The E85 Ethanol solution

Posted By on March 2, 2006

E85Its all about marketing and timing. General Motors is off and running after gaining support for its “Live Green, Go Yellow” marketing blitz when President Bush used the bully pulpit to promote alternative fuels like ethanol. If this solution sounds too good to be true … it is because at this moment it is.

Let’s take a look at the marketing hype and four problems that are not necessarily making there way into GM’s advertising. (BTW … I support biofuel alternatives as a part of the energy solution, but prefer less hype and more facts)

Live green Go yellow
Problem number one: Only 608 of 168,987 U.S. filling stations have ethanol pumps. What good is it to run to General Motors (or other manufacturer building dual fuel vehicles) if once you buy the new car you can’t find a place to fill it? In Cincinnati you will not find an E85 pump as of March 2006. That said, we should see pumps by the end of the year. (support the Tri-State Clean Fuels Network)

Problem number two: E85 has less energy than gasoline and will increase the number of ‘inconvenient’ fill-ups for automotive owners and decrease the actual miles-per-gallon from 10 to 15%. This might be more a psychological hurdle than real one since that actual fuel cost less that gasoline.

Problem number three: Making E85 is an energy-intensive process and those researching the economics are somewhat divided as to whether ethanol is an energy loser. The problem in the US is that we have to ship corn to processing facilities which yields 2.8 gallons per bushel. Brazil who uses sugarcane, is a bit more efficient in that they locate their processing facilities right where the sugar cane (their source for ethanol) is grown. This is not to say we can’t change and become more efficient producing ethanol from crops like switchgrass which requires less cultivating, and building new facilities closer to where the crops are grown to reduce the shipping cost.

Problem number four: We don’t produce very much in comparison to what we use. The United States currently has 98 ethanol production plants that can produce about 4 billion gallons of ethanol each year, according to the Renewable Fuels Association. It sounds good, but compare that to the gasoline we are actually using: 140 billion gallons annually. Even with the new Energy Policy Act that President Bush signed in August 2005, we are only projecting our production of ethanol to be 7.5 billion gallons a year by 2012.

Now I don’t want to sound like a anti-ethanol guy because I appreciate the efforts to move toward clean and renewable domestic alternatives to petroleum … but I’m a realist when trying to get a handle around the problem. Ethanol is not going to be the overnight solution to our petroleum addiction, but will play a part in the long term process of weaning off oil.

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Desultory - des-uhl-tawr-ee, -tohr-ee

  1. lacking in consistency, constancy, or visible order, disconnected; fitful: desultory conversation.
  2. digressing from or unconnected with the main subject; random: a desultory remark.