The newly elected mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, recently announced a new plan to fight air pollution. One of the biggest changes he intends to make is requiring owners of the worst-polluting cars pay a fee to drive in central London. Read more →
Still waiting for Debbie Carlson to explain why ethanol “isn’t a good fuel.”
That was the headline of a piece she wrote for The Guardian last week: “Energy hypocrisy: Ethanol isn’t a good fuel, but it’s not going away anytime soon.”
Carlson, a veteran business freelancer who also has written for Barron’s and The Wall Street Journal, makes several uncontested points, noting that ethanol — particularly ethanol made from corn — carries some political baggage. And of course there’s a looming battle over how much ethanol to blend into the nation’s gasoline supply under the Renewable Fuel Standard.
But nowhere in the 1,024-word post does Carlson explain, specifically, what makes ethanol such a lousy fuel.
Ethanol, whether it’s made from corn, sugarcane, biomass or other feedstocks like natural gas or municipal waste, simply burns cleaner, producing far fewer emissions than gasoline. The result is a net gain for air quality, people’s health and the environment. Henry Ford called it the fuel of the future.
Marc Rauch. Credit: The Auto Channel
Marc Rauch, executive vice president and co-editor of The Auto Channel website, takes issue with Carlson’s assertions in a new TAC post, titled “Ethanol Honesty is the Best Energy Policy.” Marc Rauch, a longtime champion of alcohol fuels who appears in the Fuel Freedom-produced documentary PUMP, starts in right away with the title of Carlson’s piece, noting that she “included nothing within her story to support calling ethanol a bad fuel.”
Rauch is just getting warmed up. He continues:
Ms. Carlson doesn’t get any more honest as she thoughtlessly rattles off hackneyed, long disproved criticisms of ethanol like a detached high school cheerleader who doesn’t understand the rudiments of the game she’s cheering for.
Ms. Carlson writes that while ethanol was supposed to help reduce our dependence on foreign oil; combat climate change; be a gateway for more renewable fuels technology, and reduce gasoline prices because it was cheaper; that it hasn’t done any of these things. She is wrong, it has done all of these things.
If America used 13 billion gallons of ethanol in 2014 to help power our passenger vehicles then that means we reduced our dependence on foreign controlled oil by 13 billion gallons — simple mathematics.
Rauch saves his harshest criticism for Carlson’s rehashing of the argument that corn ethanol steals food out of the mouths of starving babies. It’s a line that opponents of ethanol, including the oil industry, have been leaning on for years. She writes that “we’re putting nearly 40% of the US corn crop in our gas tanks, which some argue pushes up food prices.” (emphasis added.)
Rauch writes that Carlson “attempts to re-ignite the preposterous flames of the ‘food vs. fuel’ argument, adding:
Central in trying to make this an alarming statistic is the imagery that just as the corn is about to be distributed to millions of corn-on-the-cob deprived starving people around the world, greedy ethanol producers swoop in and buy up all the food to be turned into fuel. In reality, this is not how the system works.
There is no question that more corn being grown in America today is being used for ethanol production than as compared to, say, 10 years ago. But the reason for this is that the corn is specifically grown to be used for ethanol. There is demand for the crop so farmers grow more. This means that farmers (American farmers) can grow something that is profitable. Moreover, it means that they can grow something without having to turn to public assistance.
In 2000, U.S. corn production was 251,854 metric tons. In 2013, U.S. corn production was about 353,715 metric tons. Despite the increase in the amount of corn grown between the two years the actual amount of corn available for human consumption remained the same. Additionally, although most of the world outside of the western hemisphere does not eat corn the way that we do, world corn production reached record highs in 2014. So it’s safe to say that there were fewer starving Africans being deprived of non-nutritious high-fructose corn syrup products. Considering the obesity problem that we have in America, even if we were depriving someone of corn chips perhaps we would be doing them a favor.
Finally, there’s the issue of ethanol’s price. Carlson writes that: “As of 26 January, Chicago Board of Trade ethanol futures were holding around $1.448 a gallon, whereas New York Mercantile Exchange reformulated gasoline futures prices were at $1.3167, giving the renewable fuel a 13-cent premium.”
Ask yourself: Where have you seen regular gasoline at $1.31 a gallon? That low price doesn’t take into account marketing and distribution costs for gasoline, Rauch says.
As for the price in the real world, FFF blogger William Tucker has observed that ethanol prices have dropped, which is remarkable considering that oil has plunged 60 percent in seven months. According to E85Prices.com, the national average for E85 on Monday was $1.70, compared with $2 for E10 (regular gasoline with 10 percent ethanol).
In some states, it’s more cost-effective than the national average: In Texas on Monday, E85 was 18.2 percent cheaper than E10. In Florida, the spread in favor of ethanol was 24 percent, and in California it was 19 percent. The spread likely will increase if volatile oil prices rise again, which some experts say they inevitably will.
Rauch writes that Carlson is:
assuming the current surprisingly low price of crude oil will remain surprisingly low …
Read Rauch’s full post, and watch his segment in PUMP, to learn the truth about ethanol.
Until then, here’s a clip from the film, in which Rauch says ethanol “has always been the better fuel” for cars and trucks, and David Blume discusses the many crops besides corn that can be processed into alcohol fuels: