Motor Trend and E-85

I'm looking at the September issue of MotorTrend. There's an article titled "Gas Pump Pain Relief, Chevy's excellent alternatives to high fuel bills."
Within the first four paragraphs, there are a lot of weird assertions by the author, and I want to hear from you smart guys about the whole thing.
The first thing that strikes me as disingenuous is the title of the article. The only reason E-85 is cheaper than gasoline now is because of the corn subsidies. Not only that, but the price of corn is skyrocketing, which will make E-85 more and more expensive to produce. Add that to the fact that you don't get as many miles for a gallon of E-85 and you're not looking at any type of pump pain relief, are you?
Second: "More than a decade ago, Chevy began developing FlexFuel Vehicles capable of running on E85 ethano, regular gasoline, or any mix of the two." Seems to me that Chevy didn't do anything, at least publickly, with flexfuel until two or three years ago. Yet Ford has been putting FFV 3.0 Vulcans in Tauruses (Tauri?) since the 90's, IIRC. How did Chevy get all this great eco-press and Ford languishes in oblivion? Ford doesn't even seem to get any press credit for having pioneered in producing the Escape Hybrid SUV, which was a first-in-class achievement.
Third: "... General Motors researchers have found that engines running on ethanol last longer." Hmmm... That's not intuitive to me at all. Alcohol is a better lubricant than gasoline? Only when greasing the skids when you're trying to pick up that hot girl at the bar. ;-) My guess is that these test vehicles are getting more TLC than most cars on the road, and that variable would be the reason why alky engines are lasting longer, if they are.
Fourth: "Many drivers report more power and superior drivability." I have no idea about drivability, other than to say that dry gas is alcohol, so perhaps E-85 is more immune to water-in-the-gas issues. But the idea of E-85 having more power in a FFV doesn't seem right at all. My understanding is that alky produces a lower amount of power when combusted. The only way I can see an alky vehicle having more power is if you significantly increase the compression ratio to take advantage of the 105 octane of E-85.
Fifth and finally: "Most of the energy in E85 comes from renewable resources. Growing corn to produce ethanol draws carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas linked to global warming, from the atmosphere. The solar energy that drives corn farming is free..." Okay, this is just weeerd logic. The alcohol portion of E85 indeed is produced (in this country) from corn. Yes, corn plants draw their energy from the sun. I recently read, however, that there is a very small difference between the amount of energy produced by making ethanol, and the amoung of energy used to produce ethanol. The fields are plowed and prepared by diesel powered tractors, there's a tremendous amount of energy used when converting corn to alcohol, etc. Considering that so much fossil fuel is used to produce alky, it's dishonest to suggest that E-85 is a renewable resource.
Okay folks, show me where I'm wrong. The only way I see E-85 being a reasonable fuel source for the future is if we did the following things: 1. Corn should not be subsidized as it is now when the price for and market for corn are so high. But that will balance out the price of E-85 and the price of gasoline at the pump and make E-85 unattractive. Even so, we cannot afford as a nation to federally subsidize more and more corn growth to artificially make E-85 worthwhile. 1. The tractors and facilities that convert the corn to ethanol would need to also be powered by ethanol. 2. Cars would have to become E-85 only to fully take advantage of the increased octane of E-85. Then they wouldn't be flex fuel vehicles anymore. 3. A LOT more land will have to be converted for farm use. Everyone raves about Brazil's E-85 system, but just yesterday I saw an article deploring how the rain forest and other parts of the environment are being damaged or re-purposed to produce the farmland needed to grow all that sugar cane they use. Sugar cane is a better source of sugar for making E85 than corn is, and Brazil can't even manage to power their much smaller fleet of cars without rasing the dander of environmentalists. How in the world are we going to be able to produce enough corn to power our fleet of American cars?
I think there's a whole lot of propaganda being foisted on us as fact, and too many people just swallow the stuff. The only positive thing about E-85 as it stands now is that the corn isn't grown by terrorists.
What do you think?
CJB
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wrote:

I think you have it figured out. The only people who benefit from ethanol are the farmers who are making out like bandits.
Here's a question...
Which is better...
A) a product that requires almost no energy input to produce and you can use to power your car and which you can just pump out of large pools of it in the ground.
B) a product that requires almost as much energy to produce as you get out of it for powering your car but is "renewable" with the same lousy energy in - energy out ratio.
Until you actually run out of A only a fool would pick B.
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Ashton Crusher wrote:

Corn-based ethanol as a motor fuel is a fraud; I thought everyone knew that. Apparently, you CAN "fool some of the people all of the time". Even if corn-based ethanol WERE a net energy producer, another thing not fully considered in going headlong into this corn-into-fuel thing is depletion of the topsoil. When the original colonists got here, topsoil for growing food was measured in FEET; we're now down to the last 6-8 INCHES (on average). When the topsoil's gone, you won't need fuel to power 3-ton SUVs that are "needed" to drive 300-lb people around; we'll then all be real skinny with little food to eat, and we can easily get around on our solar-powered golf carts and Segways. :)
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The depletion of top soil has a lot more to do with erosion than growing corn. If done properly, growing corn and using it to produce ethanol won't remove any nutrients from the soil. Ethanol is nothing but hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon. These elements are all derived from the air and water, not the soil. If the mash left over after producing ethanol is recycle back to the soil (via use as animal feed) nothing is lost.
And really, not every type of farm land is losing top soil. Some people farm land that doesn't have anything people in the mid-west would recognize as top soil. The clay/sand mixture on my farm is pretty much the same horrible crap the settlers cleared 350+ years ago. But still, it will grow corn (but not with the same potential as the mid-west).
At least for farm equipment, soy based diesel seems to hold a lot of promise. You can squeeze out the oil and still have decent livestock feed.
And if you want to produce ethanol, corn isn't the best way to go. It is convenient since we already know how to grow corn in vast quantities, but other plants are likely to produce much more ethanol per acre. Brazil seems to be able to run their automobiles on ethanol, why can't we?
Finally, at least where my farm is located, more than 30% of the land that was farmed 100 years ago is no longer farmed because of historically low prices. Corn prices today aren't any higher than 35 years ago in terms of non-inflation adjusted prices. This is the first time in at least 10 years I might actually make significant money on corn. Another 4 or 5 years like the last decade and I would seriously consider converting at least 30% of my farm to pasture (or possible pine trees).
Ed
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C. E. White wrote:

Brazil's highly-touted program has problems, even with that government's hegemony over the people, the much more favorable fuel conversion of sugar cane vs. corn, and a more limited automotive culture, in overall volume if nothing else. I have nothing against biofuel (I even made some and ran it in a 51 Ford, back in the heyday of the ORIGINAL Mother Earth News), but it seems that more and more cropland is being diverted to grow corn-for-fuel, when there are things like native switch grass that will grow quite nicely on "crapland", and switch grass has an ethanol conversion potential that's comparable to sugar cane, plus the grass grows with virtually zero tillage and NO annual re-seeding. Corn-to-ethanol is really a bust, and is just a government subsidy and vote buying mechanism. Corn prices ARE way up, at least as far as the large chicken farmers are concerned; several have filed for bankruptcy and others are examining "re-structuring", i.e., layoffs & wage/benefit cuts.

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In 1974, September Corn Prices were around $3.30 a bushel. Guess what September corn is going for today - around $3.25. Yeah, corn prices are going through the roof...haha. Go back and look and see what everything else has done since 1974, and then tell me corn is way up. Perdue has more to do with chicken farmers going under than the price of corn. Perdue also has a lot to do with keeping corn prices down. They are such a big player in the market that they can affect prices on both ends.
Ed
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C. E. White wrote:

Sorry, all I know is what I read in the papers: http://www.usatoday.com/money/industries/food/2007-01-24-corn_x.htm
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Yeah, that is six month old information. Prices have mostly gone down since then. And notice they said "Corn prices have soared to the highest in a decade." Since everything else has "soared" over the last decade, is it out of reason to expect corn prices to be higher now than a decade ago? For most of the last 25 years corn prices, adjusted for inflation, are lower than during the Great Depression. Ride around farm country sometime, you'll see plenty of new equipment, but you'll also see lots of old broken down stuff. Small farmers don't stand a chance with current prices. My Grandfather made a living farming 125 acres, my Father made a living farming 200 acres. I barely break even farming 300 acres. The only people I know who can support a family from farming are farming thousands of acres, and they owe so much money, I don't know how they can sleep at night.
Ed
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As any good attorney knows, one only asks questions to which they already know the answer. Did you know WHY it is that in the US we could not possibly run our automobiles on ethanol as the only, or even the primary fuel, when you asked that question? ;)
mike

Brazil seems to be able to run their automobiles on ethanol, why can't we?

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titled
the
article.
Yes, corn is subsidized. That is a result of the vast political muscle of the farming lobby. But I'll let you in on a secret. Oil is -also- subsidized, far more heavily than corn ever has been. The entire budget of the Iraq war is one giant oil subsidy. It's no secret that we wouldn't be in there if not for the oil.
Every fuel out there has some sort of government subsidy involved.
What really matters for the economy though is what kind of jobs are the subsidies paying for. Oil drains large amounts of dollars out of the US economy to overseas consumers who then use them to buy property and other investments in the US. (that is how the dollars come back into the US economy) These investments do not generate jobs in the US economy, and they either give control of parts of the country over to foreigners or they will eventually have to be paid back tenfold, which will drain even more money out of the economy and repeat the cycle over again.
In short, the dollars paid out for oil merely contribute to driving up the inflation rate in the US. Only a few of them are diverted out of this cycle and used to buy products like food which create jobs - the rest simply spin around and around in the US economy and every time they spin around they push up the inflation rate.
Biofuels are a home-grown industry and setup the dollar cycle entirely in the US. Everyone here gets rich out of that cycle, not some group of foreigners.
It isn't really our job to raise the standard of living for every other country in the world, espically countries (like Yougoslavia) which after we did raise their standard, the second they could they had a civil war that blew up everything and put them back into the Stone Age. The politicians here are beginning to understand this which is why it is so incredibly ironic that Bush is so pro-Iraq war and so pro-oil economy. As a Republican he should have a better handle on how money works in the economy than a Democrat - but the honest truth is that the Republicans have done by far the worst damage to the economy in the last 20 years, ever since Ronald Reagan.

you
Gasoline prices right now are artifically LOW, they have been for years and no way do they represent the actual cost of creating the liquid fuel to begin with. There is no possible way to go with fuel prices other than up. If your goal is cheap gasoline your best bet to do it would be to do exactly as Bush is currently doing but instead do it in a much larger scale. In short, reinstitute the draft, and drop a couple million soldiers in Iraq with instructions to blow the crap out of any man or women over there with anything remotely resembling a weapon in their hands. After about 5 years of that you can scale back to about a half-million soldiers and turn the country into a US Protectorate then start pumping crude oil out of there as fast as you can and shipping it back to the US.
That would probably keep us in cheap gasoline for another 40 years, then once we have sucked all the oil out of Iraq we vacate the country and leave behind a population where every man, woman, and child in the country will now have a real reason to hate the US, and then for the next 200 years we would be seeing bombings like the WTC blast on US soil every few years.
As they say, there's things you can do, and things you should do.
In the long run if we as a country simply turned our back on all foreign oil and commenced a large scale ethanol and biodiesel program and got all our vehicles on that in 20 years, we would be far better off. In 20 years, China is going to be fighting it out price-wise on the world stage for oil, and any country that is still dependent on oil imports is only going to be able to keep oil flowing in if they are able to spend at parity with China. Which is going to be enormously expensive and likely bankrupt the country if they try it.

I don't see why. Your running a fuel with less energy in an engine designed for a more powerful fuel. In short, an engine that is strong enough to not fly apart when running on gas. Why would an engine NOT last longer when running a fuel that puts LESS stress on the mechanical parts?
If they designed the alky engine for alky only they would make it thinner and weaker due to the usual cost savings the bean counters are always forcing on mass-produced vehicles, and lifespan would be similar to a gas burner.

And puts it right back into the atmosphere when you burn it. No net gain there.

from
energy
And you can't make biodiesel on the same farm producing corn?

alcohol,
Lets get one thing straight. Oil is also a renewable resource. It just takes a few million years of dead plant material raining down into the worlds oceans and being pressed down into rock to press out the oil into oil beds.

Your reading this argument:
http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid 601039&refer=columnist_wasik&sid=aOS8e5kvDESE
What it ignores is the following:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cellulosic_ethanol
You see, this is the real hope of the Ethanol advocates. From the article:
"..cellulosic ethanol is obtained from cellulose, the main component of wood, straw and much of the plants. Since cellulose cannot be digested by humans, the production of cellulose does not compete with the production of food. The price per ton of the raw material is thus much cheaper than grains or fruits. Moreover, since cellulose is the main components of plants, the whole plant can be harvested. This results in much better yields per acre-up to 10 tons, instead of 4 or 5 tons for the best crops of grain. The raw material is plentiful. Cellulose is present in every plant: straw, grass, wood. Most of these "bio-mass" products are currently discarded ..."
They know it isn't about growing corn. But, you need sufficient Ethanol production and use to make plants that produce Ethanol from waste plants make economic sense. Corn farmers can provide that jump start.
Ted
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