, the military aid to keep them safe, transportation to port, trans-Atlantic barging, refining and transportation to the pump. What sounds more efficient?

Third, ethanol producers do not in fact receive any incentives by the federal government. The last of any incentives tied to ethanol ended in 2011 when the Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit (VEETC) was removed. Although that credit did provide a per gallon of ethanol blended into the fuel supply, it was given to the blender which in almost every case was the most profitable industry in the world, the oil industry. Currently the U.S. imports over $400 billion dollars of oil annually. That is money that leaves our economy and does not generally return, weakening our economy. Ethanol on the other hand has not only removed the need for the federal government to subsidize farmers to the tune of $26 billion dollars a year for farm deficiency payments by giving farmers a market for their products. This has not only benefited agriculture in corn producing states, but all of U.S. agriculture.

Fourth, burning ethanol to power your vehicle is hands down a cleaner form of motor fuel no matter how you look at it. Ethanol is 200 proof alcohol. It is the fuel that Henry Ford built the Model T to run on. Ethanol has taken a beating on being a lower grade fuel because of the blending practices of the oil companies. For example if E0, or straight gasoline is 87 octane you see it as pure gasoline. When E-10 or gasoline with 10% ethanol blended in is also 87 octane you see it as they simply took the pure gasoline, took 10% out and put 10% ethanol in. Wrong. Ethanol’s octane value is 113. How did E10 stay an 87 octane blend? The answer: easy, they created a lower grade gasoline to blend with the ethanol to end up at an 87 octane rating. Right now you might be saying “so what?” In order to understand why this matters is to understand that gasoline is made up of many different elements/molecules. Some of which are extremely harmful to your health. The truth is, ethanol burns cleaner and if oil refiners would keep the same 87 octane gasoline and blend ethanol into that standard fuel we would clean up our fuel supply.

The debate about if ethanol is good or bad for the U.S. in not a fight that makes any logical sense when the facts are understood and the public takes an interest to understand.

SLNativeSince1864

I'm sure Nathan Vander Griend would appreciate credit for his Blog "Gas Price becoming a Thorn in your Side?" - How about them apples?

NathanVanderGriend

No need for credit to be given to me. I when I wrote that blog I was simply reiterating facts. It is great that others would share the truth about matters such as a rebuttal to such false, misleading and socially irresponsible articles.

To address this article quickly, consider these FACTUAL responses to the points made in the article.

1.) The article states, "It turns out, ethanol-laced gasoline also gets worse gas mileage than traditional fuel" however, have you ever thought about this: Do they just drop 10% ethanol into gasoline and call it a day? No, they ABSOLUTELY do not! Oil companies reformulate the entire makeup of the gasoline. Why, you may ask? Because ethanol is 113 octane and their regular fuel only needs to be 87 octane. What does that mean? It means ethanol is so clean, and has such high octane, they can get rid of their JUNK in your mobile incinerator (car). Scary to know the truth wouldn't you say?

2.) The article also states, "And to top it off, many engineers and mechanics have concluded that ethanol is harmful to engines — especially small engines like lawn mowers, snow blowers, chain saws, generators and other two-cycle engines. Boat motors also need ethanol-free fuel, and most marinas sell it. However, if you gas up your boat en route to a marina, you most likely will be putting ethanol fuel into your vessel’s gas tank, which can lead to serious issues down the road." NEWS FLASH - E-15 is approved for ONLY on road use vehicles, although my experience being an owner of all 3 is I have never once had a problem and I put E-10 to E-30 in my boat all summer long. But if there is a worry please hide your mowers, snow-blowers and boats! Or better yet be aware of what you are putting in your vehicle at the pump. There is usually a green handled pump serving up diesel fuel at most gas stations as well, should we outlaw diesel as it is foreseeable that you can accidentally put it in your mower?

What is sad to me is that in Michigan you don't support ethanol? Ask GM or Ford what they would like to see happen? They want higher octane because they can then create engines that get better MPG if they have a fuel to design it around. And if the EPA would O.K. a higher ethanol blend (along with mandating big oil to not reformulate their blend and give us JUNK fuel) as a certification fuel they would have their meal ticket and a great path forward.

Come on everyone, it is simple... Read past the negative media paid for by big oil. They are spin doctors and they are feeling everyone a load of baloney. They have more $$$ to fund misinformation and the sad thing is the general public believes whatever it is they hear without any validation to back it up!

P.S. Food prices wasn't mentioned in this article however I wonder when corn prices drop significantly here soon, will food prices? I would bet my bottom dollar the answer is NO as food prices to market are predominantly a function of energy/oil costs as well for packaging, marketing, distribution/delivery, etc.

Wolverine49457

One of the issues that was predicted and of course never mentioned is the uptick in repairs and scrapping of relatively young outdoor power equipment and auto parts.
All this adds to the landfills for some parts while requiring energy for recycling well before they should require scrapping.
Alcohol is not good for engines, even vehicles with engines “designed” for alcohol will eventually have issues, you cannot design out the properties of alcohol such as the infinity it has to water, alcohol in a tank or carburetor or in a glass on the counter will attract and absorb water, the water will distil out and corrode delicate machining which is not repairable. It will destroy diaphragms and other rubber components. The fuel mileage reduction issue is a no brainer, gasoline averages around 116,000 BTU’s per gallon, Ethanol about 76,330, if you mix ethanol into gasoline does the energy content go up?
If you throw water on a fire does the fire get hotter?
The fact that we burn our food (and it’s expensive to do so) has caused the price of food and gas to go up. Ethanol as a fuel results in more stuff in the junkyard and less MPG, its simple physics. The blended fuel mandates are political chess and we pay the cost…again. I love planet earth and this move adds more stuff in the landfill, more chemicals have to be produced and purchased by the consumer (who has yet another plastic container to toss) just to counter the brilliant blunders of our government.

American17

@Wolverine49457

All mainstream manufacturers of power equipment, motorcycles, snowmobiles and outboard motors permit the use of gasoline blended with up to 10% ethanol (E10) in their products.

BTU content is not the only metric, or even the most important metric, in comparing today's fuels. Ethanol is the least expensive, and cleanest burning oxygenate in the world. E98 has an octane rating of 113 which is then blended with sub-octane(84 or 85 octane) gasoline to raise the octane content in our mainstream fuel supply. It's pretty simple.. If you blend ethanol with gasoline you raise the overall octane rating of the fuel. And, as Nate pointed out in the above comment our auto manufacturers want a higher octane fuel in which they can design smaller, efficient, high performance, engines with a high compression ratio to take advantage of the octane ethanol provides.

The price of food is not correlated with ethanol production: http://ethanolrfa.org/page/-/ima...

however it directly correlates with the price of crude oil: http://gailtheactuary.files.word...

The reason for this is a larger percentage of food costs come from transportation an marketing than from the actual commodity.

Beings you're concerned with our planet, and I share that concern, I'm surprised you would rather we burn straight gasoline.

Once again, everyone needs to be cognizant of the source behind the information they are fed. The American Petroleum Institute has a large amount of funds, some $62 million dollars just this year alone, dedicated to blocking renewable fuels and skewing the public's perception of the facts.

Money_Mike

Funny, Wolverine, I've lived in Michigan for 27 years, used ethanol gas and NEVER had a single engine-related problem with my mower, snow blower, chainsaw, weed whacker pressure washer or leaf blower, and I've exposed them to four teenage boys who would have LOVED to have put them out of operation! I have never talked with a neighbor or friend who's had a problem with theirs, either. Perhaps the problems that many of these people are having with their small motors are in fuel management. Whether you're using 100% gas or E10, you still must keep the cap on the gas can and keep your equipment in good condition.

When it comes to running engines on ethanol, you should know that in Brazil, they've been using straight ethanol for many of their motors - large and small - for the last 20+ years. It's a cost-effective fuel for Brazilians, also, and they get the same service life from their vehicles and equipment that we do here.

Mileage loss is not linear for ethanol blends. Until you get to a concentration of about 25 to 30%, you don't start seeing much mileage loss with engines designed primarily for gasoline. When the automakers start releasing larger volumes of high-compression super- and turbo-charged engines (think Ford's EcoBoost system), you'll see even less efficiency loss in blended fuels.

Wolverine49457

We ARE an engine manufacture; the reality is our customers have engine component issues connected with alcohol in the fuel especially carbureted gasoline engines which is primarily what I was speaking to.
We manufacture a broad range of mostly construction equipment (Globally) that uses engines manufactured by Honda, Kholer, Briggs, Tecumseh, Cat, Cummins, John Deere, Fiat, Mitsubishi, two stroke, four stroke, diesel, turbo diesel (and a long list of others) not to mention our own engines on the equipment we manufacture on every continent of the world (we are not on the poles yet). The broad spectrum of engines and their application utilize a variety of fuel system management methods and manufactures. Some tolerate alcohol better than others but there is no designing out the affinity between alcohol and water, keep the cap on tight will not resolve the issue if the cap needs to be vented, the realities of using gasohol does not support the claim it is a better fuel for carbureted gasoline engines, does not harm nor shorten the life of engine components. Alcohol is not the best engine fuel when compared to gasoline alone. Looking at the tailpipe to judge which is environmentaly the best? Of the current fuels diesel is the best, a tier 4 diesel burning ultra-low sulfur diesel runs cleaner than most any fuel other than NG. or LP including gas or the coal car (electric). The added plus is engine longevity at double or more of any gasoline engine. The modern diesel engine especially turbocharged is a fuel efficient, very clean burning and very powerful engine.

GH55

Most of this propaganda is being spread by the American Petroleum Institute! Guess where they stand on the issue of selling less petroleum?

Zegota

Easy and simple, never mix food and oil together for they do not mix well. For one will see an increase in costs, and realistically a lower supply, or availability, besides the social benefit of ethanol is highly questionable.
How can we ever justify the use of corn for fuel as a civil society, when there are people today suffering and even dying from the lack of food.
I cannot agree with the use of Ethanol as a fuel supplement as long as it is manufactured from a food product.

jjerke

Ethanol Kicks Gas
Assume for a few minutes, that America could invent a new fuel that would displace foreign oil, reduce the cost of gasoline and improve engine performance, employ 400,000 Americans, and reduce pollution and greenhouse gases. Image 60 billion in new revenues and billions in taxes to our state and federal government. Image that production of the crop needed for this fuel would help to make American farmers self-sufficient with less need for government subsidies.
Ethanol manufactured from corn is here right now and it has done all of these things.
Early in the last century, Henry Ford tried to offer ethanol fueled vehicles but John D. Rockefeller helped the temperance movement ban the production of ethanol for all purposes. The oil industry then went so far as to put highly toxic lead in fuel rather than use ethanol for octane enhancement. Our children lived with that awful legacy for 70 years until lead was replaced with toxic MTBE which polluted our ground water and drinking wells.
Finally, almost a century after Henry Ford tired, but failed, ethanol has 10% of the gasoline fuel market and the air that we breathe and the water we drink is cleaner because of it.
The ethanol industry is now trying to market E15 (15% ethanol) as a voluntary fuel choice to the American consumer. If successful, you will soon be able, but not required, to purchase E15. Within the industry, we know that E15 is the most tested fuel that America has ever developed. We know that once it is widely offered, our fellow Americans will quickly understand that it will do none of the damage claimed by Big Oil and their minions.
As a final thought, imagine breaking the century long oligarchy of Big Oil and offering more choices to Americans when they fuel their cars.
Here are the facts when it comes to ethanol blended gasoline: 1.) Currently 95% of all gasoline contains 10% ethanol, in 2011 the EPA conducted the most exhaustive fuel test in history in making the determination that a 15% ethanol blend is safe for all vehicle built since 2001. 2.) Studies from the University of WI and Iowa State show that consumer gasoline prices would have been $1.09/gal higher in 2011 had it not been for a 10% ethanol blend. 3.) There are no federal subsidies in place for corn ethanol production, rather an EPA requirement that an oxygenate be added to gasoline to help it burn more completely and therefore cleaner, ethanol is the only non-polluting oxygenate available on a wide scale, as a matter of fact a 10% ethanol blend reduces tailpipe emissions by 25%, helping all of the air we breathe in PURE MICHIGAN stay clean. 4.) Ethanol produced from corn is made from the starch portion of the grain leaving 1/3 of the total corn mass, in the form of the valuable protein, fat and fiber, available as animal feed. As a result, only 17.5% of the nation’s corn crop is consumed to make 10% of our nation’s fuel supply.

MS Chemical Engineering
MS Industrial Microbiology

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