Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Government The Almighty Buck Transportation Politics

Is E85 Dead Now? 556

Posted by Soulskill
from the somebody-call-netcraft dept.
twdorris writes "With a stoichiometric ratio far lower than that of gasoline (much lower than the price difference), buying the E85 ethanol fuel blend instead of gasoline was already hard to justify. Unless you raced your car on a track where E85 provided a great alternative to race fuel, it really didn't make financial sense. And there are other reasons not to buy E85, too. Like the impact corn-based ethanol is having on food prices or the questionable emissions results (PDF). So, now that the ethanol subsidies provided by the U.S. federal government are scheduled to end this summer, it's going to be even harder to justify E85 (at least in the U.S.). This change will basically make a gallon of E85 cost the same or slightly more than gasoline. With so many things working against it, are the days numbered for readily available E85 at your local gas station? And should it have ever even been made available to begin with? How much did all that government-backed R&D and tax credits cost us for something that was pretty clearly questionable to begin with?"
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Is E85 Dead Now?

Comments Filter:
  • 10% Ethanol (Score:5, Interesting)

    by XanC (644172) on Monday January 16, 2012 @04:12PM (#38716976)

    Does that mean that we'll go back to having gasoline actually be real, 100% honest-to-God gasoline too?

    • Re:10% Ethanol (Score:5, Informative)

      by smpoole7 (1467717) on Monday January 16, 2012 @04:17PM (#38717086) Homepage

      For the record, I know of only one location that sells E85 in this area. Doesn't mean there aren't others, but if there are, I haven't seen them.

      One of the talk shows on our station is a good ol' boy who talks auto repair. He insists -- vehemently -- that ethanol lowers mileage so much that whatever you saved on emissions, you lose because you're burning more fuel as a result. The callers to that show seem to echo that sentiment.

      I know in my own car (Nissan Altima, and I LOVE it), I seem to get a bit more mileage when I'm burning pure gasoline -- about 5% more.

      YMMV (literally, in this case) and that's hardly scientific, but there you go. :)

      • Re:10% Ethanol (Score:5, Insightful)

        by tripleevenfall (1990004) on Monday January 16, 2012 @04:37PM (#38717348)

        I had a Ford truck that would run on E85, but it said right in the owner's manual that the gas mileage was 15-20% poorer.

        Ethanol is a net loss of energy. It takes more energy to produce a gallon than you get by burning it. Combine that with the fact that we could cover the entire country in corn and still not be independent of fossil fuels - it's a complete boondoggle.

        • Re:10% Ethanol (Score:5, Insightful)

          by gnick (1211984) on Monday January 16, 2012 @04:59PM (#38717650) Homepage

          Ethanol is a net loss of energy. It takes more energy to produce a gallon than you get by burning it.

          Isn't that true for, well, everything? Gas is just nice because most of the energy has already been deposited so we just have to drill it and refine it so that we can extract the stored energy.

          I'm not backing burning ethanol here, just the good old laws of thermodynamics. Essentially: The best you can do as far as energy-in vs energy-out is break even, and you can only do that at absolute zero.

          • Re:10% Ethanol (Score:5, Informative)

            by SleazyRidr (1563649) on Monday January 16, 2012 @05:07PM (#38717774)

            That's just semantics.

            It takes less energy to drill a gallon of gasoline out of the ground and deliver it to your fuel tank than you gain by burning that fuel in your engine. It takes more energy to grow corn, turn it into ethanol and deliver it to your fuel tank than you gain from burning that ethanol.

            If you were using solar powered tractors to grow the corn, and solar powered trucks to move it around it might make sense (just might, it wouldn't necessarily.) Given that most of the energy to produce the ethanol comes from gasoline or diesel, it makes no sense to use ethanol.

            • Re:10% Ethanol (Score:5, Informative)

              by j-turkey (187775) on Monday January 16, 2012 @05:33PM (#38718134) Homepage

              That's just semantics.

              It takes less energy to drill a gallon of gasoline out of the ground and deliver it to your fuel tank than you gain by burning that fuel in your engine. It takes more energy to grow corn, turn it into ethanol and deliver it to your fuel tank than you gain from burning that ethanol.

              If you were using solar powered tractors to grow the corn, and solar powered trucks to move it around it might make sense (just might, it wouldn't necessarily.) Given that most of the energy to produce the ethanol comes from gasoline or diesel, it makes no sense to use ethanol.

              I believe that in most cases, it's more than just semantics. Most (not all) corn is grown using conventional (petroleum-based) fertilizer. According to Michael Pollan [wikipedia.org], producing one calorie of corn uses two calories of petro-fertilizer. This is only counting fertilizer use, not the additional energy used for farm equipment, moving product/raw materials, the distillation process or loss of energy during distillation.

              I'm shocked that this is not cited elsewhere when discussing Ethanol as an energy source, especially when used to reduce our dependency on petroleum (foreign or otherwise). Given that we're using more petroleum to make it than it would save, it appears to be a bit of a boondoggle.

              ...either that or I'm horribly misinformed. (Note: Pollan's book cites a peer reviewed study for this claim - I'm just citing what I read from memory)

          • Re:10% Ethanol (Score:4, Interesting)

            by OrigamiMarie (1501451) on Monday January 16, 2012 @05:28PM (#38718058)
            Sure. But look at it from this point of view:

            1. Get some fossil fuel, somehow.
            2. Use that fossil fuel as the exclusive energy source to go drill for more fossil fuel, and refine it.
            3. Repeat.
            4. Profit! You now have lots and lots of fossil fuel (at least until we run of out pockets of it in convenient locations in the Earth's crust).

            1. Get some ethanol fuel, somehow.
            2. Use that ethanol fuel as the exclusive energy source to farm and process more ethanol fuel.
            3. Repeat.
            4. Fail! You are now out of fuel, because the process to get more ethanol takes more energy than you get out. Every time you plant and harvest, your crop is smaller. This is despite the fact that the corn is taking on energy in the form of sunlight -- even more energy is poured into the process of tending, harvesting, and processing it. Researchers have been trying to find a plant where the equation works out the other way, and sugar cane in equatorial latitudes might even work out okay (only okay though, not incredible).

            So yes, over the very long timescale, counting the energy put into making the crude oil, it all balances out. But the original source of energy (solar or solar + whatever-it-is-that-makes-crude-oil) is not really controlled by humans in the first place, we're just harvesting it in a physical form, and we have to weigh the energy cost of harvesting the various options.
            • Re:10% Ethanol (Score:4, Interesting)

              by ciggieposeur (715798) on Monday January 16, 2012 @05:43PM (#38718238)

              Researchers have been trying to find a plant where the equation works out the other way, and sugar cane in equatorial latitudes might even work out okay (only okay though, not incredible).

              Sorghum in the US and energy cane in the tropics, using the MixAlco process by Terrabon, could deliver energy at a gasoline pump price equivalent of $1-2/gal.

              • No. I've heard many a lectures that debunks studies that come to this conclusion. APEC has no idea what exactly the hell they are talking about in regards to the process that you are talking about, and I dare say that ITRI has become a mouthpiece for Terrabon. That's my and a couple of hundred others opinion on the matter.
          • Re:10% Ethanol (Score:5, Interesting)

            by Just Brew It! (636086) on Monday January 16, 2012 @05:43PM (#38718240)

            Right. But with oil, it has already been produced for us by natural processes, over the eons. So on human timescales it is a huge net win from a thermodynamic standpoint... until it runs out.

            Problem with corn-based ethanol is, once you factor in all the chemical fertilizers and the energy required to grow the corn, harvest it, and refine it into ethanol, you've consumed about as much fossil fuel as you're saving by burning the ethanol. So in reality t's just a convoluted way of burning the same oil you would've burned if you'd used normal gasoline to begin with.

            If we could produce it from sugarcane instead (the way Brazil does), the story would be different. Unfortunately, unlike Brazil we don't have a lot of land that is suitable for cultivation of sugarcane. (And in Brazil's case, converting large amounts of land to sugarcane production isn't entirely benign either, but that's another story.)

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Jappus (1177563)

          Ethanol is a net loss of energy. It takes more energy to produce a gallon than you get by burning it.

          Just as a neat reminder: As far as we know, the law of thermodynamics apply to all things. You can't create or destroy energy, the process is never fully reversible and you can't extract arbitrary amounts of energy from any limited thing. That means, you can't win the game, you can't cheat at the game and you can't even quit the game (as someone greater than me has so succinctly put).

          This applies to E85 just as well as to pure Gasoline. After all, how much energy did you think was converted to allow simple

          • Re:10% Ethanol (Score:4, Informative)

            by dgatwood (11270) on Monday January 16, 2012 @05:15PM (#38717874) Journal

            What you're missing is that the people saying that Ethanol takes more energy to produce are not including the sun's energy that causes the corn to grow, nor are they including the sun's energy that caused the plants and animals to grow that eventually turned into oil. They're talking about the production process itself. If the production process itself takes more energy than it produces, then the system as a whole isn't just a net loss; it's a *huge* net loss.

            It would be as though the amount of gasoline your chainsaw took to chop down the tree could produce more heat than burning the tree. That's what happens with ethanol. That just isn't true for gasoline, coal, or wood. I'm not certain about the lab assistants. They generally don't like it if you try to burn them for warmth.

          • ethanol is produced, gasoline is extracted.

            Gasoline is extracted from the organic goo that is result of organic matter accumulating underground for the past few billion years, all you need is drill for it and out it comes. Ethanol is made by planting corn, fertilize it, water it, wait for it to grow, harvest the corn, extract sugars, ferment, extract and distill ethanol.

            Energy used for drilling is much smaller than energy that comes from burning the resulting oil. On the other hand, planting, fertilizing, w

        • Re:10% Ethanol (Score:5, Insightful)

          by shentino (1139071) on Monday January 16, 2012 @05:08PM (#38717786)

          It's not a boondoggle.

          It just wasn't designed to do what you thought it was.

          Namely provide back-door subsidies to Big Corn.

          • Re:10% Ethanol (Score:5, Interesting)

            by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 16, 2012 @05:21PM (#38717964)

            This. I have a friend at the local state university who studies various alternatives to gasoline that come from plant sources. According to him, corn ethanol is practically the worst choice they could have made. The other choices, including using various native grasses, end up with net positives, without using cooked numbers, and are much much higher than ethanol's figures when using realistic numbers. The problem, there is no "grass" industry in the same way there is a "corn" industry.

        • Re:10% Ethanol (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Xyrus (755017) on Monday January 16, 2012 @05:17PM (#38717892) Journal

          Ethanol from corn has always been a stupid proposition. It's a little above break even at best, is hard on the soil, you'd need a huge amount of acreage to replace any decent fraction of fossil fuels, uses a food crop as a fuel source, and the list goes on and on. The only reason it as done is because of the corn lobby, despite just about every other expert saying it was idiotic to do so.

          There are much higher yielding and less destructive ways to produce ethanol. But they can't compete with the massive government subsidies going into to the Midwest's corn hole. Hopefully these subsidies will expire and the true cost of corn based ethanol will quickly kill it so that the more intelligent and productive means can be put into action.

        • by guttentag (313541)
          You know, there's reason to believe the dinosaurs drove SUVs too. They used up all the fossil fuels, so mother nature introduced the concept of E85, resulting in them burning up their food supply and driving themselves to extinction so the fossil fuels they used up would be replenished in a million years. We only think an asteroid hit and kicked up enough dust to block out the sun and start an ice age. It wasn't dust... It was smog!
      • Re:10% Ethanol (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Hellasboy (120979) on Monday January 16, 2012 @04:46PM (#38717492)

        My car is relatively newer and I *hate* when gas stations are forced to use E10 (10% ethanol, ie. Winter fuel). My mpg drops by 10% - 15%. I wish I was exaggerating but I'm pretty meticulous in checking this when I fill up every couple weeks. This has occurred each year since I've owned my car and I've made nearly the same drive when comparing my winter and summer driving habits. They say E10 is cleaner but how much cleaner when you add the extra 15% in fuel I'm burning up to do the same work?

        • by Zironic (1112127)

          Wouldn't fuel consumption be higher in the winter either way due to the car taking longer to heat up?

        • Re:10% Ethanol (Score:5, Informative)

          by toadlife (301863) on Monday January 16, 2012 @08:01PM (#38719670) Journal

          It's not the ethanol that's sapping your fuel economy, it's the climate. Cold air is denser, and causes the engine to run richer, i.e., inject more fuel into the engine. This gives you a bit more power, but at the expense of fuel efficiency.

          The denser air also provides more wind resistance.

          Also, your car takes much longer to warm up in the winter, and until the car reaches normal operating temperature, it runs extremely rich.

          Wet and/or icy road conditions probably also sap efficiency too.

      • Re:10% Ethanol (Score:4, Informative)

        by dfm3 (830843) on Monday January 16, 2012 @05:40PM (#38718208) Journal
        Not sure if your good ol' boy was talking about E85 or that "up to 10% ethanol" blend that most stations sell, but my personal experience with E85 is that you either end up paying slightly more per mile versus regular gasoline, or it's a wash (depending on the current gasoline price).

        Several years ago I took a few cross-country business trips in a rented "FlexFuel" Chevy HHR- definitely not my vehicle of choice, but it's what they paid for. I obtained a list of E85 stations along my route (turns out they are exceptionally rare in some regions) and did a little cost analysis with the E85 versus the usual 87 octane (10% ethanol) gasoline. Looking back at my mileage logs, I estimated about 34 MPG with regular gas and 25 MPG with E85. However, the price difference between the two fuels wasn't great enough to make up for the reduced fuel economy, and E85 actually ended up being about 5% MORE expensive per mile at the time.

        My most interesting E85 experience was back in the summer of 2008, when Georgia and the Carolinas were faced with fuel shortages and price hikes. Regular gasoline- when you could find it- was about $4.60 per gallon and most stations were sold out. I happened to be attending a conference in the region and had ended up with an E85 rental car. I printed out a list of stations and had no trouble finding fuel wherever I went... and it averaged about $2.80-3.00. A number of people actually got stranded at the conference when every station in the county, and every station in the next county, ran out of gas. Some folks resorted to waiting for hours in lines dozens of vehicles deep when delivery trucks finally came through with fuel; however, I found that there was always plenty of E85 to spare even after the regular gasoline sold out.
    • by cvtan (752695)
      Ethanol is required to be in gasoline sold in NY (10%). There are already problems with small-engine devices like boats and snowmobiles etc. I have some concern about my 40-year old car if the percentage required gets any higher.
  • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn.gmail@com> on Monday January 16, 2012 @04:12PM (#38716982) Journal
    I come from a family of farmers, some of which have taken advantage of the high price of corn. Well, around Christmas they were talking about two things. One is the serious disregard for pollution standards [publicradio.org] from most (they said more than just those caught and fined) ethanol refineries. And also the negative effect it has had on farmland in their area. The second was that many refineries were shutting down as these subsidies came to a close (my dad pointed out two abandoned as we drove along) and as a result some farmers had bought up land at high prices expecting the recent price of corn to continue. They had figured they would be getting $6 or $7 a bushel and there was a lot of talk that since the refineries were going down and production was already juiced that this was going to lead to a lot of farmers losing money in these purchases. From what I gathered from folks who have been doing this for many decades: this will be a very painful learning experience for everyone involved and this seems to be the sentiment whether the wind blows right or left.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 16, 2012 @04:15PM (#38717030)

      Yep, that's about the size of it. Congresspeople tipping off their buddies in big business to buy cheap farmland because they were about to legislate a corn bubble, and then making sure to tip them off again that the subsidies would not be renewed, so they could sell the land to unsuspecting farmers at corn bubble prices, only to have it come crashing down.

      Typical corruption scam by government.

    • by XiaoMing (1574363) on Monday January 16, 2012 @04:49PM (#38717534)

      From what I gathered from folks who have been doing this for many decades: this will be a very painful learning experience for everyone involved and this seems to be the sentiment whether the wind blows right or left.

      What was the lesson exactly?

      That it's a total douche move to lobby for subsidies to grow corn in order to make a completely unrealistic and net energy/money losing biofuel?
      That it's a bigger douche move to switch from growing actual foods to growing this shit and driving up prices of general foodstuffs that would have grown on the same land, as well as the cost of meats from livestock that used to feed off of dent corn?
      That it's really fucking annoying when many of the country's engines are being rotted away from the inside-out up by the water-loving ethanol that corn lobbyists demanded be put into gasoline?
      Or that it was a completely idiotic idea to then invest "long-term" (but ironically very short-sightedly) in the Land of Oz that they managed to make for themselves?

      I live in Wisconsin and go to school with quite a few farmers, and can relate to them and feel bad for them on an individual level, but some of the assholes at the top of this heap, namely the lobbyists for subsidies, can go fuck themselves for how much trouble they've caused in the name of greed.

    • by pkinetics (549289)

      So you mean some farmers (home owners) speculated on the high price of corn (real estate) and are going to get burned?

      Suddenly, it feels like history repeating itself...

    • by ducomputergeek (595742) on Monday January 16, 2012 @05:30PM (#38718100)

      We still have our family farms (my dad has a little more than half I have the rest), but we rent them out to other farmers these days. It totals about 600 acres, 450 roughly farmable the rest is woods, in southeast missouri. About 12 years ago we basically spent the cash we inherited when my grandmother died on leveling the land, putting in irrigation, etc. as well as grain bins on the farm. We expected about an 18 year return on the cash investment (on paper the value of the land we made an instant profit of about $300 an acre. Dry land it was worth about $1200 an acre, cost about $850 an acre to level and could be sold as irrigated/leveled land at about $2300 at the time. These days you can easily get $3500 an acre and maybe $4k if you are willing to wait for the right buyer). What we didn't foresee was $10 a bushel soybeans starting to be the "average". The increase in production we've seen from being able to water and switch to rise basically went from $20k a year to $60k a year. Now that's been closer to $80 and even close to $100k a couple years and we recouped the cash investment about 2009.

      About 2007, the farmers decided basically go to a three crop rotation of 50% rice, 25% soybean, and 25% corn. That lasted about one season because we put a stop to it. There are a couple 20 acre fields that are still "dry land" and those do get corn placed on them every other year and that's fine, but we saw the bubble that was corn. We decided a few years ago to come up with a rotation and stick to it. Don't try and play roulette with the market. That rotation is rice, then the following year double crop spring wheat and come back with late beans. If for some reason that combination stops yielding the returns we desire, then we'll reevaluate. But there is no sense in getting suckered in with hype (like our farmers were). "Oh Corn is high this year, we better plant more next year". Problem is too many other farmers think that way and guess what: next year there is more supply and the price goes down. As my grand father said: The time to get into the hog market is when the price is low. The time to get out is when it's high."

      My father remembered the whole Ethanol debacle from the 70's and 80's. One of our close family friends is a retired sales/marketing head for GM trucks. We were talking with him about it and back in 2002 or 2003 he said, "Yeah, these guys are going to get suckered in again. Once they've spent all these billions on these ethanol plants the Saudis will drop the price of oil and quickly put them out of business just like they did in the 1980's". Well I'm not sure if it was the Saudis pumping more oil, but the same thing happened. The price of oil dropped like a rock and just long enough to put most of these producers out of business.

      We talk about the farms quite a bit and something we did about 2006 was sit down and look at the statistics on prices. Figured out where our high and lows should be. If the price got basically 1 standard deviation above the "average" price over the past 10 years we sold half the stock. If it went up more we sold the rest. If it went back down we'd sell again once it closed just below the price mark (which was $7.03 a bushel). Well now the price seems to averaging about $9 - $10 and we've locked in prices the past couple years around $12 on the futures market.

      The only thing is we can see there is a bubble, especially in the land prices, maybe in the commodity markets as well. Now it's no where near what it is in say Iowa or Nebraska where some are getting $6k an acre, but there's a bubble there. That's why 6 years ago when all my friends were out buying houses and I didn't. I know my Dad is holding onto well over a $1M in cash with nothing he's willing to invest it in at the moment. He's basically divested from the stock market at this point. He holds a few bond funds and is buying into some energy funds and natural resource funds (mining, etc..) as well pipe lines (master limited partnerships). He doesn't feel particu

      • There is a worldwide shortage of good safe places to park money.

        Productive assets (like farmland) are attracting scared investor money.

        So you might be doubly bubbled. High crop prices plus capital flight.

        What is the ROI for farmland given current commodity/land prices and typical tenant farmers leases? That is the main thing the money will be looking at.

  • by cfulmer (3166) on Monday January 16, 2012 @04:15PM (#38717042) Homepage Journal

    The E85 manufacturers and the agriculture companies that grow corn have a lot riding on this, and are quite good at influencing Congress. There's a very good chance that they will successfully lobby to extend this subsidy.

    That's a shame, because the subsidy was originally intended to support this fuel alternative for a short time in order to give it a chance to become economically viable. Well, it's had that chance and the results have been a disaster.

    • by roc97007 (608802)

      > The E85 manufacturers and the agriculture companies that grow corn have a lot riding on this, and are quite good at influencing Congress. There's a very good chance that they will successfully lobby to extend this subsidy.

      Unfortunately, I think you're right. I'll go one further -- I predict that even after we no longer add alcohol to gasoline, the subsidies will continue.

    • by dak664 (1992350) on Monday January 16, 2012 @04:37PM (#38717354) Journal

      As I understand it, along with the subsidy expiration is the elimination of the tariff for Brazilian sugarcane ethanol, which was being imported anyway to the US because of the higher tax credit for sustainable EtOH when used for making E90 (US production being exported to Brazil to pay for it). So ethanol will actually become cheaper! A few gas stations near boating facilities have been selling unblended gas http://pure-gas.org/ [pure-gas.org] but most wanted the 5 cent per gallon credit for E90. Many small airports will let you buy leaded aviation gas for two cycle engines.

      My chainsaw seized after overheating last month, after which I measured the ethanol content of my fuel mix to be 17.7% (add 100 ml of gas to 50 ml of water in a baby bottle, cap and shake well, read the water + ethanol level after it separates again). I am using $5/gallon aviation fuel in my new chainsaw. Using E85 voids the Husqvarna warranty!

    • by Wrath0fb0b (302444) on Monday January 16, 2012 @04:42PM (#38717444)

      That's a shame, because the subsidy was originally intended to support this fuel alternative for a short time in order to give it a chance to become economically viable. Well, it's had that chance and the results have been a disaster.

      And this is a reason that I've become a bit more wary about these sorts of government subsidies that are intended to 'kick-start' a particular technology. It's not that I think that it's not a good and valid use of government money to provide this sort of startup from which innovation can flourish but rather the high risk that, having gotten on the gravy train and now being dependent on the government for financing, those industries can often manage to get entrenched into a position from which they cannot be dislodged even after the justification for the subsidy is gone. Look at the sugar industry in the US for instance -- you just can't get rid of the subsidies because they've used all that lucre to buy enough support and now we are absolutely stuck with them.

      IOW, I just don't believe the second prong of "well if it doesn't work we'll try something else" because you've generated a whole bunch of people whose jobs depend on not trying something else. And no one wants to be against jobs right? A Senator can quite validly say that cutting subsidy X will lose Y jobs in his State -- jobs that were created by a subsidy that has failed to make the industry self-sustaining. So it becomes a one-way ratchet ....

    • by timeOday (582209)
      The linked article allows the interpretation that the subsidy is "scheduled to end" simply because Congress didn't get around to renewing it yet. But the Sentate voted 73-27 [reuters.com] to eliminate the subsidy early last year. The Senate can't make laws unilaterally, but that's a pretty clear sign of significant active opposition to the subsidy. Now that the subsidy would have to be actively extended, reversing a 73-27 vote through lobbying seems like a very high hurdle.
  • It's no secret that Ethanol production is no greener than petroleum fuels. There are other corn based products that are propped up artificially as well.
    Hard to figure why the government subsidizes it so much. I'm sure someone will say, is there a huge corn lobby? Who pays them?
    • by russotto (537200) on Monday January 16, 2012 @04:30PM (#38717258) Journal

      Hard to figure why the government subsidizes it so much. I'm sure someone will say, is there a huge corn lobby? Who pays them?

      The answer to the last question is easy: You do, and I do, and we all do. That's the great thing about rent-seeking, it's self-sustaining. You use your rent to obtain more rent.

      And yes, there is a huge corn-products lobby, headed by the Archer Daniels Midland company (motto: "We're not quite as evil as Monsanto.").

  • by james_van (2241758) on Monday January 16, 2012 @04:17PM (#38717072)
    Even though it cost less than standard gasoline, it came at a reduced gas milage. I did the math and at the cost in my area, it was more expensive per mile than regular. Maybe in other areas that was different, I dont know.
    • by Sez Zero (586611)
      It was the same here. Our car supports E85 and the three tanks of it we tried we got 13% less mileage and paid only 6% less for the fuel. It just didn't make sense. The first fill-up was nice, because the price per tank was lower, but that came crashing down when I had to fill up much earlier than I normally do (based on miles on the tank).
  • Solar Energy Storage (Score:3, Interesting)

    by torklugnutz (212328) on Monday January 16, 2012 @04:22PM (#38717138) Homepage

    E85 will make perfect sense once petroleum is removed from the distilling process. Ethanol will be one of many methods to "store" solar energy. It's still going to continue to be important in the internal combustion field. Current marketplace E85 doesn't make much sense, but it is a stepping stone. It's not a dead end technology, it's just one that requires a good amount of energy to to expended on its manufacture. Eventually, the price of this energy will decrease.

    • by JSBiff (87824) on Monday January 16, 2012 @04:38PM (#38717390) Journal

      We've seen that getting ethanol from corn kernels is not a good way to go about storing solar energy.

      We've yet to see whether cellulosic ethanol plants work out as hoped, or not. If CE plants are able to cost effectively generate ethanol from cellulose-rich plants (like switchgrass, industrial hemp, etc), then there might be a future for ethanol as a biofuel, but not corn ethanol.

      As a plant, it just takes too much energy to grow the corn, transport it, and you get too little energy back.

      • by amorsen (7485)

        As a plant, it just takes too much energy to grow the corn, transport it, and you get too little energy back.

        Yes, ethanol from plants is a loss, except possibly from sugar cane under perfect conditions. Ethanol may become viable from algae or synthesized from natural gas, but the natural gas route seems a bit stupid since cars run on that already. Either way we need to get 5% efficiency or better, and plants struggle to reach that.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 16, 2012 @04:23PM (#38717150)

    [q]How much did all that government-backed R&D and tax credits cost us for something that was pretty clearly questionable to begin with?[/q]
    It can't be easy having 20/20 hindsight. I mean it's not like any project of this magnitude has proponents and opponents, with both parties eagerly just waiting to go "I told you so."

    It was worth a shot. We could as well have ended up with someone discovering a super algae or yeast or whatever (I don't fucking know, something bioengineered) once we went down that road. This time we didn't, don't be a fuckbag about it. No one likes a fuckbag.

    Cheers

  • by Skapare (16644) on Monday January 16, 2012 @04:25PM (#38717190) Homepage

    ... it drives up the price of high fructose corn syrup.

  • Lets keep E85, but.. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bhcompy (1877290) on Monday January 16, 2012 @04:27PM (#38717210)
    lets switch to switchgrass please. You don't need to waste food or farmland for switchgrass, it grows in many difficult conditions and is cheaper to manage by far. It also has better energy energy content by far.
    • by roc97007 (608802)

      ...but it's not about energy content, it's about the size of the subsidy...

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by netwarerip (2221204)
      For those interested, here's the wiki. [wikipedia.org] Interesting.
    • by Kagato (116051)

      Most ethanol plants can convert to cellulosic. It's basically an additional tank at the beginning of the process where there is some additional fermentation. The problem more or less is the plants are based on the "corn shadow". That is how close they are to fields that grown corn. The whole Corn ethanol idea had some problems to begin with. 1) Plants weren't placed near trail or pipelines. A considerable amount of the cost of ethanol is taken up by poor planing for transportation costs. 2) Using cor

  • by msobkow (48369) on Monday January 16, 2012 @04:36PM (#38717328) Homepage Journal

    I know diesel engines have a lousy reputation in North America, but I firmly believe hemp based bio-diesel is a FAR better alternative than E85. Most importantly, hemp seed based bio-diesel is a net-positive energy solution, requiring less fuel to farm the hemp and process it into bio-diesel than you end up producing (kind of a critical point for any product to succeed in the energy markets.)

    Some go so far as to claim that hemp bio-diesel is carbon negative. I'm skeptical about that, but it would be interesting to test the theory.

    Unlike ethanol corn, hemp produces a great deal of fiber suitable for textiles and paper as a side-product, even if the main purpose of the crop is bio-diesel. Levi's jeans used to be made exclusively from hemp-fiber denim, not cotton. I've read claims that hemp based paper out produces poplar tree paper production by a factor of nearly 4:1, though again, I've not seen a study to prove that claim.

    Most important of all, hemp is literally a weed and will grow almost anywhere, allowing the use of low-grade farmland instead of taking away from food-crop acreage.

    But it's nothing new. The pro-hemp community has been screaming this "nonsense" at the top of their lungs for decades while the cannabis drug war drowned out their good points about hemp farming.

    • There's been some talk over the past decade about cellulosic ethanol. I believe there's a couple demo plants being constructed a few places in the country. From my understanding, you could just as easily use cellulose from hemp as from switchgrass or trees.

      So, you could take the seed and make bio-diesel (and, perhaps, lubricating oils - not sure if the hemp seed oil would be any good for lubrication or not?) for diesel engines, and cellulosic ethanol from the rest of the plant (which accounts for what, like

  • by gblackwo (1087063) on Monday January 16, 2012 @04:36PM (#38717340) Homepage
    I was one of many to write papers on it and why it really didn't fix anything. It was never even a band-aid.

    But the refineries were built anyway- solely because of government money. It absolutely never would have happened naturally if there wasn't government money to be made.
  • by slippyblade (962288) on Monday January 16, 2012 @04:39PM (#38717396) Homepage

    Ethanol is very feasible, just not he way we make it in the states. Sugarcane produces far more ethanol per weight than corn does, and it does so with much less manufacturing. However, the USA has a massive pre-existing investment in corn. Thus the issue.

    • by amorsen (7485)

      However, the USA has a massive pre-existing investment in corn.

      The USA is mostly a lousy place to grow sugar cane.

  • Ethanol problems (Score:5, Informative)

    by uigrad_2000 (398500) on Monday January 16, 2012 @04:53PM (#38717582) Homepage Journal

    Even Scientists from Ag departments of California universities have known that looking to corn-based fuels is a bad idea. Look at this report from Professor Tadeusz Patzek, A Professor of Chemical Engineering at the University of California at Berkeley [phoenixpro...ndation.us]:

    Excerpts:

    Why Corn Ethanol is Unsustainable, Let Us Count the Ways:
    4.
    Approximately 99% of U.S. corn is fertilized, requiring more fertilizer than any other crop.
    Nitrogen fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides are all made from fossil fuels, as is the diesel
    fuel, gasoline, LPG, natural gas, electricity, transportation and irrigation used to grow and
    transport the corn.

    7.
    Because ethanol is a toxic and hazardous substance, its use is regulated by OSHA, DOT,
    NFPA and NIOSH. Ethanol must be handled with extreme caution because it can enter the
    blood stream from breathing the fumes, or by penetration through the skin or mouth. Exposure
    can irritate the eyes, nose, mouth, and throat. As such, protective clothing, including gloves
    and splash-proof chemical goggles and face shields should be worn by anyone coming in
    contact with ethanol.

    8.
    People are advised not to eat, smoke or drink where ethanol is handled, processed, or stored
    since the chemical can easily be absorbed. Moderate exposure can cause headaches, eye
    and skin irritation, nausea, and drowsiness, whereas higher levels of exposure (over 1000 parts
    per million over an 8-hour period) can cause shortness of breath, genetic mutations, damage to
    the liver and central nervous system and unconsciousness. Exposure to ethanol levels of over
    3300 ppm can result in death.

    9.
    Ethanol land requirements: Approximately 50 gallons of ethanol are produced per acre of
    corn. Thus 2.8 billion acres of land would be required to generate 140 billion gallons of fuel
    used in the USA annually, which is more than 5 times all of the cropland that is actually and
    potentially available for all crops in the USA.

    10.
    Ethanol water requirements: ...8,360 gallons of water are needed per equivalent gallon of
    gasoline in the form of ethanol. 140 billion gallons of gasoline are consumed in the USA
    annually, times 8,360 gallons of water = 1.17 trillion gallons of water needed to grow and
    process enough ethanol for the U.S. economy.

  • by Required Snark (1702878) on Monday January 16, 2012 @04:57PM (#38717638)
    This was never about energy independence to begin with, it was another corporate raid on tax credits and subsidies. In this case it was agribusiness and big oil. It did not help consumers or farmers, it was bad for the economy in the long run, and it did not help the environment. Remember that farmers are not really agribusiness insiders, they are just the front end of the pipeline. The big players who really scored on this are the likes of Monsanto, Cargill and ADM. That's where the real money is.

    This the same kind of crap as Medicare Part D, where the federal government is not allowed to negotiate bulk drug prices with the pharmaceutical manufacturers. The Veterans Administration gets bulk rates, and their costs are significantly lower.

    Every big financial sector is in on this game. SOPA/PIPA anyone? The mortgage meltdown and the bank bailout. This is endemic corruption, where all the big players rewrite the rules so they automatically make a profit. Even Jamie Dimon, head of JPMorgan-Chase said he had a "right to make money". That's not capitalism. He has a right to engage in business, and make money if he is successful, and loose money if he doesn't. What we have now is a rigged game, and it not so slowly destroying the US economy.

  • by Jethro (14165) on Monday January 16, 2012 @05:23PM (#38717990) Homepage

    I know this is conspiracy-theory territory, but I'm fairly convinced the car companies/oil companies created E85 and meant for it to fail miserably so that they could say "Hey look, we TRIED to make Alternative Energy cars but nobody wanted them!"

    My "proof" of this is two-fold. First, there are hardly any... in fact I don't know that there was ONE 'regular' flex-fuel vehicle. I mean family sedan, compact, you know... CHEAP car for the Masses. The smallest cars I found were like Crown Victoria - BIG sedans that are usually made for fleets. I don't need or WANT a car that big. I eventually got a Honda Civic, I was looking for that form-factor car.

    Second, and this is the big one. I was willing to consider SUVs so I looked around and there was a Jeep that was flex-fuel. I forget which one. But it was NOT their smallest SUV by far.

    So I go to a Jeep dealer and am immediately attacked by a sales shark. I say "I'm interested in the Jeep Monstrosity" and he starts drooling because I just asked about a $40K car and says "Yeah, we have one right here." And then I go "I understand there's a flex-fuel option".

    It is important to understand that the flex-fuel version of the Jeep Monstrosity costs a lot MORE than the non-flex-fuel. We're talking $47K instead of $40K.

    This should make a sales-shark happy. VERY happy.

    Instead, he ACTIVELY tries to talk me into the CHEAPER, non-flex-fuel model, by telling me all the things that are WRONG with E85. "Oh you know it costs more in the long run. It'll ruin the engine. E85 gets lower mileage. It's a lot more expensive."

    Seriously. A cat sales-shark tried very hard to get me NOT TO BUY a MORE EXPENSIVE CAR because it could take E85. If that's not proof that SOMEthing is wrong, nothing is.

Save the whales. Collect the whole set.

Working...