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The story of ethanol vs. gasoline.

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Burning ethanol isn't entirely non-polluting. Burned ethanol actually produces pollutants that cause smog.

A test tells the story of ethanol vs. gasoline

By LOREN STEFFY

2007 Houston Chronicle

In the past two weeks, I took a step toward breaking my oil addiction.

I rented a Chevy Suburban that ran on both gasoline and E85 ethanol. I burned one tank of each fuel under comparable driving conditions. I wanted to see if, as a typical driver, E85 made sense.

When I began my road test, I assumed the biggest factor would be cost. Consumers, I reasoned, wouldn't pay a lot more for ethanol, nor would they tolerate poor mileage, sluggish engine performance or other inconveniences such as a lack of availability. I detailed my experiment, dubbed "The Ethanol Chronicles," on my blog:

http://blogs.chron.com/lorensteffy/energy/...nol_chronicles/

I didn't notice any difference in engine performance between the two fuels.

My first tank of gasoline cost $2.20 a gallon in late February. A week later, I filled up with E85 ethanol in Conroe for $1.92 a gallon.

The pump price, though, is only part of the ethanol equation because ethanol is a less efficient fuel. Using gasoline, the Suburban got 16.4 miles a gallon. With ethanol, it got only 13.5.

So ethanol proved to be more expensive, but only slightly. If I were to drive 15,000 miles a year, and prices remained unchanged, ethanol would cost me about $120 more.

Spread over a year's time, I might be willing to pay that kind of difference. If gasoline prices rose sharply, which they may as we head toward summer, the cost gap could narrow.

At the same time, ethanol would cut emissions of greenhouse gases on this vehicle by about 6,500 pounds a year, according to the U.S. Energy Department.

Knowing that I was polluting less and helping to wean the country from foreign oil would probably make a modest additional cost worthwhile.

Three reasons

That's the way many drivers in Minnesota, which has more ethanol stations than any other state, look at it, said Bob Moffitt, a spokesman for the state chapter of the American Lung Association, one of the country's leading proponents of E85. Minnesota motorists like ethanol because it's a largely renewable fuel, the dollars they spend stay in the U.S., and they're concerned about the environment, he said.

"They like the fact that after 100 years of oil-dominated fuels, there's finally a choice at the pump," he said.

That, however, is where things get complicated.

E85 only goes so far. At the moment, most flex-fuel vehicles, those that run on ethanol or gasoline, are models that, like my Suburban, are among the least fuel-efficient on the road. I could use less gas, save money and emit fewer pollutants by driving my Toyota coupe that gets about 26 miles a gallon with gasoline.

I could conserve even more by driving a more fuel-efficent car or an electric-gas hybrid. I could simply drive less.

The big problem with ethanol is in the chemistry, said Henry Groppe, founder of Groppe, Long & Littell, an energy consulting firm in Houston. It takes more energy to make ethanol than the ethanol produces, he said. Corn must be grown, fertilized and harvested, which takes oil-powered machinery. It must be processed, refined and then shipped, which takes more oil.

"You're having to use as much oil to produce that gallon of ethanol as the energy that you produce from it," Groppe said.

The Energy Department's Web site says ethanol yields 25 percent more energy than it takes to produce.

Advantage to gasoline

Either way, gasoline is far more efficient. Groppe estimates that it produces 94 percent more energy than it takes to make it. Ethanol's pump prices are misleading, too, he argues, because the government subsidizes the cost by 51 cents a gallon.

"If it weren't for the subsidies, we wouldn't be producing a gallon of ethanol in the U.S. today," Groppe said, adding that the corn production required to meet our fuel needs with ethanol simply isn't sustainable.

Technology to produce ethanol from switchgrass, wood chips and other biological sources isn't commercially viable yet.

Nonetheless, Groppe believes the world is running out of cheap oil and America needs to look for efficient alternatives. He favors electric vehicles, mass transit and conservation.

A symbolic effort, at least

If there's value in E85, at least for now, it may be largely symbolic. Automakers have vowed to produce more flex-fuel vehicles, which solve the chicken-and-egg problem that's faced alternative fuels. In Houston, only a handful of retailers are selling E85. But with cars that run on both fuels, drivers aren't limited by scarce supply of E85.

That means it should become relatively easy for consumers to embrace E85 as an alternative fuel. But weaning ourselves from oil isn't going to be easy, and it's going to require more sacrifices than just pulling our SUVs up to a yellow pump.

E85 may be a step in the right direction, but it's a baby step.

Loren Steffy is the Chronicle's business columnist. His commentary appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Contact him at loren.steffy@chron.com.

http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/headli...iz/4618413.html


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Filed: Country: United Kingdom
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Interesting article. Its a shame they have no definitive answer to thgis problem yet. I know the hybrid cars like the toyota prius cut the amount of petrol used but it does not replace it as you still need petrol to run th car. I think the prius gets 55mpg highway.


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Also, unless I'm mistaken, in order to convert fully to ethanol, we'd have to devote *all* arable land to corn for ethanol, which would mean we'd have to import *all* our food. I believe sugar beets (used in Brazil) are more efficient as a source for ethanol, but we'd still have to use between a half and three-quarters of all arable land for it, which would mean we'd still be importing most of our food. And that's on top of the fact that *making* ethanol is much worse for the environment than processing petroleum and burning gas.

I don't understand why so many people think it's such a good thing, honestly.


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It's really a moot point because butanol or butyl alcohol is the real solution. Ethanol cannot be shipped through oil pipelines because it is corrosive - butanol can. Ethanol must be transported by truck and then mixed with gasoline. The "only" reason Brazil is relying on Ethanol is because of it's HUGE sugarcane industry which already existed. see butanol.com Butanol can be produced by fermentation of biomass by bacteria. see "biobutanol"

I really don't know why this subject seems "new" - the 'hippies' were discussing this process in the "Whole Earth Catalog" back in the early '70s. BTW, what ever happened to this "hip generation" that was going to "change the world" - Oh!... Yes!... Some of them became politicians and LIBERALIZED the Democrat Party. So, what did they do about the problem?

Also, unless I'm mistaken, in order to convert fully to ethanol, we'd have to devote *all* arable land to corn for ethanol, which would mean we'd have to import *all* our food. I believe sugar beets (used in Brazil) are more efficient as a source for ethanol, but we'd still have to use between a half and three-quarters of all arable land for it, which would mean we'd still be importing most of our food. And that's on top of the fact that *making* ethanol is much worse for the environment than processing petroleum and burning gas.

I don't understand why so many people think it's such a good thing, honestly.

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He said he didn't inhale!

It's really a moot point because butanol or butyl alcohol is the real solution. Ethanol cannot be shipped through oil pipelines because it is corrosive - butanol can. Ethanol must be transported by truck and then mixed with gasoline. The "only" reason Brazil is relying on Ethanol is because of it's HUGE sugarcane industry which already existed. see butanol.com Butanol can be produced by fermentation of biomass by bacteria. see "biobutanol"

I really don't know why this subject seems "new" - the 'hippies' were discussing this process in the "Whole Earth Catalog" back in the early '70s. BTW, what ever happened to this "hip generation" that was going to "change the world" - Oh!... Yes!... Some of them became politicians and LIBERALIZED the Democrat Party. So, what did they do about the problem?

Also, unless I'm mistaken, in order to convert fully to ethanol, we'd have to devote *all* arable land to corn for ethanol, which would mean we'd have to import *all* our food. I believe sugar beets (used in Brazil) are more efficient as a source for ethanol, but we'd still have to use between a half and three-quarters of all arable land for it, which would mean we'd still be importing most of our food. And that's on top of the fact that *making* ethanol is much worse for the environment than processing petroleum and burning gas.

I don't understand why so many people think it's such a good thing, honestly.


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04/20/2006 - file our I-129f.

09/14/2006 - US Embassy interview. Ask Lauren to marry me again, just to make sure. Says Yes. Phew!

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05/29/2007 - RFE (lost medical)

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09/24/2009 - Approved (twice)

10/10/2009 - Card Production Ordered

10/13/2009 - Card Production Ordered (Again?)

10/19/2009 - Green Card Received (Dated 10/13/19)

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Filed: Citizen (pnd) Country: Germany
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....

I don't understand why so many people think it's such a good thing, honestly.

I think it's more the politicans wishful thinking it's a good thing, than the people. I think the majority (or at least the educated part) of the population know that ethanol is not the answer to the energy dilemma.

Edited by tweety

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My first tank of gasoline cost $2.20 a gallon in late February.

Wow, they have cheap gas there! Ours is $3.17 for unlead :angry:


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My first tank of gasoline cost $2.20 a gallon in late February.

Wow, they have cheap gas there! Ours is $3.17 for unlead :angry:

lol, I just filled up for $2.52/gal for the premium


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Jan 31, 2008: case transferred to VSC (last touch date changed from 04/07/07 to 02/01/08)

Feb 01, 2008: touch

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Feb 25, 2008: touch

Apr 11, 2008: approval email! (only took 1 year, 34 days!)

Apr 13, 2008: 2 more approval emails

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One of the things I remember from the 1970's oil embargo and the 2nd oil shock caused by the Iranian revolution was that conservation efforts drove demand down significantly as more oil resources were being found and coming into production here in the USA. The price of gasoline dropped significantly and all conservation efforts were thrown out the window as a result. As was the incentive to find and produce domestic reserves all through the 1980's and 1990's as oil prices languished. This is what got us to the point we are in today.

I see the same thing happening with ethanol. As ethanol grabs market share from gasoline, the price of gasoline will drop...making ethanol less competitive price wise. Especially since its price is subsidized by the taxpayer and is highly political (not in the best interests of the consumer). In which case ethanol won't be desirable unless its use is mandated by law irregardless of competitivness.

The USA is the biggest consumer of petroleum in the world. Any significant reduction of US demand will cause the price of crude oil to drop significantly too. Thus making gasoline much cheaper and more cost effective. Unless, of course, if you believe in Peak Oil Theory and that we are currently in irreversible oil production decline.

My opinion is that the American public will get more bang for the buck through mandated conservation efforts that would cut oil consumption significantly. There are lots of ways to accomplish that, but many will be unpopular and somewhat painful.

The problem with ethanol is that it gives the false sense that we can keep on the same path of conspicuous consumption without any sacrifices. I just don't see it. Ethanol is not the "be all" magic bullet that cures all our energy ills.


"Credibility in immigration policy can be summed up in one sentence: Those who should get in, get in; those who should be kept out, are kept out; and those who should not be here will be required to leave."

"...for the system to be credible, people actually have to be deported at the end of the process."

US Congresswoman Barbara Jordan (D-TX)

Testimony to the House Immigration Subcommittee, February 24, 1995

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The USA is the biggest consumer of petroleum in the world. Any significant reduction of US demand will cause the price of crude oil to drop significantly too. Thus making gasoline much cheaper and more cost effective. Unless, of course, if you believe in Peak Oil Theory and that we are currently in irreversible oil production decline. ...

You just forget one important factor in the equation: China. Wait a few years till more Chinese will trade their bicycle for a car and the gasoline demand on the world market will explode just like prices for construction materials have skyrocketed. Depending on China's decisions on how to feed the energy demands of it's rapidly growing economy this might become really interesting in the future. Just my 2cents.


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Mar 06, 2007: mailed I751!

Mar 09, 2007: I751 arrived at TSC

Mar 13, 2007: checks cleared bank

Mar 24, 2007: biometrics receipt dated Mar 09

Mar 28, 2007: NOA1 dated Mar 09

Mar 28, 2007: biometrics letter dated Mar 22

Apr 06, 2007: biometrics appointment

(Oct 09, 2007: called USCIS: service request sent to TSC)

Jan 31, 2008: case transferred to VSC (last touch date changed from 04/07/07 to 02/01/08)

Feb 01, 2008: touch

Feb 04, 2008: touch

(Feb 05, 2008: infopass appointment)

Feb 07, 2008: transfer notice dated Feb 01, 08

Feb 13, 2008: touch (Current Status: This case is now pending at the office to which it was transferred.)

Feb 25, 2008: touch

Apr 11, 2008: approval email! (only took 1 year, 34 days!)

Apr 13, 2008: 2 more approval emails

Apr 16, 2008: email notice: "Approval notice sent"

Apr 18, 2008: MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!!!! card received!

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You just forget one important factor in the equation: China. Wait a few years till more Chinese will trade their bicycle for a car and the gasoline demand on the world market will explode just like prices for construction materials have skyrocketed. Depending on China's decisions on how to feed the energy demands of it's rapidly growing economy this might become really interesting in the future. Just my 2cents.

Exactly -- it's very important that we keep China under control and support their oppressive

Communist government to make sure the people stay nice and poor for the next 50 years. :innocent:


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The USA is the biggest consumer of petroleum in the world. Any significant reduction of US demand will cause the price of crude oil to drop significantly too. Thus making gasoline much cheaper and more cost effective. Unless, of course, if you believe in Peak Oil Theory and that we are currently in irreversible oil production decline. ...

You just forget one important factor in the equation: China. Wait a few years till more Chinese will trade their bicycle for a car and the gasoline demand on the world market will explode just like prices for construction materials have skyrocketed. Depending on China's decisions on how to feed the energy demands of it's rapidly growing economy this might become really interesting in the future. Just my 2cents.

I didn't forget...that's why I threw in the comment about Peak Oil Theory. I won't go into it here, but irreversible decline in the cheap, plentiful oil reserves has stirred up several gloom and doom scenarios.

There is also another point to ponder. There is really nothing viable and significant waiting in the wings to take up the slack that oil presently provides.

Is America's and the rest of the world's insatiable and ever increasing appetite for cheap, plentiful energy going to run into the brick wall of reality? Who knows? I certainly cannot predict the future.

Yes...the future may be interesting, but maybe not in a positive way. It is certainly better to control our own destiny rather than react to it after the fact.


"Credibility in immigration policy can be summed up in one sentence: Those who should get in, get in; those who should be kept out, are kept out; and those who should not be here will be required to leave."

"...for the system to be credible, people actually have to be deported at the end of the process."

US Congresswoman Barbara Jordan (D-TX)

Testimony to the House Immigration Subcommittee, February 24, 1995

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