Wednesday, April 26, 2006

How far can you drive on a bushel of corn?

I haven't read through this Popular Mechanics article on corn based ethanol yet, but it looks good. I would trust their science over pretty much any mainstream media reporting on it, anyway.

What I've heard about corn based ethanol is that it takes more than a gallon of oil to produce a gallon of it (to run the tractors, etc). I wonder if that's true. In contrast, places like Brazil can mass produce sugarcane, which is alot easier to convert into ethanol. This is what NPR told me.

When I drove from Chicago to Seattle, I stopped off at Mount Rushmore. The town nearby sold ethanol at the gas station, and it was 10 cents cheaper than the cheap gas. It's not good for your car to switch back and forth, but if I had the option, I would buy ethanol for 10 cents cheaper all the time. Who wouldn't? That was in South Dakota by the way.

I'm sure it's artificially priced that low, but still. I think it's an acceptable expenditure in the interests of national defense, don't you? One B-2 bomber costs $2 billion, fer chrissakes, and we have at least 21 of those.

UPDATE: After finally reading the article, yes it's good. Bio-diesels or hybrids look like good alternatives for the near term, hydrogen in the long term (~2020).


At 26/4/06 20:47, Anonymous JB said...

Wait, are you saying Mt. Rushmore is in SD?

At 26/4/06 21:04, Blogger TSS said...


I was hoping the news that they subsidize ethanol in SD would maybe counteract some of the negatives from SD's abortion ban.

At 27/4/06 13:29, Anonymous garlic said...

I've been looking at vehicles that run on e85 (85% ethonal, 15% gas) vs hybrids, and at this point, hybrids win hands down every time. They get better mileage and have less emmissions than every e85 vehicle. The hybrid SUVs do better than the FFV (fuel flexible vehicle) taurus or monte carlo.

One of the reasons e85 may be cheaper is that it's not always taxed the same as gasoline is. However, it doesn't get the same milelage (in cars that can run it) as gasoline does, so a 10 cent price savings isn't going to get you as far as straight gas anyway.

The studies I've seen say that brazil is getting 8 units of ethanol (which is alcohol, the same stuff that you drink) for 1 unit of oil put in. They do sugarcane with produces better, and they also burn the cane refuse to run the distillery. Corn is actually about the worst crop used to make ethonal at this point, maxing out at 1.3 to 1.6 units per 1 unit of oil. We're doing corn instead of sugar beats (1.9 efficient in france) because we already have the corn farmers. And ADM owns ~40% of the corn grown in the US, and is happy to get another subsidized market for it.

ONe of the cool facts about Brazil is that with their efficient ethonal production, they've become energy independent by using ethonal in FFV or ethanol only vehicles, and making electricity from burning the sugarcane refuse. They're working on trying to become an exporter of ethanol at this point.

At 27/4/06 15:12, Blogger TSS said...

That is very cool about Brazil. I should have mentioned it. But keep in mind their energy needs are 4% or ours. We probably produce enough of our own energy to run all of Brazil.

That 4% number came from some guy on NPR, so I dunno how true it is.

So has anyone actually read the article I linked? Maybe I'll do that soon.


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