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Stop the Anti-Ethanol Ridiculousness–An Open Letter Reply to an Unmistakable Editorial Failure

Business News/Analysis, California, Federal Regulation, History of Advanced Biofuels, Opinions, Policy, Sustainability
November 25, 2019

by Marc J. Rauch (The Auto Channel)  This past Saturday, a media outlet called THE ATLANTIC published an anti-ethanol editorial titled “STOP THE ETHANOL MADNESS.” … The following is my rebuttal to him and THE ATLANTIC: 

Dear Editors –
The anti-ethanol editorial written by Mario Loyola, “STOP THE ETHANOL MADNESS,” is highly problematic. I don’t mean that it’s a “problem” to the ethanol industry, or ethanol as a fuel source, or to America’s struggle for energy independence, per se. I mean it’s a problem to The Atlantic and to Mr. Loyola because of it’s many inaccuracies and misinterpretations of facts.

Mankind will probably never be without petroleum oil – the question is, just because we can find more poison, do we really want to use it and continue to be suckers?

Gasoline was never needed for general internal combustion engines, and petroleum diesel fuel was never needed for Rudolph Diesel’s heavy duty engine that bears his name. Combustible fuels created from crops and other decaying substances could easily replace petroleum oil fuels, then and now. Other than very local and very temporary circumstances (such as conditions making a roadway impassible for fuel trucks, or military action in a war), there should never be an issue of fuel availability anywhere in the world. Fuel should be sourced locally from the best and most abundant raw materials. The raw materials might be planted crops, human and animal waste, naturally occurring organisms like algae, and in some instances abiotic fuels made from crude oil and coal. But “fuel availability” should never again be something that is used to enslave any group of humans.

What is relevant is that significant air and water pollution – regardless of whether is rises to the level of catastrophic calamity for our planet – along with serious health consequences and wars, are caused by petroleum oil fuels. There is no equivocation on this.

As egregious as the comparison between gasoline and ethanol is, Mr. Loyola insinuates an even dumber comparison when he writes that ethanol’s “sole beneficiaries are large agricultural corporations—and the politicians who serve them.” The reverse is actually more correct: the sole beneficiaries of petroleum oil fuels are the far, far larger oil industry corporations, terrorist regimes, and the domestic politicians who serve them. There is no comparative equivalent. No country or state invades another over ethanol issues. Nobody hijacks an airplane or blows up a school bus filled with children over ethanol issues. None of our military personnel have ever been killed or disabled defending ethanol and its agricultural corporations. The beneficiaries of ethanol fuel are the citizens of our country (in fact the citizens of any country smart enough to use ethanol fuel), and the beneficiaries include our domestic hardworking farmers.

Other crops can easily be used, but as long as ethanol fuel usage is limited by government edict (which is exacerbated by the false information promulgated by the oil industry) other options are superfluous at this time. Greater public understanding of ethanol’s benefits leading to greater demand and usage might inevitably require other crops and raw materials. The processes to produce ethanol from these other sources, including cellulosic sources, would improve financially, making them more affordable – this is a basic economic fact-of-life that someone representing the “Competitive Enterprise Institute” should understand…unless that person has no understanding of basic business issues.

Opening the opportunity for RIN credits and carbon credits to be bought and sold guarantees corrupt behavior. This idiotic RIN system is not the fault of ethanol or its producers, nor does it diminish the quality of ethanol as a fuel.

Actual usage and testing for more than 100 years proves that any internal combustion engine can use significantly more ethanol in a ethanol-gasoline blend without any harm done to the engines. Most recently and publically this has been proven by the EPA when it certified E15 for all modern cars and light trucks, and when they acknowledged that their E15 testing also included E20 testing (with no negative effects). The myth of the blend wall has also been exposed by Brazil’s mandated use of E27, and the many decades of ethanol use in Great Britain by the two oil company giants Standard Oil and Cities Service (they sold ethanol-gasoline blends up to E30 and marketed them as being superior in every way to gasoline without ethanol). The vehicles sold in Brazil and the vehicles that were sold in Great Britain were and are the same as the vehicles sold in America.

Moreover, since ethanol is compatible with more types of rubbers, plastics, and metals than gasoline and aromatics, all gasoline-powered internal combustion engines can safely and efficiently use ethanol levels far above E30. The only difference between flex fuel E85 vehicles and fuel injected non-flex fuel vehicles is the onboard computer software, which can be easily updated (except that the government prohibits it).

But for now, there are no ethanol mandates. The biofuel mandate does not specify ethanol. The oil industry could choose to use something else, if they could find something that’s cleaner, less expensive, and safer to use.

The NAS (National Academies of Sciences) study also doesn’t take into account the increased costs of using ingredients other than ethanol to increase octane and mitigate engine knock. Their calculations were most likely based solely on the cost per barrel of oil, not on the price of benzene or other similar octane boosters, which are always significantly higher. The oil industry was always capable of refining a gasoline that didn’t cause engine knock (without TEL or ethanol). The problem was the cost of that highly refined gasoline, and so they searched for alternatives. People who don’t really know the history of engine fuels don’t know this.

The other thing that Mr. Loyola and the NAS study doesn’t take into account are possible cancellations to the many subsidies given to the oil industry. Retiring some of the oil subsidies can have a major impact on the price of gasoline (such as making the oil industry pay for the cost of U.S. military presence and defense of worldwide oil facilities). This could easily send gasoline to $10 or more per gallon. Ethanol’s current wholesale price is $1.44 per gallon (around the lowest price it’s been in more than 10 years). Oil would have to fall to $40 or less per barrel to compete with ethanol. It’s possible, but then say goodbye to oil from fracking and tar sands. And then, there’s the “mother of all things” that could affect the price of petroleum oil and its fuels: MORE WARS. So when you speculate on cost competitiveness between gasoline and ethanol, it’s important to consider all reasonable possibilities.

On top of all that I have just presented is the ironic contrary fact that ethanol is actually the oil industry’s road to salvation. Internal combustion engines are marvelous machines. The drawback to these marvelous machines is the dirty, filthy, deadly petroleum oil fuels that they use. Electric motors are cleaner than gasoline and diesel internal combustion engines. As the public’s dissatisfaction with petroleum fuels’ health risks continues to grow, the acceptance and use of electric vehicles also will grow. Electric motors displaces the need for gasoline and diesel. Eventually, the petroleum oil industry and most industries related to internal combustion engine parts, repair services and fueling services will die, too. However, internal combustion engines powered by high level ethanol-gasoline blends can be as clean or cleaner than electric motors. Global adoption of more ethanol will save the petroleum oil industry if they are smart enough to stop their opposition to ethanol (just as they have done in Brazil). What’s more, the environmental and health benefits of using more ethanol can happen immediately, starting today!  READ MORE

 

The Atlantic’s Anti-Ethanol Errors (Renewable Fuels Association)

 

Excerpt from Renewable Fuels Association: It is not surprising that a staffer at an organization once dubbed “a Big Oil astroturf group” would write an article attacking renewable fuels, but it is sad that a publication such as The Atlantic would fall for a piece that is so long on opinion and short on fact. Often, facts cited are either woefully outdated or, simply, wrong.

Let’s take a look at just a few examples. Here’s one: “In the United States, the cultivation of corn for ethanol now requires a staggering 38 million acres of land—an area larger than the state of Illinois. By comparison, the total area of cropland used to produce grains and vegetables that humans eat is only about twice that acreage.” His number is a little off—if you divide the overall corn-for-ethanol bushels by yield in 2018, it comes to about 30 million acres—but it’s also greatly deceptive, for two reasons.

First, the corn-to-ethanol number USDA provides includes ethanol co-products like distillers grains, used for livestock feed. And this is not insignificant. For 2018, according to ProExporter Network, distillers grains used for livestock feed equated more than 1.2 billion bushels of corn.

Further, the author’s reference to “grains and vegetables that humans eat” is also deceptive. A lot of the grain and oilseed grown in the United States becomes food for people, as meat, poultry or dairy products. American ag products are also used for clothing, shelter, and other non-food uses. In 2018, all principal crops planted covered about 320 million acres. And he should know that the corn used for ethanol and livestock feed is not the same as the sweet corn we all enjoy eating so much.

Here’s the other example: “The RFS program mandates that corn ethanol have at least 20 percent lower carbon emissions than petroleum-based gasoline. But in the decade since the program’s full implementation, many studies have shown that the greenhouse-gas impacts collaterally associated with ethanol production—the full ‘carbon-cycle’ effect—negate that 20 percent reduction and may even make corn ethanol worse for the climate than fossil fuels.”

The author attempts to justify this statement by citing a controversial 2011 report. Here’s a more updated review from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, from late last year, looking at the whole life-cycle: “We assess corn ethanol’s current GHG profile at 39–43% lower than gasoline. We also develop two projected emissions scenarios for corn ethanol in 2022. These scenarios highlight opportunities to produce ethanol with emissions that are 47.0–70.0% lower than gasoline.” And don’t forget, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) credits ethanol with reducing GHG emissions by 37% compared to gasoline. CARB says ethanol use in the state has lowered transportation-related GHG emissions by 21 million metric tons since 2011.

The great fictional detective Sherlock Holmes once remarked that there is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact, and while it may be true that some data can be distorted in the presentation, the preponderance of data—especially fresh data based on the evolution and growing sustainability of an industry like ethanol—clearly demonstrates the value of renewable fuels to our lives, our communities, and our planet.   READ MORE

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