Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Ethanol Fallacy

The February issue of Popular Mechanics features a challenging story by editor James B. Meigs called The Ethanol Fallacy. Unless you’ve been sleeping in a cave for two decades, you’ve undoubtedly been aware of the ongoing debates regarding the best way to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. A wide range of technologies has been evaluated from solar and wind energy to hydrogen power and fuel cells. Since transportation eats up the lion’s share of our energy use, much of the debate centers on how to power our cars and trucks.

Unfortunately, writes Meigs, the best solutions may not be getting the attention they deserve. Washington politicians have bought the “ethanol solution” hook, line and sinker.

Politicians have been falling all over themselves to prove their commitment to energy independence. The bill they have been crafting and carving has as kits moniker the title “Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.” No longer just an energy bill, it is a security matter, giving it a special reverence. According to Meigs, this year’s presidential candidates “have outdone each other with vows to flood the nation with ever-increasing rivers of ethanol for at least a generation.”

It’s what our politicans love to do, of course. Take action fast. Look like a leader. Problem is, “shoot first, ask questions later” is a silly way to approach these kinds of issues.

The average person who votes is not really that knowledgeable about these matters, which gives the ethanol lobbyists a leg up. The truth is, it takes energy to make energy. The article points out that growing corn requires nitrogen fertilizer, a product of natural gas, and chemical herbicides, made mostly from oil. The heavy machinery that harvests these 93 million acres of corn all require diesel fuel and lubricants, as do the trucks that transport all this corn. According to one Cornell researcher, it takes more than a gallon of oil to make a gallon of ethanol? Now what’s that all about? How does this reduce our dependence on foreign oil.

There’s something corny about this ethanol business. As I have always suspected, and which the author here is not afraid to point out, the big winners are companies like Archer Daniels Midland whose lobbyists labor night and day in those corridors of power inside the beltway. And for who’s benefit? Not yours or mine.

So what can we do about it? Not sure, really. Any suggestions?

1 comment:

Mark said...


Bill Berguson, whose home our Vineyard small group meets in, works at NRRI and is involved in research regarding the feasibility of using cellosic ethanol as opposed to corn ethanol. It appears to have a vastly superior potential efficiency rating to corn. If you are interested in learning more from him, let me know and I'll get you two in touch.