Friday, August 11, 2006

GOP Energy Plan Is a Waste of Money AND Energy

Indiana State House Speaker Brian Bosma announced a $50 million plan to promote the use of corn-derived ethanol and other alternative energy sources.

But ethanol made from corn and other grains has already been established to be more trouble than its worth. Very few people are buying the E85 fuel because even though it costs the same as regular gasoline, vehicles do not get as many miles per gallon. So it cost more per mile to use E85, a bad deal for consumers.

Growing and processing the corn uses petroleum-based fertilizers and fossil-fueled powered tractors. Converting the grain into ethanol takes up even more energy. Last year, a study was conducted by a Cornell University ecologist. The study shows that producing ethanol from corn takes 29% more energy than is produced when the ethanol is finally used. Think of it this way: It is more or less like burning 5 gallons of gas to create 4 gallons. It just isn't a very efficient way of doing things.

Its a national problem, not just a state problem: Fuel consumption in Los Angeles has just as much an impact on gas prices as local fuel consumption. One possible solution is already being tried in Brazil. There, ethanol is being produced using sugar, and it is proving to be a lot more efficient than corn. There is of course more energy in sugar than there is in corn, as anyone who has been around children can attest to.

So why aren't we doing the same thing? Because import tariffs on sugar keep the price of sugar artificially high, making it cheaper to continue to pay $3 a gallon for gas. As long as these import tariffs are in place, this country is prevented from trying a potential new energy source.

4 comments:

  1. Jeff Pruitt11:21 AM

    Robert,

    I agree w/ parts of your post - especially the section about sugar.

    However, using the Pimentel study is unfair. It's basically the outlier since nearly all the studies show that biofuels are energy positive.

    The response from the National Biodiesel Board points to many problems w/ the study. In fact, I think the Pimentel study was inherently biased due to the use of workers' caloric intake as an energy cost. That just seems silly to me. Here's the NBB response to this:

    "The study includes labor has an energy input. Even though the calories
    consumed by farm workers can be converted to energy equivalents, most
    researchers do not treat the calories as fossil energy. Labor associated with
    soybean production has no significant effect on the total number of calories
    consumed in the United States and calories are not considered to be a scarce
    resource. Moreover, people must consume food to sustain life, regardless of their
    occupation. Labor performed by farm workers requires an insignificant amount
    of fossil energy, and has no direct effect on oil imports or energy security.
    Including labor as an energy input results in an overestimation of the energy
    required to produce soybeans."

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  2. If burning ethanol rather than gasoline is a good thing, then to encourage its use (or more accurately to do less to discourage its use) the government should not only stop driving up the price of sugar, but also remove the 55 cent per gallon tariff on imported ethanol. The fact that there is a stiff tariff on imported ethanol shows that the government's policy is about incumbent politicians getting the farm vote and not about energy. If we are going to be dependent on imports for energy anyway, I would feel better depending more on Brazil and less on some of the flaky oil-rich countries.

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  3. I was citing the parts of the study that said making the ethanol from corn was inefficient. I will admit that I did not look into what it said about biodiesel, which is different from corn ethanol.

    Biodiesel sound interesting, since it uses stuff that is just going to get thrown out anyway. But most vehicles in the US run off of gasoline and not diesel, so biodiesel at best will still only solve part of the problem.

    I am glad that you agreed with what I said about sugar. I should stress that as long as we are using corn and not sugar to make ethanol, we are wasting money. There is simply more energy in sugar. You can test this at home by feed corn to a child, then feeding him sugar. Then see which one makes him move around more.

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  4. Jeff Pruitt10:57 PM

    Micheael,

    You've stumbled upon another joke of our "free" trade economy. I don't think people realize that our trade policy is CHIEFLY geared to help large corporations. The tariff on imported ethanol is yet another example of this. Someday perhaps the "free" trade republicans will begin to see what a farce our trade policy really is...

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