Letters to the Editor

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ETHANOL: Oil industry promotes propaganda

Letter by John E. Nelson, Graham on July 1, 2010 at 3:08 pm with 12 Comments »
July 6, 2010 10:01 am

Re: “Ethanol wrongly promoted as solution” (letter, 6-30).

I’d like to offer a rebuttal to this anti-ethanol diatribe. The letter writer refers to the “science” against ethanol. What he’s really doing is regurgitating propaganda from the American Petroleum Institute. Please get the real facts.

Alcohol can be made from almost any organic source, even lawn clippings. Big agriculture promotes corn, but it is not the best choice. Many crops produce much more alcohol per acre, and they can be grown on marginal, arid or marshy lands, not just farmland. Brazil uses sugar cane grown on 1 percent of its land and imports no oil.

Contrary to oil industry propaganda, alcohol is a superior fuel to gasoline and takes much less energy to produce. It is 105 octane, less flammable, cooler burning and 98 percent pollution free. Engines optimized to burn alcohol actually get up to 20 percent better gas mileage than gasoline-burning engines. Since alcohol deposits no carbon in the engine, alcohol-burning engines last up to three times longer.

Virtually non-toxic (no spill worries), alcohol can be easily produced, distributed and sold locally for much less than gasoline. The dollars stay here, offering huge benefits for local economies.

Moving to an alcohol-based economy will have another profound effect: It will remove the oil industry’s power base. That is what scares big oil much more than anything else. It has expended enormous effort and resources to discredit alcohol.

A petroleum-based economy is highly toxic and unsustainable. There is a better way. Education is the first step.

Leave a comment Comments → 12
  1. Publico says:

    Some comments in this letter do not square with the available science. Here is a taste: “Recently, Patzek published a fifty-page study on the subject in the journal Critical Reviews in Plant Science. This time, he factored in the myriad energy inputs required by industrial agriculture, from the amount of fuel used to produce fertilizers and corn seeds to the transportation and wastewater disposal costs. All told, he believes that the cumulative energy consumed in corn farming and ethanol production is six times greater than what the end product provides your car engine in terms of power.”
    Look up Patzek for more information.

  2. beerBoy says:

    publico – the letter concedes that corn is not the best (I would argue – not even viable) source for ethanol.

    But there is promising work being done with algae and with waste from crops (stems, leaves, etc.) after the harvest.

  3. LuckyCharm says:

    Grass clippings! What if all the yard waste collected in Tacoma were diverted to an alcohol fuel production plant? The proceeds would more than pay for the collection effort, and Tacoma could start making a name for itself as the first truly sustainable, renewable-energy city in the USA. I don’t know of any other more tempting market for us to become number 1 — why not this???

  4. cclngthr says:

    Ethanol ruins injector seals and fuel lines on modern cars that do not have stainless steel tanks, lines and rubber seals intended for ethanol.

    Sure ethanol is 105 octane, but it has 85,000 BTU (energy content). Gasoline has 129,000 BTU. You would use 33% more ethanol based fuel than regular gasoline going the same distance.

    Diesel has 139,000 BTU, and with a direct injection fuel system with a turbo, the diesel engined powered car can get over 45 mpg and have more power than the gas or ethanol run vehicles.

  5. LuckyCharm says:

    Certainly engines would have to be redesigned to derive maximum benefit from ethanol fuels. But if ethanol could be produced cleanly, in a way that actually benefits the environment as in growing algae or hemp, then what’s the problem with having to use a bit more of it than gasoline or diesel? The more we’d use, the more we’d feed our economy. What’s not to like?

  6. Sumner401 says:

    ccingthr is correct, I own a VW TDI diesel and I get 47 mpg.
    All of the old problems with diesel engines are gone, they are quite, quick, don’t smoke like they used to and you can not tell you are driving a diesel.

  7. BB, just to be clear, what I posted was information that refutes the author’s contention that alcohol is a superior fuel. It takes more energy to produce a gallon of alcohol that you get back, is what Dr. Patzek has found. It is a losing proposition in terms of energy conservation to produce alcohol to replace oil based fuels. It does not even make sense politically because the oil energy used to produce the alcohol is still part of our imported oil problem. Alcohol used as a catalyst in the gasoline mix makes sense, but it does add to the cost and that is an acceptable tradeoff to get cleaner burning fuel.
    There is a tipping point where the return does not justify the cost. I have yet to see that point examined.

  8. LuckyCharm says:

    Publico, the NREL has been working on several biomass conversion technologies, including chemical and biochemical. Are you saying that these technologies would also consume petroleum products? Just asking…..

  9. beerBoy says:

    publico – I’ve been seeing some potentially good numbers for algae-diesel. I wouldn’t write it off yet, nor classify it with corn-based ethanol.

  10. witchiwoman says:

    And John Nelson, that’s precisely why we’ll never see it take hold in this country. Because big oil has the money to stop anything that might threaten its profitability.

  11. witchiwoman says:

    LC I’d love to see individual communities take the bull by the horns and develop their own fuel sources. But start ups are expensive, and require community cooperation. Do you see that as feasible?

  12. LuckyCharm says:

    witchi, I think it might be possible in Seattle, but Tacoma still hasn’t shaken its mill-town mentality. Even our so-called “liberal” local politicians aren’t committed to a clean-energy future. They all sit around and have meetings and scratch their heads trying to figure out how to bring jobs and businesses here, but it doesn’t dawn on anybody that in order to create jobs, there has to be something for people to do. What could we be doing that we aren’t doing already, that would be attractive to businesses looking for a home? How about developing sustainable fuel sources? It would probably make us eligible for grants, attract research and studies, put our name out there in the larger community as a modern, exciting kind of place, etc. But nah. They’re more worried about how to keep Port traffic coming. Yawwwnnn….

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