The use of biological processes to create energy for our cars is very suspect. The current sources of ethanol compete with our food supply which only drives up the price of food which is an extreme burden on the ultra-poor.
While there is a lot of research on alternative sources of ethanol that would not compete with food, this research has yet to make it to development. The Wall Street Journal put out a good article discussing this a few weeks ago so I thought I would share the highlights. Click through here to read the entire article.
Corn ethanol producers — led by Wesley Clark, the retired general turned chairman of a new biofuels lobbying outfit called Growth Energy — want the Obama Administration to make their guaranteed market even larger. Recall that the 2007 energy bill requires refiners to mix 36 billion gallons into the gasoline supply by 2022. The quotas, which ratchet up each year, are arbitrary, but evidently no one in Congress wondered what might happen if the economy didn’t cooperate.
Americans are unlikely to use enough gas next year to absorb the 13 billion gallons of ethanol that Congress mandated, because current regulations limit the ethanol content in each gallon of gas at 10%. The industry is asking that this cap be lifted to 15% or even 20%. That way, more ethanol can be mixed with less gas, and producers won’t end up with a glut that the government does not require anyone to buy.
The ethanol boosters aren’t troubled that only a fraction of the 240 million cars and trucks on the road today can run with ethanol blends higher than 10%. It can damage engines and corrode automotive pipes, as well as impair some safety features, especially in older vehicles. It can also overwhelm pollution control systems like catalytic converters. The malfunctions multiply in other products that use gas, such as boats, snowmobiles, lawnmowers, chainsaws, etc.
The Natural Resources Defense Council and the Sierra Club agree, on top of growing scientific evidence that corn ethanol provides little or no net reduction in CO2 over the gasoline it displaces.
So successful but politically unpopular businesses will be punished for not buying a product that does not exist — from companies that haven’t yet found a way to succeed despite generous political and taxpayer advantages. The next step is to use cap and trade to make green alternatives look artificially good by comparison. Even then they’ll probably still be bottomless money pits.
To recap: Congress and the ethanol lobby argue that if some outcome would be politically nice, it should be mandated (details to follow). Then a new round of market interventions is necessary to fix the economic harm resulting from the previous requirements, while creating more damage in the process. Ethanol is one of the most shameless energy rackets going, in a field with no shortage of competitors.