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Mar 12

How to Save the World: Stop Using Corn Ethanol

Most of the time I decline to get political on this site. The fact that I am taking a stand on this particular issue aligns me with some really bad people. I’m speaking out on this because after educating myself on the production of Corn Ethanol is so fucking stupid I couldn’t stay quiet about it. (For the record I am pro planet as hell)

Here’s the skinny. Everyone really likes the idea of gaining fuel independence and the idea of growing gas to feed our hungry automobiles is very appealing. Quit frankly it gives you a warm fuzzy thinking about how you are playing the part of Captain Planet by filling your gas tank with corn juice.

 

Issue #1: Ethanol doesn’t just grow on trees (or stalks in this case) It has to be produced.

corn-in-the-gas-tankThe process of making a yellow summertime food is a complex one. I’ll do my best to paraphrase. The corn is grown normally, pesticides and whatnot, then it is harvested by bigass machines, and moved by bigass trucks to a mill where it gets smashed up, by a machine cooked (using gas) liquified using another machine, fermented into what I am told is a really gross beer, it then goes through distillation to extract the alcohol from the corn beer, it then goes through a molecular sieve, gets denatured, and driven by other bigass trucks to the gas station where you buy it for your car. So you may be thinking to yourself, “HMMMMM I wonder if those machines, cookers, and bigass trucks use any energy?” The answer is yes. The energy ratio is 1.0 to 1.3 at the outset this may sound good. If I give you $1 and you give me $1.30 that sounds like a good deal right? It is a good deal! The problem is, this extra 30 cents is coming from somewhere.

Dry Mill

Here is my children’s book Illustration: Businessman Bill makes Ethanol fuel, Racer Ryan Loves Earth so he only uses cleaner burning Ethanol fuel in his car. Mentally stunted Steve doesn’t give a shit about Earth and uses the cheapest gas he can find.

econ

Businessman Bill pollutes earth with pesticides, and Co2 to make the fuel for Racer Ryan who feels good while he is burning it off because he knows Methanol produces 34% lower emissions, emissions none the less. Meanwhile Earth doesn’t really like Ryan and Bill for giving him a double dose of pollution. The 34% lower emissions doesn’t offset the additional 76% that was created in the production of the ethanol. Totaling 110% Earth likes mentally stunted Steve better even though he isn’t trying.

 

Issue #2 Ethanol uses an absurd amount of corn to make.

Finding accurate numbers on this was a bit convoluted. ilCorn.org informed me that 1 bushel of corn produces 2.8 gallons of Ethanol fuel. What the hell is a bushel? Unc.edu informed me that a bushel of corn is 70 pounds of corn. My calculator tells me that means 1 gallon of Ethanol takes 25 pounds of corn to make! Ask.com informs me that the average ear of corn weighs between 1 and 1.5lbs SO…..

land roverIssue #3 It’s less efficient.

The numbers really vary on this depending on concentration if you care to get down and sloppy with the numbers check my citation. The more of it in your fuel mixture the less miles per gallon you can expect. E10 which most stations sell is 10% Ethanol, using this you can expect to get 4% less far than you would driving with pure petroleum gas. If you are running E85 (FlexFuel) You can expect to lose up to 30% of your gas mileage. That seems similar to that 34% that Racer Ryan was talking about earlier….

578px-EROI_-_Ratio_of_Energy_Returned_on_Energy_Invested_-_USA.svg

Like it or not fossil fuels are currently the densest most portable energy we have access to. Spending more energy to produce less energy is a waste of resources and time and its ultimately the planet that pays the price. Corn subsidies is another facet of this issue, but I don’t care to get all tin foil hatty researching that one. Innovation will bring us through these environmental issues on a long enough time line, but wasting energy to make a less effective form of it is stupid.

 

I’m sure next weeks article will be back to the standard video game review garbage. I do have a few thoughts about electric cars, that will wait till another day!

 

Citations and Informations (that aren’t previously linked in the article)

Where I got my chart: http://www.ethanolrfa.org/pages/how-ethanol-is-made

Some pro Ethanol Material: http://www.ethanolrfa.org/pages/ethanol-facts-environment

Energy return on investment: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_returned_on_energy_invested