Tag Archives: ethanol

The E85 Lifestyle

I discovered that our new used car is a flex-fuel vehicle that runs on E-85 (85% ethanol, 15% gasoline). I’ve decided I now need to be smarmy. All those Prius hybrid drivers have been feeling good about themselves by halving their use of foreign hydrocarbons. But I’m walloping them!

Of course, E85 still requires energy to refine from corn. Still, I’m very happy to substitute American coal, American hydroelectricity, etc. instead of importing foreign hydrocarbons from the Gap.

Ethanol has come a long say since E10 first came on the market, and it’s still a growth industry. It’s important that our vehicle fleet get off foreign hydrocarbons, so we stop propping up dangerous regimes such as Russia, Iran, and Venezuela. Plugins like the Chevy Volt, hyrbids like the Toyota Prius, and E85 cars like mine are all part of the solution.

Indeed, if there is going to be any Detroit bailout, the government should use its bargaining power to maximize the number of E-85 plugin hybrids produced.

Mandate Flex-Fuel Vehicles

Flex fuel vehicles are capable of runnign a blend of 85% ethanol, 15% gasoline. Flex fuel / E85 technology allows us to substitute gasoline (which is a foreign hydrocarbon) with ethanol (which comes from a variety of courses).

A recent comment by Purpleslog made me aware of Robert Zubrin, and his plan to make all new vehicles sold in America flex-fuel vehicles.

Changing the game: Breaking OPEC’s grip on oil (OneNewsNow.com)
Energy expert Robert Zubrin says in this worsening economic crisis, Congress must take an essential step to get the United States off its dependency on foreign oil from countries that want to do America harm.

Dr. Robert Zubrin is the author of Energy Victory: Winning the War on Terror by Breaking Free of Oil. He believes the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, or OPEC, is deliberately restricting the production of oil in the face of growing world demand in order to drive the world into a recession. He adds while opening up areas like the vast Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to drilling is a good idea, it will not break OPEC’s stranglehold.

“Drilling is certainly a good idea, but it’s not sufficient to beat them. OPEC’s got a 40-percent share of the world oil market; we’ve got eight [percent]. If we opened up some additional areas for drilling, we could have nine, maybe ten [percent],” he contends. “They still have the winning position as long oil is the game. What we have to do is change the game.”

And according to Zubrin, that requires Congress to pass flex-fuel legislation, mandating that all cars sold in the United States be able to operate on gasoline, ethanol, and methanol. “This feature only adds a hundred dollars to the cost of a car,” he explains. “If we made this the American standard, it would effectively become the international standard because the foreign car makers would have to switch over to comply.”

Barack Obama supports this plan. John McCain is more skeptical towards ethanol.

Cellulose Ethanol Renders Peak Oil Irrelevent (for us, at least)

A faithful reader wrote to me with a question on my post Oil Prices (And why Peak Oil is Irrelevant), especially in the context of Fabius Maximus’ post “The Three Forms of Peak Oil.” My position is that Peak Oil is largely irrelevant, Fabius’ view is much more dire.

My point on the post was that upwards of 120/barrel even cellulose ethanol becomes an economic alternative for oil. Clearly there’s the question of moving to engines capable of running on cellulose, but mean time for replacing a vehicle is significantly less than 20 years. Thus around $120 is a hard upper limit on the price of oil for any real length of time.

Ethanol plants can be built quickly and turn around profit fast — that’s why they appear as weeds up here in the midwest. Essentially, all you’re doing is distilling alcohol, which we’ve been doing for a couple thousand years, then adding in substances to make it undrinkable.

“Commercially proven” depends on the market rate. Is there a commercially proven way to get cellulose ethanol now, at $108 ? Nope. Are their commercial proven ways to get cellulose ethanol at $145? Yeah — the break-even point appears to be $120. So even without advances in technology or economy of scale, just sustain prices where they are this summer to ramp up that production.

Demand destruction from oil to ethanol can happen quickly. Immediate consequences will be seen after only one year, and within ten the energy stance of the United States will be significantly altered. We’ve already seen considerably demand destruction for gas in the US economy, and that was just by switching from trucks to cars. Start turning over some fraction of cars on a yearly basis from gas to E85, and that continues.

Of course, really we don’t need to wait for $120, because corn ethanol breaks at about $40, but the problem there is that you’re largely substituting coal for oil and using corn ethanol as a delivery vehicle.

How Iowa farmers are helping African development

Economist has a good article about the rise of ethanol (plus better diets,and other factors) increasing the price of corn and other food throughout the world. Of course, this is a good thing.

Africa needs one thing: infrastructure. Africa needs a system of roads to transport, police to prevent crime, courts to adjudicate disputes, machinery to amplify the productivity of labor, and rules to guide economic development.

Unfortunately, Africa does not have infrastructure. And the greatest infrastructure-building effort of all time ended in failure, following the bankruptcy of the European states caused by the World Wars.

Fortunately, the increasing cost of food will naturally shift production to Africa, and interested parties will begin to provide the infrastructure Africa needs. Of course the reasons will be largely selfish: the Core needs the roads to transport the food, the police to ensure production of food, the courts to ensure the delivery of food, the machinery to harvest and perhaps mill the food, and the larger rules to make sure all these steps happen smoothly.

But unlike oil, diamonds, or other goods that impact only a small part of a country’s land and workforce, food production is a job for the whole country. The benefits — not just increased income, but increased infrastructure — are felt by half or more of the country’s population, and throughout all arable land.

Mark in Texas points out that corn will give way to other crops as a source for ethanol. Indeed, corn isn’t an end in itself. But the rise of corn-based ethanol in the United States develops the infrastructure to use ethanol: it develops the infrastructure to develop the infrastructure for Africa.

And that’s a good thing.