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Roughly 10 billion gallons ethanol were used in 2009, costing taxpayers about $5 billion in tax revenue the ethanol producers collected as tax credits.

Here's the kicker.

"Because the production of ethanol draws so much energy from coal and natural gas, it can be thought of as a method for converting natural gas or coal to a liquid fuel that can be used for transportation."

Roughly 11 billion gallons of biofuels were produced and sold in the United States in 2009, and ethanol produced from corn accounted for nearly all of that total. Blenders of transportation fuels receive a tax credit of 45 cents for each gallon of ethanol that is combined with gasoline and sold. Although the credit is provided to blenders, most of it ultimately flows to producers of ethanol and to corn farmers —in the form of higher prices received for their products.

Use of corn to create ethanol also results in higher costs for critical food, in some cultures corn is a primary food source.

I've always thought using corn to make ethanol was a economic crime.
The CBO has made it clear.
This is the abomination I always thought it was, to begin with.

Here's more from the blog at CBO.

Similarly, the costs to taxpayers of reducing greenhouse gas emissions through the biofuel tax credits vary by fuel: about *$750 per metric ton of CO2e (that is, per metric ton of greenhouse gases measured in terms of an equivalent amount of carbon dioxide) for ethanol*, about *$275 per metric ton of CO2e for cellulosic ethanol*, and about $300 per metric ton of CO2e for biodiesel. Those estimates do not reflect any emissions of carbon dioxide that occur when production of biofuels causes forests or grasslands to be converted to farmland for growing the fuels’ feedstocks (the raw material for making the fuel).

If those emissions were taken into account, such changes in land use would raise the cost of reducing emissions and change the relative costs of reducing emissions through the use of different biofuels—in some cases, by a substantial amount.

If it's CO2 we're looking to reduce, corn based ethanol is not worth it. Cellulosic ethanol may require more up front costs, but ends up being one third the cost of using corn. Economies of scale are not being realized in the conversion of cellulosic plant materials to ethanol at this time.  

While the CBO did not go into these details, I think it's a given that corn is expensive in terms of energy, chemicals and existing water tables.

The effective yield of corn as ethanol being a way to reduce carbon emissions?
It's an illusion.
[from Sept 2001]

   *  An acre of U.S. corn yields about 7,110 pounds of corn for processing into 328 gallons of ethanol. But planting, growing and harvesting that much corn requires about 140 gallons of fossil fuels and costs $347 per acre, according to Pimentel’s analysis. Thus, even before corn is converted to ethanol, the feedstock costs $1.05 per gallon of ethanol.

   * The energy economics get worse at the processing plants, where the grain is crushed and fermented. As many as three distillation steps are needed to separate the 8 percent ethanol from the 92 percent water. Additional treatment and energy are required to produce the 99.8 percent pure ethanol for mixing with gasoline.
   * Adding up the energy costs of corn production and its conversion to ethanol, 131,000 BTUs are needed to make 1 gallon of ethanol. One gallon of ethanol has an energy value of only 77,000 BTU. "Put another way", Pimentel says, "about 70 percent more energy is required to produce ethanol than the energy that actually is in ethanol. Every time you make 1 gallon of ethanol, there is a net energy loss of 54,000 BTU".

Pimentel goes on to point out environmental damage caused by growing corn, higher prices for all manners of food which require corn as part of the cycle.

One can quibble with some of the numbers, but at best it looks like corn based ethanol is truly a boon only to those who stand to profit from it.

There are much more logical alternatives to corn.

Kudzu, cattails, lignocellulosic biomass are amongst the sources which require no fertilizer, no additional water, and are considered to be 'waste' plants, nuisances which sit, rot and die each fall producing methane and outgassing the carbon they've built up during their growing months. We could be capturing this carbon and converting it into useful fuel, rather than simply allowing it to add to the carbon load of the planetary atmosphere.

Cattails do require standing water to grow [marshland]. Cattails are a proven biofilter, as they remove pollution from standing water; they can be used to help clean marshlands on the Gulf Coast.

In Alcohol Week (October 20, 1980!), there is a headline "DOE MAY FUND CATTAILS-TO-ETHANOL TECHNOLOGY: SEES LOWER COST, BIG YIELDS". The unsolicited proposal from a Florida Junior College suggests that one cattail crop will produce 1,000-1,500 gals/acre/year, while two crops would bring 2,100 to 3,100, and three crops 3,100-4,700 gals/acre, the higher figure representing more than 110 barrels ethanol per acre. While I believe these figures are extremely optimistic, I would endorse a serious study of cattails as a potential energy source.

Corn yields at best a fraction of these amounts. We've been discussing these technologies for decades, and nothing is happening. We're stuck on corn based ethanol, and the lobbyists for ADM and their ilk are no doubt quashing shifts away from this horrible waste of taxpayer money. After all, $5B a year is pretty sweet, when you consider you can jack up the price on what you sell otherwise, using 'market demands' as the reason why.


Other reference sources here:

It's time to smash this concept, and use common sense to drive alternative fuels, rather than what makes more profit for corporations.

Maybe someone in Congress will take the CBO report and run with it.


PS: use of alternative plant materials is not 'THE answer' to changing everything.

It is part of the overall suite of answers. Changing what we use to take advantage of the energy of carbon, shifting away from the poisons [oil/coal] we dig up from the ground is a transitional step.

Corn based ethanol never was, is not today, and never will be part of a sustainable green answer to our pressing needs for energy.

Originally posted to Shpilkis M Katz on Sun Jul 18, 2010 at 11:51 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Using ethanol may be the right thing to do, (40+ / 0-)

    but we've got to do it right. So far, looks like the only ones benefiting from corn based ethanol are corporations.

    Not taxpayers, not the environment.

    Can Congress do something to change this, or are the lobbyists going to continue to strangle any chance of a shift away from corn based ethanol?

    James Carville emerges from the conflagration, riding a burning alligator.

    by shpilk on Sun Jul 18, 2010 at 11:51:13 AM PDT

    •  I Think Corn and ADM Are the Only Reason We (10+ / 0-)

      have any ethanol at all, aren't they?

      We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

      by Gooserock on Sun Jul 18, 2010 at 11:58:37 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  no (9+ / 0-)

      using corn-based ethanol is absolutely NOT the right thing to do.  It is hugely inefficient and an environmental catastrophe.  It does not reduce greenhouse gas emissions (as evidenced by the use of coal and other petro-energy sources to produce it) and sucks up taxpayer money to provide welfare for corporate agri-business.  Nothing good has happened b/c of our fascination w/ this supposedly "green" fuel.  Even in Brasil, where sugar cane based ethanol enjoys a much higher energy return per input (8:1 vs. 1.5:1 for corn) the environmental devastation and societal impact of redistribution of wealth to rich land-owners via subsidies make it a net negative.  

      •  I'm not recommending we use sugar cane. (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Rolfyboy6, NoMoreLies, brasilaaron

        Thank you for agreeing with the premise of the diary.

        There's more than enough waste plants available that grow as weeds and nuisances which can be converted.

        Ethanol is not a perfect solution: but it's better to use "junk plants" and weeds which require no fertilizer to grow, rather than any food type plant.

        Yes, one can make food out of cattails and hemp, but I think generally these are not considered 'foodstuffs' by most of the modern world.

        James Carville emerges from the conflagration, riding a burning alligator.

        by shpilk on Sun Jul 18, 2010 at 02:03:24 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  biodiesel plants (6+ / 0-)

          offer the best options for "green" fuels, since many of them can be produced from tree seeds which have a much higher C uptake value and also require much less motorized equipment to maintain.  
          There are lots of researchers looking at a whole range of ethanol production scenarios, cellulose conversion, switch grass, hemp (as you mentioned, which if we ever got over the Reefer Madness trip, would realize can also be a foodstuff via the seeds) and even methane capture from anaerobic decomposition (usually at trash dumps).
          Mostly, we need to get away from the internal combustion engine, because we have relatively little need for combustible fuels otherwise.

    •  Ethanol from FOOD is the wrong way to go (0+ / 0-)

      Until the new switchgrass and "waste biomass" ethanol comes to this planet, ethanol is a crime against humanity and a crime against Earth.

      •  People being priced out of food is nothing new (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        I agree that it is a very bad a dangerous thing to have energy crops compete with food crops. But realistically that has been happening in many areas. For example- coffee is frequently grown for first world consumption on third world arable lands. The production of beef also uses up a lot of arable land. And the end product can only feed a relatively few (rich) people.

        We have gotten to the point where the global poor are constantly on the verge of being priced out of their staple foods because arable land is constantly being diverted to serve the various non-subsistence needs of the global north.

  •  Miigwech for this, shpilk. (9+ / 0-)

    You're right - it is criminal.

    Oh, and I remember reading some years ago that the most efficient and effective biofuel was made of switchgrass.  Has that been superseded by the cattails, etc.?

    Authentic Native American silverwork, jewelry, photography, and other art here.

    by Aji on Sun Jul 18, 2010 at 11:56:45 AM PDT

    •  Cattail yield is potentially amongst (15+ / 0-)

      the highest of all plants, still to my knowledge because they grow so fast. Requires only standing water, and simple harvesting which can be done a number of times in a calendar year.

      Cattails thrive in polluted waters, and help clean them up.
      Kudzu has potential as well, because it grows so darn quickly. Other plants like hemp can be converted as well, and grow rapidly.

      Cattails, kudzu, hemp all produce prodigious amounts of starches, oils and sugars, which are easily converted to either ethanol or biodiesel. Solar stills can be used to convert these plants, which means little if any use of existing fuel sources needed to accomplish the process.


      Switchgrass, corn stover and other non-food wood grasses and fiber parts of plants are much less efficient. Lignocellulosic biomasses like these are much more difficult to justify as primary sources of fuel.

      James Carville emerges from the conflagration, riding a burning alligator.

      by shpilk on Sun Jul 18, 2010 at 12:16:17 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Oh, okay - (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        shpilk, opinionated, NoMoreLies, allep10

        so switchgrass was basically efficient only in comparison to corn.  Gotcha.

        Pretty cool about the cattails, kudzu, and hemp not needing other fuel sources for conversion.  And so we're not doing this why?  [Yeah, yeah, I know . . . .]

        Authentic Native American silverwork, jewelry, photography, and other art here.

        by Aji on Sun Jul 18, 2010 at 12:39:35 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  There is another weed species (6+ / 0-)

        that is exploding here in the upper Midwest, due to the excessive use of road salt contaminants to wetlands, that could be very useful for cellulosic ethanol production. That weed is common reed, phragmites australis, which grows at a prodigious rate and already covers thousands of acres of wetlands along the east coast. Phragmites is an ostensibly native plant, but there is a hybridized super-aggressive European ecotype that is taking over the populations and completely choking out native species with dense mats that are 8-15 feet tall, and degrading habitat for native insects, birds and small mammals.

        We could get a twofer: removing the biomass for fuel and opening up more wetlands for biodiversity. It is very hard to control the plant given the dense thatch it forms; usually we burn it off to allow entry for control efforts and to promote new growth for herbicide treatments. Harvesting the biomass could also offset some of the cost of controlling it.

        In our area, hybrid cattails and buckthorn are also ecological pests, and I would be tickled if we could find someone to harvest them for biofuel feedstock. In particular, buckthorn is a heavy, dense wood and could come in handy if ground up and processed for pellet stoves.

        "Trickle down economics 101: They get the golden parachute, we get the golden shower"

        by NoMoreLies on Sun Jul 18, 2010 at 02:24:11 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Phytoremediation By Itself Is A Badly Negelected (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        technology.  (Phytoremediation is in essence the use of plants to "cure" polluted sites.)

        When phytoremediation is used in conjunction with developing a green baseload source of energy, a double benefit occurs despite aspersions cast by the wind and solar crowd.

        BTW biobutanol would probably be a superior biofuel since it is much more like gasoline than ethanol.  Our benefactor BP, which is providing us with energy we can dip right of the ocean, was putting some money into biobutanol along with others.  Probably got distracted by the former project.

        Best,  Terry

  •  One of the big reasons Iowa wants (18+ / 0-)
    to always have its caucus first. It makes every candidate pledge to use corn for ethanol.

    When one reads Bibles, one is less surprised at what the Deity knows than at what He doesn't know. -- Mark Twain

    by voroki on Sun Jul 18, 2010 at 11:58:18 AM PDT

    •  One of the biggest reasons... (9+ / 0-)

      ...why no state should have a monopoly on going first.

      Thwarting Republicans since 1978.

      by wiscmass on Sun Jul 18, 2010 at 12:29:16 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  For what it is worth (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      shpilk, allep10, Egalitare

      McCain in 2008 said in Iowa that he did not support subsidies.

      From AP 8/8/2008

      DES MOINES, Iowa — Republican presidential candidate John McCain told corn producers Friday at the Iowa State Fair that he didn't want to subsidize their ethanol but was eager to help market farm products around the world.
      "My friends, we will disagree on a specific issue and that's healthy," McCain said as he stood near bales of straw at one of the nation's premiere farming showcases. "I believe in renewable fuels. I don't believe in ethanol subsidies, but I believe in renewable fuels."

      McCain lost Iowa in the primaries.

      The most important way to protect the environment is not to have more than one child.

      by nextstep on Sun Jul 18, 2010 at 01:14:17 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  and one of the reasons... (0+ / 0-)

      no Presidential candidate (or any politician with eventual designs on the presidency) will ever take a stand against ethanol, if they want to win Iowa.  As nextstep notes, McCain did this in '08, but he basically knew he was abandoning any chance of winning the state.

  •  I didn't know it from the start, but as soon (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    shpilk, ExStr8, Sanuk

    as I did find out it was essentially a wash at best, I wondered why the heck we were still doing it.

    Am I cynical? Yes I am! - Bob the Builder's lesser known brother Pete the Politician

    by Ezekial 23 20 on Sun Jul 18, 2010 at 11:58:37 AM PDT

    •  Subsidizing another energy source that (7+ / 0-)

      is under total corporate control.

      -- We are just regular people informed on issues

      by mike101 on Sun Jul 18, 2010 at 12:22:50 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  asdf (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        And production of solar panels is not under total corporate control?

        •  No block of senators are handcuffed to solar (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          shpilk, mike101, Egalitare

          panel production or use.

        •  Sort of hard to corral the solar market. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          And if one produces energy off grid and uses it locally, there's no politics involved with maintaining grids, power generation facilities, maintenance of same, which is a huge industry now.

          James Carville emerges from the conflagration, riding a burning alligator.

          by shpilk on Sun Jul 18, 2010 at 01:58:48 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Not So (0+ / 0-)

            The new push is on for utility scale solar as well as wind.

            Solar is the most expensive, land devouring alternative energy source of them all.

            Solar undoubtedly has wonderful niche uses but is primarily a rich man's toy.

            "Dear, the lights just went out."

            "Of course they did.  We are all solar now.  They will come on in the morning."

            "But I can't read."

            "That is good.  You wouldn't want to read the utility bill we are getting since our utility went all solar.  Might want to stock up on blankets for the winter so we don't freeze in the dark."

            Best,  Terry

            •  Well, sort of. (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Leo in NJ, Egalitare

              Most energy usage comes during the day light hours for most of the year. Retail businesses, schools, government buildings for example are typically open primarily during daylight hours. Storage isn't even that much of a concern.

              Load balancing for cloudy days, and some storage and grid capability are obviously part of the total solution, but peak usage of the electric grid in most of the country occurs during the hottest months, and during the peak of the day.

              Electronics to regulate and divert current flow as required are not that expensive now; use of solar to reduce peak demand would be the first place an impact would certainly be welcome. Solar may not replace baseline demand, but it can provide some breathing room to bridge to future technologies.

              No one technology is going to be 'the answer'.

              Ethanol alone is not 'the answer'.

              James Carville emerges from the conflagration, riding a burning alligator.

              by shpilk on Sun Jul 18, 2010 at 11:12:10 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  Estimates For The Power That Might Reasonably (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                Leo in NJ

                be supplied to the grid by intermittent power sources range up to a maximum of about 40% with an average around 20% as nearly as I can tell.

                That is if you leave aside some of the futuristic technology that is invoked such as solar satellites.

                It would be foolhardy to predict the future of scientific innovation.  Solar could dominate and even eliminate most all other sources of energy for all any of us know now.

                No one technology is going to be 'the answer'.

                Ethanol alone is not 'the answer'.

                I am not even sure ethanol is a good answer now.  I was surprised by the CEO of a company that has been producing ethanol for years in Japan from municipal waste in a pilot operation.  He claimed it would require a minor adjustment to produce biobutanol instead.

                So why not butanol?

                I don't really know.  There are questions about its safety but Lord knows gas ain't so safe and butanol is much like gas in its properties.

                What I am sure of is that there are technologies available now that could supply far more baseload power that are starved for funding while we concentrate on wind and solar to the exclusion of better.

                Whatever the case, an excellent diary IMHO.  Corn-based ethanol is a particular horror and I think sugar cane-based ethanol is not all that much better

                Best,  Terry

            •  "land devouring" (0+ / 0-)

              Large footprint really is the biggest knock on solar, yet 150 square miles (less according to some ambitious solar advocates) total could supply our entire National electrical demand. I used to build nuclear containment  infrastructure, and I assert that the total and true cost of nuclear power dwarfs that of the most ambitious solar project.

              We've developed a fetish for concentrated power, and the convenience of hydrocarbons puts IMHO a superfluous requirement on future energy: that it be as compact and "easy to carry" as the Carbon demons we're trying to exorcise now. There's no getting around the fact that the more concentrated the source of energy, the more lethal it is.

              Solar does have an inherently massive footprint. Wind, compared to natural gas, has a considerably larger footprint, though smaller than solar with respect to large scale electrical generation, but wind has more "deployment constraints" than solar: wind doesn't blow with sufficient frequency or strength in as many places as sunlight makes solar viable. We'll need a mix of both (and diversity of scale: "small" wind and "small" solar as well as utility scale wind and solar) ultimately to kick the Carbon Habit.

              Maybe the real price of sustainable, clean energy IS living with a large infrastructure footprints. Having spent nearly 10 years in the nuclear business, I can envision much bigger downsides.

              "Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will." -- Frederick Douglass

              by Egalitare on Mon Jul 19, 2010 at 03:17:26 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  How You Going to Prevent Night? (0+ / 0-)

                Large footprint really is the biggest knock on solar, yet 150 square miles (less according to some ambitious solar advocates) total could supply our entire National electrical demand.

                Cover every square inch of land and night will still come.

                Solar cells don't work well at night.

                Yeah I know there is pumped storage and MW batteries and flywheels and compressed air and all kinds of other things that might be but aren't.

                I used to build nuclear containment  infrastructure, and I assert that the total and true cost of nuclear power dwarfs that of the most ambitious solar project.

                My son was a Navy nuke and has some stories you probably can tell too.  They are perfectly safe now, really, honestly - sure they are.

                The only safe nuclear is geothermal.

                Wind, compared to natural gas, has a considerably larger footprint, though smaller than solar

                How nice.

                It is also intermittent.  Don't need no intermittent nor fossil fuel.  Wave power is also intermittent but far more available and would have a fraction of the footprint - if it was available.  Small wave farms are under construction but are not yet commercial.

                There is lots and lots of baseload renewable power.  Why must we concentrate on inferior technology?

                Best,  Terry

                •  Intermittency "concerns" are a dodge (0+ / 0-)

                  It implies that we would abruptly disconnect all exist Carbon and place ourselves at the "mercy" of cloudy days and extended lulls in wind. Intermittency is easily addressed by maintaining some fraction of existing Coal-fired facilities , ideally modified to burn Natural Gas, and the existing nuclear plants that pass a proper inspection.

                  The fact is that the Germans and the Dutch are making wind and solar work today, and we have better wind and solar potential sufficiently close to most of our major population centers than certainly Germany does.

                  Intermittency simply means we cannot be completely Carbon-Free. But it also means that we can be 67% Carbon-Free within 10-15 years (because it will take that long to build that much new infrastructure). It's relative low hanging fruit that can sustain us while we work on "superior technology."

                  Having lived near the ocean most of my life, I am rooting for much more investment in tidal and other "low head hydro" solutions. There are very real mechanical (the East River project was hampered by an underestimation of the power of the tidal flow and the the insufficient robustness of the test device) and logistical issues to overcome before fields can be built to supply any of our coastal cities, but I will stipulate that it is the least intermittent-challenged option out there and in theory make the MOST sense for NYC, Boston, Philadelphia, Miami, etc. It is  not an easy thing to harness constantly moving water.

                  "Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will." -- Frederick Douglass

                  by Egalitare on Mon Jul 19, 2010 at 07:19:13 AM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  Baseload Power Is Crucial (0+ / 0-)

                    Who says so?

                    One is Rep. Jerry McNerny, the wind energy entrepreneur elected to Congress with a hefty environmental assist and corruption in a heavily Republican district.

                    If a guy investing his money and time in wind energy thinks baseload energy is important, maybe others might consider it something more than a "dodge."

                    Most of us want power when we plug in the cord or turn on the appliance.

                    People stuck in crowded elevators for hours can probably tell you how much it means to them.

                    Even in very poor countries where most have no electricity, like Kenya or Nicaragua, I have been surprised to learn how much damage is done by blackouts.

                    Fortunately for them, those two countries are well on their way to obtaining massive baseload renewable power through enlightened energy policies.

                    The U.S. not so much though Steven Chu is taking the lead.

                    Best,  Terry

  •  The misguided production, use and (12+ / 0-)

    subsidy of ethanol is a prime example of politics ruling over science and economics. The problem is that political influence and campaign payoffs have trumped science and economics to such an extent and for so long that its has become accepted practise in Washington.

  •  Americans have been trying to turn (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    corn into alcohol since the days of the Whiskey Rebellion. It's never worked out very well.

    Biomass for the generation of electricity seems to have some promise in certain parts of the country that lack good prospects for wind and solar. We would be much better off not putting any tax subsidies into the production of ethanol for auto fuel from any source. We have far more urgent energy priorities. However, subsidizing production from corn, is the worst of all possible ideas.

    •  We're not getting rid of the IC engine anytime (0+ / 0-)

      soon, and every gallon of ethanol offsets the need to pump another gallon of oil. I think it's urgent enough, but it has to be done properly.

      James Carville emerges from the conflagration, riding a burning alligator.

      by shpilk on Sun Jul 18, 2010 at 01:57:15 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  There are other (0+ / 0-)

        actions of energy policy that also reduce the need for oil and/or carbon emissions. The production of ethanol and tax subsidies for it should be placed in the full context of all of them and not dealt with in isolation.

        •  It's part of an overall solution, (0+ / 0-)

          as a transition fuel using non-food products it can help reduce our carbon budget. These waste plants and weeds, when left to simply rot release their carbon energy into the atmosphere as methane and CO2.  

          James Carville emerges from the conflagration, riding a burning alligator.

          by shpilk on Sun Jul 18, 2010 at 02:58:05 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  asdf (0+ / 0-)

    The energy use versus produced is somewhat irrelevant since you can not run your car on coal, but you can run it on ethanol.

    •  It takes oil/coal based energy to create ethanol (3+ / 0-)

      The process of fertilizing, growing, running machinery to harvest, transport and distillation of ethanol, all energy intensive.

      This is true of alternative plants like cattails, kudzu, hemp to a much lesser degree, and solar stills could be used in smaller scale operations, instead large factory farms.

      Some farmers do process their own plant material to make ethanol, and use it locally.

      James Carville emerges from the conflagration, riding a burning alligator.

      by shpilk on Sun Jul 18, 2010 at 01:55:53 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  If you could square this with the other ag diary (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    shpilk, penguinsong

    showing how American corn exports are crippling Mexican corn production, I'd appreciate it. The energy equation I get, but I keep reading how our corn exports are devastating corn production elsewhere. Shouldn't higher prices for corn lead to better economic conditions for corn production in Mexico?

    "Virtue itself turns vice, being misapplied." Friar Lawrence, Romeo and Juliet

    by the fan man on Sun Jul 18, 2010 at 12:57:38 PM PDT

    •  The issue there (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      shpilk, opinionated, the fan man

      is that the indigenous farmers have been put out of the agricultural business without having any other economic alternatives in Mexico. They have no money with which to buy American corn or anything else. That is why they are migrating north in search of work.

      •  But this was becuase of the influx of cheap (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        corn from the US according to the other diary. When corn spiked in price, small producers should have been able to bring corn to market.

        "Virtue itself turns vice, being misapplied." Friar Lawrence, Romeo and Juliet

        by the fan man on Sun Jul 18, 2010 at 01:34:35 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Market conditions don't work that way. (4+ / 0-)

          The corruption present in the whole of the food industry favors only large producers.

          It would be nice to think that our shift to corn based ethanol would have resulted in better economic conditions for people in Mexico where corn is a core element of their food economy. It never 'trickles down' that far. The distribution chain and large producers absorb almost all the extra gains.

          James Carville emerges from the conflagration, riding a burning alligator.

          by shpilk on Sun Jul 18, 2010 at 01:51:40 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  It worked in this country for vegetables. Energy (0+ / 0-)

            costs associated with trucking cheap industrial produce gave local producers in the NE price parity. It helped small NE grain producers quite a bit as well.

            "Virtue itself turns vice, being misapplied." Friar Lawrence, Romeo and Juliet

            by the fan man on Sun Jul 18, 2010 at 02:35:19 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  I don't see any sign that our higher prices for (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              the fan man, Egalitare

              corn helped Mexican farmers. Quite the contrary, I understand prices for corn went up in Mexico, but farmers did not profit.

              James Carville emerges from the conflagration, riding a burning alligator.

              by shpilk on Sun Jul 18, 2010 at 03:08:19 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  Thanks. There is missing information obviously. (0+ / 0-)

                Since Mexicans do not like yellow corn for food, and that's what we ship, and the price we charged increased, why didn't that help Mexican farmers?

                "Virtue itself turns vice, being misapplied." Friar Lawrence, Romeo and Juliet

                by the fan man on Sun Jul 18, 2010 at 04:11:31 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  My impression (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  the fan man

                  was that it wasn't that high corn prices were bad for Mexican farmers.  Rather, they were bad for Mexican consumers who rely on corn as a basic staple in their diet.

                  It's hard to get a clear picture of the situation though, since many of the articles on agricultural subsidies take a strong editorial stance.  For instance articles that talk about how rich-country subsidies hurt farmers will make no mention of how low prices help consumers.  In contrast, articles that complain about rich-country destruction of food (via ethanol for instance) will talk about how high prices hurt consumers, while making little or no mention of how they help farmers.  A quick Google search of the literature found most of the early-2000 articles fell into the former camp, while the late-2000 ones fell into the later.  It makes a comprehensive analysis rather confusing.

                  •  The fundamental issue is that corn is an (0+ / 0-)

                    internationally traded commodity that has made non-industrial production very difficult for small semi-subsistence farmers everywhere. It does help urban consumers at the price of rural community destruction, the same pattern that took place here. I imagine higher prices did help local farmers, but it was more than likely not much help after years of decline. What food activists have to understand is that local production was never enough for underdeveloped countries. We can help others achieve "food sovereignty", but that runs counter to free trade and typical import/export policies.

                    "Virtue itself turns vice, being misapplied." Friar Lawrence, Romeo and Juliet

                    by the fan man on Mon Jul 19, 2010 at 07:00:08 AM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

  •  Rural slant of the Senate (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    shpilk, Egalitare

    strikes again. (And the Iowa caucus as mentioned above)

  •  I've read that depending on how much water (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    shpilk, Richard Lyon, ozarkspark

    is required for irrigation, one gallon of corn based ethanol can tak up to 6 gallons of water to produce.

  •  It's simply immoral (4+ / 0-)

    for poor peasants to not be able to afford food because we are burning it in our cars.

  •  Kudzu grows rapidly and has been used (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Whatever the Repuglicans say, the opposite is the truth .

    by MariaWr on Sun Jul 18, 2010 at 02:40:15 PM PDT

  •  Not to mention driving food prices up. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    shpilk, JuliaAnn

    The artificial spike in corn prices partly caused by diversion of production acreage to ethanol fuel likely contributed to thousands of deaths from starvation in the developing world.

    So not only is ethanol a complete boondoggle in terms of energy production; not only does it accomplish nothing to reduce greenhouse gas emission; not only does it reduce fuel efficiency of vehicles burning it..
    It actually causes more poor people to die of starvation in the developing world.

    It's lose-lose-lose. Except for the lucky duckies feeding at the Federal trough, gorging on those tax credits.

    •  Yeppers (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      I'm in Indiana, where the richest farmers are corn growers who jumped on ethanol as a way to pad their purses. I know a couple personally. They did not vote for Obama, but they expected to receive subsidies for their ethanol plots and projects. They quite simply think it's their "turn" to steal from government, because they know darn well that ethanol is a loser.

      I was hoping during the election that Obama would be smarter than to side with these ignorant guys. But sadly, no. He needed Iowans and Hoosiers and other corn-state yahoos to vote for him, so he did the usual political thing.

      Truth is the first victim of politics. But we will be the ultimate victims.

  •  Solar radiation gives 1000 Watts per square meter (0+ / 0-)

    746 Watts is one horsepower.

    And this is assuming 100% conversion of solar to energy.

    How can solar be a viable alternative to oil and fossil fuels?

    •  well, something had better be.... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      ...wouldn't you say?

      A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger (Proverbs 15:1)

      by Boreal Ecologist on Sun Jul 18, 2010 at 03:44:51 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  The same way ethanol is, only better (0+ / 0-)

      Right now ethanol is the way in which we convert coal and oil into a fuel which can be used in cars.

      Right now Honda makes a hydrogen fuel cell electric production vehicle with a 270 mile range and a three second "fill up" at a hydrogen station (compared to an eight hour recharge for a conventional electric car).  Hydrogen powered vehicles, unlike ethanol, have zero emissions.  Other than water, of course.

      Right now solar power could be used to convert water into hydrogen for powering Honda's fuel cell electric vehicle.

      When the cost of producing the power has essentially $0 maintenance, even a 10% conversion ratio of solar into energy means the cost of producing hydrogen is rather cheap, especially compared to the cost of producing ethanol.

      Add in the detail that hydrogen can be produced this way year-round (thermal solar power stations can run with cloud-cover, and at night with stored thermal energy), and it is worth discarding ethanol for solar plus hydrogen.

    •  A typical home... (0+ / 0-)

      only needs a couple dozen kW hours of electricity per day.  Even assuming substantially less than 100% efficiency, that means that a home can easily run on the power provided by solar cells covering its rooftop, provided it has a way to get energy when the sun is down (grid or storage).  Next generation solar plants that uses mirrors to run traditonal turbine generators have the promise to provide power at rates comparable to traditional sources.  

      Horsepower are not a particularly good comparison unit.  They are typically used to represent motors, where short-term high-power demands do not match the production profile of solar power.

  •  Rather than make ethanol (0+ / 0-)

    which is rather involved, I suspect that it will make more sense to just burn vegetable matter and make steam (or maybe use a Stirling).  

    •  Right On (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      An advanced external combustion engine won first prize at an algae exposition devoted to those converting algae to biofuel.

      This guy took hits from the technical wizards at FoxNews as a purported people eater:


      EATR (Energetic Autonomous Tactical Robot) has the all fuel Cyclone engine that can eat anything including solar but is not as mean as FoxNews made him out to be.  Unlike those folks, EATR will have a brain.

      Best,  Terry

  •  This diary does not convince me (0+ / 0-)

    Why did Archer Daniels make so much money when oil reached $147/barrel.

    If ethanol was a net energy loser without the tax break ADM's profits should not have spiked when oil got so high.

    •  Energy cost per Btu differ (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      shpilk, Egalitare

      Coal is cheaper for example, plus ADM's ethanol has always been heavily subsidized in one form or another.  I used to work in synthetic ethanol production and there was no way we could compete with them because of the subsidies.  We were aware of this 20 years ago...  

      Note to Democratic leadership: I'm all out of carrots, but I still have my stick.

      by Celtic Pugilist on Sun Jul 18, 2010 at 09:44:07 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Here is more info on the subsidy (0+ / 0-)

    The federal government provides a tax incentive to gasoline blenders (not ethanol producers) to encourage the use of ethanol. This subsidy affects how ethanol’s competitiveness with gasoline. For example, gasoline blends containing 10% ethanol earn a tax credit of 5.1 cents per gallon. In effect, the blenders can pay up to 51 cents more for a gallon of ethanol than the equivalent amount of gasoline and still break even. This tax break is called the Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit. Its cost to the government ($2.5 billion in 2006) is offset by savings in crop payments to farmers.

    In 2006 high corn prices caused by ethanol demand reduced farm support payments by roughly $6 billion.

    A tariff of 54 cents a gallon is imposed on most foreign ethanol. The tariff is meant to counterbalance the ethanol tax credit and ensure that foreign producers are not subsidized. Significant exemptions were created by the Central America Free Trade Agreement. More than 700 million gallons of ethanol were imported in 2006, a five-fold increase from 2005.

    Some states do pay production subsidies directly to ethanol producers, but the federal tax credit for ethanol is paid to gasoline blenders, not ethanol producers. Small producers receive an additional production income tax credit of 10 cents per gallon on up to 15 million gallons of production annually.

    I don't know if ethanol is viable, but there seems more propaganda out there then good solid facts.  I know the oil companies are busy clouding the issue.

  •  Ethanol has always pretty much been... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    an agricultural subsidy masquerading as an energy subsidy.  The environmental economics have always been pretty wretched, and there are far more promising alternatives out there.

    Not only do ethanol subsidies provide farmers another market for their corn, by diverting corn for industrial purposes, they help prop up the price of corn for all farmers - at the cost of higher consumer prices.  This is common practice in agricultural - subsidies provide money to farmers, but not in such a way that would increase supply (since that would drive down prices).  Tarrifs are often used in conjunction with subsidies to reduce competition from foreign producers, ensuring higher prices (this is done for ethanol, sugar, orange juice, and a host of other agricultural products).  Tarrifs also have the advantage that they don't show up as subsidies in government spending (the consumer pays the subsidy).

    Sadly, the disproportionate clout of farm states in the Senate, combined with the Iowa caucuses (the first vote in Presidential primaries) ensures continued support for ethanol.

  •  Give a range on Btu cost of production (0+ / 0-)

    The one thing I object to in the diary is giving a single value for the Btu cost to produce ethanol.  The actual range (with all factors considered) is wide and I'm not sure whom to believe without carefully evaluating all of their many assumptions.  

    It appears most likely that the net Btu's are slightly positive (20-35%).  CO2 wise it might be closer to breakeven.  To me that makes ethanol a fairly poor investment as an alternative energy.

    Note to Democratic leadership: I'm all out of carrots, but I still have my stick.

    by Celtic Pugilist on Sun Jul 18, 2010 at 09:56:06 PM PDT

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