June 20, 2005

Wasting Energy

Ethanol is clean. Ethanol is enviromentally friendly. North Dakota is going to subsidize ethanol use.

Only the last sentence may be true. North Dakota apparently is going to supplement the over $.50/gallon federal subsidy with an additional subsidy:

Gas stations are expecting ethanol fuel sales to zoom when a state tax break takes effect next month, although backers of the alternative fuel are less sure if consumers will stick with it.
Why use ethanal? Well,
Ken Kornkven, manager of a Cenex station in Portland, N.D., said some customers who can't use E-85 also support it simply because it's a renewable fuel.

"It's a feel-good thing," he said. "Even if they aren't using it they liked to see it being used."


As part of the initiative, a group of college students are traveling the state this summer in a vehicle festooned with a "GoE" logo, promoting ethanol and giving away free tanks of the blended fuel.

"I think a lot of people have heard of ethanol, but I don't know how many of them know the benefits," said Brent Klava, 21, a North Dakota State University student. "It's a win-win for everybody."

But is it really a win-win for everybody? Recent studies suggest that ethanol fuel is not a great way to solve our energy problems:
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.
Another article argues that ethanol's touted cleanliness, reduced carbon dioxide production, can be achieved with a simpler approach:
Essentially you may as well burn gasoline and use the land base for reforestation (to store carbon in soil organic matter and standing biomass) than to grow corn and produce ethanol.
Patzek has a complimentary suggestion: repurpose all the funds devoted to ethanol to making automobiles more efficient.

Seems reasonable to me! Better that we all benefit from the wealth transfer than to give these dollars to corn growers and fertilizer makers.

Posted by Steve on June 20, 2005

Unfortunately, the corn growers and fertilizer makers have better lobbyists than the rest of us.


Posted by Allan at June 21, 2005 6:34 AM
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