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Government The Almighty Buck Transportation Politics

Is E85 Dead Now? 556

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?"
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Is E85 Dead Now?

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  • 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 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 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.


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

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

  • Re:Kinda sucks (Score:5, Insightful)

    by zieroh ( 307208 ) on Monday January 16, 2012 @04:34PM (#38717300)

    If you're going to switch over the whole system, and require new engines to get any benefit, you might as well just go straight to hydrogen and stop dicking around with this ethanol crap.

    But since neither is going to happen any time soon, the point is moot.

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

    by tripleevenfall ( 1990004 ) on Monday January 16, 2012 @04:35PM (#38717310)

    Not likely, since ethanol is still a dogwhistle issue for uninformed voters in important election states, and subsidies are a cheap way to buy votes.

    FIFY :)

  • 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.

  • 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 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 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 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 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.

  • 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:3, Insightful)

    by Jappus ( 1177563 ) on Monday January 16, 2012 @05:02PM (#38717696)

    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 carbon dioxide and water to be stored in the molecular form of hydrocarbons/carbohydrates? The same processes that lead to Ethanol were necessary to lead to Gasoline.

    So yes, it takes more energy to produce Ethanol than you get by burning it. But that's true of gasoline, coal, wood and incautious lab assistants, too.

  • 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, 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 Hatta ( 162192 ) on Monday January 16, 2012 @05:39PM (#38718198) Journal

    No, corruption does not imply doing something illegal. Corruption implies doing something unethical.

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

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 16, 2012 @05:47PM (#38718290)

    That really isn't the important question as it is already answered without going to the CO2 abstraction layer. Ethanol requires more fossil fuel to produce than it eventually replaces when mixed into the fuel supply. So try and figure it out.
    Idiots buying into the CO2 scare are what allowed politicians to invent the corn subsidies in the first place. They gave away billions to the giant aggro-businesses (and got their kickbacks) while the climate changers could feel good about themselves. The rest of us got the shaft at the pump with crappy ethanol gas that is over priced and then again in taxes that go to the subsidies.

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

    by Nimey ( 114278 ) on Monday January 16, 2012 @06:02PM (#38718502) Homepage Journal

    Just for argument's sake: the petro-fertilizer used to grow corn almost certainly does not include the fractions used to make gasoline.

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

    by SleazyRidr ( 1563649 ) on Monday January 16, 2012 @06:10PM (#38718622)

    With modern cracking techniques that doesn't really make a difference. You can produce gasoline from most of the fractions now.

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