Friday, May 27, 2011

Ethanol unmasked. Faint of heart need not look.

A lot of folks have a bunch of opinions about ethanol subsidies. A few candidates on the Presidential campaign trail have recently discussed ethanol subsidies. But let’s focus a little better. Ethanol is not just supported by subsidies it is largely supported by mandates. States mandating that gasoline sold within their borders MUST contain a certain percentage of ethanol, this creates the government sponsored artificial demand for this expensive fuel. Subsidies and tax breaks reduce the cost of production somewhat so that ethanol can have a government sponsored market advantage to help overcome its greater production cost, transferring some of the price seen at the pump to your taxes instead to make ethanol look not quite as expensive as it actually is. Presidential candidates have held various positions on this issue at different times. However, a basic analysis is all that an intelligent person should need to draw an informed opinion about ethanol as a fuel. I will present to you the most basic analysis of the process of rendering corn into ethanol fuel allowing you to draw your own conclusion before I give you mine.

1 Gallon of Ethanol requires 26lbs of corn.

26lbs of corn has 46,000 kcal of nutrition (What a nutritionist calls calories)

Kcal is a metric unit of energy measurement for thermal energy, the English equivalent is BTU.

26lbs of corn has 182,000 BTU of usable nutritional energy.

After you get done processing ethanol, you have products totaling about 30,000 BTU of nutritional energy remaining that can be reintroduced into the food supply.

This is a net nutritional loss of about 150,000 BTU per gallon of fuel produced.

But we get energy right? Yes we do, but remember that high alcohol concentrations kill yeast so getting initial concentration above 20% alcohol to 80% water is impossible. This does not burn. It must be distilled in order to become a usable fuel. The process of boiling off all the alcohol takes 40,000 BTU. Each gallon of ethanol has about 80,000 BTU of energy.

This is a net energy gain of about 40,000 BTU per gallon of fuel produced.

Ok great. We trade a net 150,000 BTU of nutrition for net 40,000 BTU. Not the greatest deal on the planet. But how much corn is really used this way? Thanks to the huge demand from government mandates about 40% of the US crop is consumed in this manner. That is 140 million tons of corn.

The aggregate nutritional loss is about 1.5 quadrillion BTU or about 400 trillion calories; or enough food to feed one of the following for an entire year.

a. 200 Million Cows

b. 200 Million Pigs

c. 2.5 Billion Chickens

d. 500 Million People

Just for reference it is estimated that 800 million is the number of undernourished people on Earth.

But we got the ethanol! Right! It is a great fuel!

Well it costs more $/gal to produce than gasoline meaning simply it is more expensive. Then there is the added cost of blending it with the gasoline. So in general ethanol blends must cost more per gallon because of added cost of ethanol vs gasoline and these blending costs.

OK so it costs more per gallon. I bet you get GREAT millage!

Not so, ethanol per gallon only has about 2/3rds of the thermal energy as gasoline. Meaning simply; if a gallon of gasoline will carry you 200 miles, a tank 100% ethanol would only get you just beyond 130 miles. Blending the fuel in 10% and 20% blends as commonly done has a proportional effect on your mileage.

All the animals I listed above, I listed because all of them are corn fed in significant quantity at some point in their lives to the point that feed becomes the driving cost for bringing the animal to market. This wanton destruction of our feed and food stock is a serious contributor to rising costs associated with foods that rely heavily on corn; such as meat and products from the above animals.

Make your own judgments….

Mine are pretty straight forward, that even the technologically declined with some basic accounting can see the insanity of this process. Even the hard core global warming activist could not support a wasteful process such as this one for simple humanitarian reasons. In fact support of such policy could be thought of as borderline inhumane. The only rational reason to support this in my mind is if you profit from it, or are elected by or receive donations from those who profit from it; one big political kickback.

Some candidates have recently come out decrying ethanol subsidies. But like I said the subsidy is the small part the ethanol mandate is the big part that creates all the artificial demand. Before you take a candidate at face value for their born again revelations against the ethanol subsidies find out their record on ethanol mandates; see if they bought into selling this pig in a poke for political profit. Or more accurately forcing us to buy it for their political profit.

Some references I used in making this article.