ethanol worse for the Earth than fossil fuels

Interesting find over at Autoblog


I just finished a very comprehensive book on all things energy called, “smelling land”. The author reminded me of something important: if you think that climate change is the problem, you need to stop burning carbon based fuels. So duh, ethanol is as much a part of the problem as oil-derived gasoline is.

I’ve been bummed out by the presidential contenders on their energy policies. Everyone is supporting ethanol. No one is publicly supporting nuclear. No one is even mentioning hydrogen. I keep hoping that someone in the private sector steps up to give hydrogen a chance by either producing or distributing it as a fuel, but it’s tough to convince someone to sell something when there is no one ready to use it.

On a side note, rumor is that Chevy will be testing the electric powered Volt this summer with the intention of releasing it for sale in 2010.

Interesting related article in Men’s Health this month regarding the safety of beef. There is a link between increases in E Coli, and the diets of cows. Since many farmers are selling feed corn for ethanol production, cows are eating by-products of it called Distiller’s Grains. Its a safe food for them, but changing their diet freaks out their stomach, increasing E.Coli production.

Milk costs more now, beef costs more now… you mess with the food stream, and you’ve got more problems than you bargained for.

A lot of us here in California are excited about this all-electric plug-in (being made in my home town of Carlsbad!)

It comes out later this year for about $30k.
It would be nice to fuel the hybrid version with Hydrogen.

My ideal setup: Convert water into Hydrogen, store it in the backyard, then convert it to electricity to power the house and plug-in electric car. Augment with wind and solar. This has already been proven to work.

I think some of the rush to produce ethanol is less about green and more about nationalism, stemming from post 9/11 resentment of Arab countries. This is taking the format of ‘independance from Forign Oil’ rhetoric.

Captain Naysayer says:

good luck getting permits to store hydrogen in any quantity in your back yard! lol

but captain naysayer is a jerk, so I say good luck. I happen to also think It may be more feasible to have a tank of distilled water, and an on board converter.

Apparently a lot of people are very angry about the US turning all of our grain into fuel to drive our suvs, but the nieve in me says they’re always mad at us so what I do with my corn is my business and Ill stick it in my ear if I feel like it. The corn growers lobby is huge and wants to get big $$$ for corn because they can grow tons of it. My father is a journalist for a regional paper in illinois and has found out lately that they don’t even want you to talk about corn or ethanol or biodiesel unless its to say how wonderful it is for everything bla bla bla. Another fun bonus is how wonderful it is to live next to an ethanol plant, just ask the people in Lena, Illinois.

And I still think ethanol is an ok idea. some people talk about how you have to use all sorts of fuel to make it and such, but really your going to have set up and maintanence and processing regardless of the solution.


well yeah, we’ve been lost since the cold war ended, what were we supposed to do if we didnt know who to be afraid of and what cause to rally behind…

anyone seen the “clean coal” ads recently playing on CNN and other network stations? i think they sponsored the recently democratic debate so have been on a loop of playback.

“clean coal”? is there such a thing. the entire ad is made to position coal as the “amercian” solution to sustainable power, and just seems like an SNL parody to me, but is real! do people really fall for this stuff?


I’ve been following the Aptera as well. It’s a cool vehicle, ELEVEN did a nice job with the design IMO.

The Water to Hydrogen idea is so ideal from a usability standpoint. It’s difficult when you think about who would foot the bill for all the research and development costs. The oil companies (er, um, energy companies as they prefer now I think) won’t touch it unless they can think of a way to charge you a premium for NASCAR go fast water. The electric utilities could do it, but again, they like to bleed you with monthly bills, not sell you energy independence (maybe they could lease the equipment to users to recoup the R&D cost?) The car companies could do it, but then would have to build that into the vehicle cost. That leaves the government, who can’t deliver a piece of mail in less than 3 days, figure out Amtrak, or really do much of anything else effectively, sadly.

Their have been some interesting developments in solid hydrogen power cells that I think show some promise. Some of this work was done by

Imagine purchasing duraflame sized hydrogen “logs” anywhere. No infrastructure/distabution costs. Any retail store could sell them, you could store extras safely (buy in bulk at costco and store them in the basement?). Slide one into a slot in your ride and go… maybe?

Not as deal as filling up at the tap though, or Mr Fusion…

Yo: Nascar can’t run on Hydrogen, it won’t work with carbs.

R: Clean coal would have been good 20 years ago when the regs were originally discussed, today the debate is mute because we need to deal with carbon emissions, not just soot. Coal contains about 4 times the carbon per unit of energy as natural gas. So the idea of powering the US on the stuff another 200 years is out of the question from a global warming perspective.

Hydrogen: something that surprised me reading the above book I mentioned is how much hydrogen infrastructure we do or might have.

One part is the thousand of miles of natural gas pipelines criss crossing North America. No one has yet researched pumping hydrogen through them, but it sure is possible.

The second part is that we already do massively produce hydrogen for industrial purposes. One such purpose is the manufacturing of ammonia (NH4). It is also used for a variety of other petro-chemical uses. So, that part of the technology is already existing.

The remaining hurdles are non-carbon producing energy to make the hydrogen (nuclear, hydro, solar & wind) and something to use it in (fuel cells or combustion engines located in homes, offices, cars, planes, trains, buses and more).

For a small insight into how much pipe is laying around NA, look at This company’s annual report:

Here’s an interesting story. I never realized Bob Lutz was so disconnected with the rest of the world.

So, he disagrees with Global Warming, yet continues to push the green technology development at GM because of the financial benefits? Nice.

The university I went to was at the forefront of coal mining and use technology, and actually coal isn’t really the problem here, its the electric companies. Coal can burn pretty cleanly, but the electric companies don’t want to upgrade their 80 year old plants. I don’t think that complex problems such as energy production have single solutions, coal could be a part of a larger group of solutions because theres enough coal in the us to fuel the countries current needs for 300 years, thats with no help from solar, natural gas etc. So there is a need to look at it as an option among a larger grouping of solutions.

I’m a fan of EVs, if there is single well developed infrastructure in the US its the electrical grid. The important catch is that if the electricity is still generated using fossils, we are back to square one. But as renewables make more in roads, then the footprint of this form of transportation will get better and better.

The battery seems to be the major limiting factor but with companies like a123 strutting their stuff…

Oh, and Bob Lutz is a moron.
He doesn’t make the connection that climate change is just one of the ‘eco’ issues that today’s consumer is freaking out about.

I’d love a cool EV, but that is a HUGE catch. The second problem is that the batteries not only have limited range, but a limited amount of charges. Think of a globe that switches to EV’s, now think of a globe 7 years later full of toxic huge spent EV batteries.

The only EV that makes sense is a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle. It can be filled in a matter of minutes, so range is unlimited. Exhaust is only H2O, no pollutants. The hydrogen can be produced at sites around the country and pumped to where it is needed. The hydrogen can come from electrolysis or conversion of natural gas (CH4).

Coal (CH) should be banned as soon as possible. The particles can be scrubbed, but the CO2 can’t be. The only option is possible CO2 capture, but that really is unproven technology.

I heard a few weeks ago that the Dep. of Energy pulled out its funding of the carbon sequestration plant that big coal has been pushing so much the past few years. In my mind pumping the co2 into the underground is a pretty straightforward view on traditional energy sources outlook on the issue- lets bury it, continue as normal, and hope it goes away.

Also, ethanol uses more energy in its production than it saves. The corn industry is built on fossil fuels for its production, so how is making fuel out of corn which is made from oil going to exactly save us from foreign oil? It will make US agri-biz rich as well as the oil rich nations, but in the end the subsidies the gov. give ethanol comes out of our pockets too, so we will pay for it in our taxes as well as at the pump too.

Dept of Energy pulls funding from FutureGen:

because as we develop an alternative fuel, we have to continue to use what we are using to develop it. By your reasoning, we should stop developing solar and wind power as well because the scientists need to either drive to work in their fossil fueled cars or ride on an electric subway that is powered by coal. I don’t think ethanol is the best idea either, but I also don’t feel that argument is constructive either.

Also, yeah coal sucks, but new coal plants suck less than old coal plants, so maybe putting a moratorium on new builds, as this byoblue would like, wouldn’t be quite as smart as replacing old technology with more up to date tech, and slowing phasing coal out as other greener technologies come on line and are capable of filling the current needs.

One regret I have with the green movements, is the seemingly black and white, cut and dry answers they push. Coal is bad, don’t use it, well yeah, its not ideal, but wind, solar, tidal and geothermal aren’t up for the challenge yet, and building these technologies doesn’t happen overnight without resources. Complex problems have complex grey scale answers, and we can’t just give up when a problem pops up. Isn’t a problem really just an opportunity?