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Friday, June 09, 2006 

Pride: Ethanol News

Insty points to a WSJ article that compares some of the popular Pimentel vs. the rest of the world argument over energy balance in the production of ethanol. The author (Carl Bialik) seems to come down on the anti-Pimentel side, which is good. Mr. Bialik rightly points out the sins of the Pimentel study:

But the analysis stacks the deck against ethanol in a number of ways. Perhaps most important: The researchers attributed a wide array of energy costs to ethanol production, including the energy required to produce tractors used in cornfields and even all forms of energy consumed by workers for things such as food, transportation and police protection. Equivalent factors generally aren't included in comparable analyses of rival fuels like gasoline. Also, researchers didn't take into consideration the value of ethanol by-products, which can be used in cattle feed.
This is all well and good, but as regular readers know, I dismiss the energy balance issue as not relevant and likely to evaporate in the face of new research and technology.

The Pimentel faction is further marginalized by a new(ish) study that traces the roots of the assumptions of the competing papers.

Ethanol production will get more efficient and a decentralized production scheme will be more secure than our current Hurricane threatened dead dino fuel production facilities. Mr. Bialik cites some examples:
Broin Cos., based in Sioux Falls, S.D., has pioneered a method to convert corn to ethanol at 90 degrees, rather than the previous 230 to 250 degrees, improving energy efficiency by 10% to 12%, according to co-founder and Chief Executive Jeff Broin. And E3 Biofuels LLC is finding ways to get more out of all parts of the corn, by building plants near dairy farms and feeding cows the byproducts of ethanol processing, then using energy from the animal waste to help power the plants. "Wastes are converted to valuable products, such as biogas and biofertilizers, which replace fossil fuels and their derivatives," David Hallberg, president and chief executive of Omaha-based E3, wrote me in an email.
Who would’ve thought that energy security would be enhanced by cow dung? We can count on OPEC to shut off the flow of oil, but they can’t shut off the flow of poop.

On another ethanol related note, I would like to point to this PDF that explores the effects of the high ethanol tariff on US ethanol producers. (ht E85 Forum) The most surprising thing to me is the amount of ethanol that comes from Saudi Arabia. It seems that the Magic Kingdom and Shell are making ethanol from petroleum. I see the point about trading an addiction to foreign oil for one to foreign ethanol, but for the purposes of building a market for E85 in the US, it seems that at least lowering the tariff still makes sense. We are a major agricultural power; our farmers should be able to compete with anyone.

Just to reiterate my views on Ethanol:
  • Every vehicle sold should be FlexFuel by a date certain (Jan 1, 2009)
  • We need to build an Ethanol Infrastructure (Transport and Retail)
  • We need to aggressively fund Ethanol Research
  • Ethanol production should be decentralized for “Homeland Security”

UPDATE: Price Check on aisle 5!

E10: $2.89
E85: $2.32

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