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Ethanol Losing Its Lustre

Ethanol has gone from the answer for U.S. energy independence to what some are calling a cure that is worse than the disease, according to a Wall Street Journal article. The biofuel’s critics, which include industries hurt when the price of corn rises, blame ethanol for high food prices and question how eco-friendly it really is.  Plans for new plants are being shelved in certain cases, the Journal writes, and stock prices are near 52-week lows.

Here’s some of language being used by critics. A recent study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development concluded that biofuels “offer a cure [for oil dependence] that is worse than the disease,” according to the article, and an outside expert advising the UN on the “right to food” labeled the use of food crops to make biofuels “a crime against humanity.” The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization later disowned the remark as “regrettable.”

The ethanol lobby is pleading with Congress to drastically boost the amount of ethanol that oil refiners must blend into gasoline. ( The EPA just set a new renewable fuels standard of 4.66 percent, up from 4.02 percent in 2007.)

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3 thoughts on “Ethanol Losing Its Lustre

  1. The WSJ got our position on ethanol wrong.

    Used without proper context in an article that broadly covers criticism of the ethanol industry, it appears that the American Lung Association is an ethanol critic. This is not true. The American Lung Association recognizes that alternative fuels can play an important role in the reduction of fossil fuel use and that they can vary significantly in their impact on lung health because of their composition and application.

    For example, the American Lung Association of the Upper Midwest has led a nationally-recognized E85 (an ethanol-based alternative fuel that can be used in flex-fuel vehicles) pilot program since 1998. We remain a strong supporter of E85 and biodiesel, both of which have been tested and approved by the Environmental Protection Agency as cleaner-burning alternatives to traditional petroleum fuels.

  2. Surely you folks realize the enormous money being spent to trash talk ethanol and what more conservative source than the WSJ to cite. Why even use a headline like that. Very disappointing. With oil hovering around $100 is the status quo really the answer? Every dollar that goes toward biofuels gets multiplied in our economy and provides for more energy security.
    We don’t need talking points from the oil lobby funded “think tanks” guiding our decisions.

  3. As a long time experimenter in biofuels I have consistently said that ethanol is NOT a viable alternative for gasoline, at least not in an American market. Besides the most obvious result in this disingenuous rush, that of skyrocketing grain prices, the substance in and of itself is just not a suitable motor fuel when compared to gasoline. In actual down the road hands on testing we found as far back as the late 70’s that only engines designed and tuned specifically for ethanol can come anywhere near a level of efficiency that would justify it’s use. We found almost immediately that adding 10% ethanol to regular gasoline caused a drop in mileage of 10-15%, which makes it pretty clear that not only was it a waste of time, it did nothing but add the byproducts of alcohol combustion to those of the gasoline with which it was mixed, for an actual net gain in pollutants. I am presently an associate member a group of alternate fuel researchers at a major university, and my position is unchanged. Ethanol production is grossly inefficient and will not figure prominently in any future solutions to our transportation fuel needs. It has been a much needed boon for our long suffering farmers, albeit at the expense of higher food prices, but if we are to use agricultural products at all for fuel feedstocks we better do what the rest of the world is doing, and concentrate on the production of oil for use in diesel engines. I don’t mind for one second going on the record as saying ethanol just will NOT work in any meaningful way as a substitute for gasoline.

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