Which is Worse: Exporting $1 Billion Per Week or Growing Fuel?

  • Published on April 3rd, 2008 by
 

corn, ethanol, biofuel, oil

There’s no doubt that growing corn-based ethanol has some serious problems: the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, controversy over increasing food prices, and questionable energy return.

But how does the impact of ethanol production compare to not doing anything?

Last week, the Delta Farm Press picked up on a statement made by Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens. Pickens admitted that he has opposed ethanol in the past, but on the other hand couldn’t support exporting half a trillion dollars—something the US will do this year in order to satisfy its oil addiction. Pickens said (via Delta Farm Press):





“You take 10 years, and you have $5 trillion,” said Pickens. “That’s more than $1 billion a day. We can’t stand that.” (That $500 billion per year is not far from the record federal deficit of $552 billion in 2004.)

Acknowledging he didn’t think much of ethanol’s claims in the early years, he said he now supports increased production. “I’d rather have ethanol and recirculate the money in the country, than to have it go out the back door on us.” (Pickens is investing $10 billion in wind energy.)

While corn-based ethanol is far from perfect, injecting some of that export money back into the US economy might not be such a bad idea. And even if it’s only slightly better than using gasoline in terms of energy return and pollution, it’s still slightly better. A lot of puzzle pieces are going to have to come together to solve the US’s petroleum problem, and sitting around waiting for the perfect biofuel or new technology to come along isn’t going to do it.

Whether or not ethanol is a good thing, it’s going to increase in a big way: by 2015, 30% of the US corn harvest will be made into gasoline.

Think this is a bad idea?

Source: Delta Farm Press (Mar. 28, 08): And now for the rest of the ethanol story

Photo Credit






About the Author

In a past life, Clayton was a professional blogger and editor of Gas 2.0, Important Media’s blog covering the future of sustainable transportation. He was also the Managing Editor for GO Media, the predecessor to Important Media.

  • Joel

    Ethanol is not inherently evil. Ethanol from corn is just DUMB (unless you are a shareholder of ADM or corn farmer). It’s an intensely thirsty crop and in light of many other less thirsty crops with up to 10x the energy/acre available it makes zero sense (again, unless your company holds the patents on the genetically engineered corn resistant to the weed killer your company also sells). It CAN be done, and work well, but not as long as profiteers are pulling the strings instead of Patriots who have America’s best interest at heart.

  • Joel

    Ethanol is not inherently evil. Ethanol from corn is just DUMB (unless you are a shareholder of ADM or corn farmer). It’s an intensely thirsty crop and in light of many other less thirsty crops with up to 10x the energy/acre available it makes zero sense (again, unless your company holds the patents on the genetically engineered corn resistant to the weed killer your company also sells). It CAN be done, and work well, but not as long as profiteers are pulling the strings instead of Patriots who have America’s best interest at heart.

  • Joel

    Ethanol is not inherently evil. Ethanol from corn is just DUMB (unless you are a shareholder of ADM or corn farmer). It’s an intensely thirsty crop and in light of many other less thirsty crops with up to 10x the energy/acre available it makes zero sense (again, unless your company holds the patents on the genetically engineered corn resistant to the weed killer your company also sells). It CAN be done, and work well, but not as long as profiteers are pulling the strings instead of Patriots who have America’s best interest at heart.

  • Uncle B

    Get with the 21st century! We are now into feeding algae with city sewage, industrial waste and compostables before they hit the lakes and landfills, then extracting bio-diesel and fertilizer/soil enhancers and cleaner water from that. Combine this concept with the VW diesel/electric hybrid and the oil barons can no longer hold our economy hostage at will! Science comes to the rescue of the American people,The question is; will they squander this gift in extravagant hedonism or will they lose weight, go to school, do more science, and build a better example for the rest of the world to follow? Destiny is in their hands.

    P.S. No need for food crop ethanol, back to normal corn prices too!

  • Uncle B

    Get with the 21st century! We are now into feeding algae with city sewage, industrial waste and compostables before they hit the lakes and landfills, then extracting bio-diesel and fertilizer/soil enhancers and cleaner water from that. Combine this concept with the VW diesel/electric hybrid and the oil barons can no longer hold our economy hostage at will! Science comes to the rescue of the American people,The question is; will they squander this gift in extravagant hedonism or will they lose weight, go to school, do more science, and build a better example for the rest of the world to follow? Destiny is in their hands.

    P.S. No need for food crop ethanol, back to normal corn prices too!

  • Bill Thomas

    I think all biomass fuels have a role in our USA’s energy independance. I am all for factory corn farming, that will give the local small farmer an opportunity to grow healthy vegetables, instead of trucking in lousy tomatoes from Mexico. This might actually bring back the small family farm.

    Or, the next sewage treatment plant could be combined with a corn or algae farm using the fertile wastewater to grow these crops (I am not worried how much “water” corn requires, that’s recycled via rain, fossil fuels are not).

    Or our landfills could become HUGE methane digesters, trapping all that CH4 to power the city vehicles, etc.

    We can even use micro combined heat and power, with NG or methane, recycle the exhaust into a pond greenhouse, then take the excess biomass to a neighborhood biodiesel plant. Oh, its never gonna work, most Americans wouldn’t tolerate their own garbage in their own back yard…thats why we send young people to Iraq, to do our dirty work.

    (you can still keep your IPOD and the Flava of Love).

  • Bill Thomas

    I think all biomass fuels have a role in our USA’s energy independance. I am all for factory corn farming, that will give the local small farmer an opportunity to grow healthy vegetables, instead of trucking in lousy tomatoes from Mexico. This might actually bring back the small family farm.

    Or, the next sewage treatment plant could be combined with a corn or algae farm using the fertile wastewater to grow these crops (I am not worried how much “water” corn requires, that’s recycled via rain, fossil fuels are not).

    Or our landfills could become HUGE methane digesters, trapping all that CH4 to power the city vehicles, etc.

    We can even use micro combined heat and power, with NG or methane, recycle the exhaust into a pond greenhouse, then take the excess biomass to a neighborhood biodiesel plant. Oh, its never gonna work, most Americans wouldn’t tolerate their own garbage in their own back yard…thats why we send young people to Iraq, to do our dirty work.

    (you can still keep your IPOD and the Flava of Love).

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  • ehaus

    It is time we start thinking of corn as an ore instead of a single use commodity.

    Why not extract two and a half gallons of ethanol from a bushel of corn before feeding the remaining distillers grain (one half of the feed value of a bushel of corn)? Distillers grain fed to an animal results in beef production and manure. Manure processed in a digestor produces methane. (20,000 animals produce enough methane to operate a 100 million gallon ethanol production facility)

    co2 is also produced in processing ethanol which is used in producing dry ice and the carbonation for beverages.

    The production of beef results in beef , leather and fat. The fat from 2 steers replaces a barrel of oil when processed into bio diesel.

    All of this comes from (in part) CORN.

  • ehaus

    It is time we start thinking of corn as an ore instead of a single use commodity.

    Why not extract two and a half gallons of ethanol from a bushel of corn before feeding the remaining distillers grain (one half of the feed value of a bushel of corn)? Distillers grain fed to an animal results in beef production and manure. Manure processed in a digestor produces methane. (20,000 animals produce enough methane to operate a 100 million gallon ethanol production facility)

    co2 is also produced in processing ethanol which is used in producing dry ice and the carbonation for beverages.

    The production of beef results in beef , leather and fat. The fat from 2 steers replaces a barrel of oil when processed into bio diesel.

    All of this comes from (in part) CORN.

  • ehaus

    It is time we start thinking of corn as an ore instead of a single use commodity.

    Why not extract two and a half gallons of ethanol from a bushel of corn before feeding the remaining distillers grain (one half of the feed value of a bushel of corn)? Distillers grain fed to an animal results in beef production and manure. Manure processed in a digestor produces methane. (20,000 animals produce enough methane to operate a 100 million gallon ethanol production facility)

    co2 is also produced in processing ethanol which is used in producing dry ice and the carbonation for beverages.

    The production of beef results in beef , leather and fat. The fat from 2 steers replaces a barrel of oil when processed into bio diesel.

    All of this comes from (in part) CORN.

  • john a barnerd sr

    I THINK MR PICKENS IS ON THE RIGHT TRACK. IT MUST BE DONE QUICKLY HOWEVER. IF WE WAIT ON CONGRESS IT MAY NEVER GET DONE IN TIME. AT THE RATE WE ARE GOING THEY WILL OWN US IN A FEW YEARS. ALMOST DO RIGHT NOW!! WISH I COULD PARTICIPATE.

  • john a barnerd sr

    I THINK MR PICKENS IS ON THE RIGHT TRACK. IT MUST BE DONE QUICKLY HOWEVER. IF WE WAIT ON CONGRESS IT MAY NEVER GET DONE IN TIME. AT THE RATE WE ARE GOING THEY WILL OWN US IN A FEW YEARS. ALMOST DO RIGHT NOW!! WISH I COULD PARTICIPATE.

  • Kurt Loson

    Ethanol is a good additive to gasoline but it is not a replacement. We need to drill and drill now…in ANWR which sits in the middle of one of our NATIONAL STRATEGIC PETROLEUM RESERVES. We also need to drill all along our continental shelf. AND we need to invest in the next fuel to power America. Wind power is only a good or steady as the breeze that turns the turbine. When a city needs power, it cannot wait for the wind to blow. So…where does it get its’ power? From the fossil fuel fired generating stations that are idling, while the wind is blowing (and using up fossil fuels) just waiting for when not if the wind stops blowing hard enough to generate the electricity that is needed by YOUR NAME HERE CITY.

  • Kurt Loson

    Ethanol is a good additive to gasoline but it is not a replacement. We need to drill and drill now…in ANWR which sits in the middle of one of our NATIONAL STRATEGIC PETROLEUM RESERVES. We also need to drill all along our continental shelf. AND we need to invest in the next fuel to power America. Wind power is only a good or steady as the breeze that turns the turbine. When a city needs power, it cannot wait for the wind to blow. So…where does it get its’ power? From the fossil fuel fired generating stations that are idling, while the wind is blowing (and using up fossil fuels) just waiting for when not if the wind stops blowing hard enough to generate the electricity that is needed by YOUR NAME HERE CITY.

  • Chris Pattavina

    Outside Jackson,NE, there exists a large regional landfill.

    Some bright souls decided that instead of tapping the methane gas from that landfill and compressing it for direct use in cars the gas should be used to power an ethanol plant.

    Why take this extra step? Why not use this methane directly into cars and/or the general natural gas infrastructure and cut out the ethanol middleman?

    Garbage and sewage can yield gas and synthetic oil and are yet woefully underutilized. Where municipal landfill and feedlot wastes ARE used is in powering ethanol plants because this is the politcally correct usage for them in the Corn Belt; not because this is the most efficient use for them.

  • Chris Pattavina

    Outside Jackson,NE, there exists a large regional landfill.

    Some bright souls decided that instead of tapping the methane gas from that landfill and compressing it for direct use in cars the gas should be used to power an ethanol plant.

    Why take this extra step? Why not use this methane directly into cars and/or the general natural gas infrastructure and cut out the ethanol middleman?

    Garbage and sewage can yield gas and synthetic oil and are yet woefully underutilized. Where municipal landfill and feedlot wastes ARE used is in powering ethanol plants because this is the politcally correct usage for them in the Corn Belt; not because this is the most efficient use for them.

  • Chris Pattavina

    Outside Jackson,NE, there exists a large regional landfill.

    Some bright souls decided that instead of tapping the methane gas from that landfill and compressing it for direct use in cars the gas should be used to power an ethanol plant.

    Why take this extra step? Why not use this methane directly into cars and/or the general natural gas infrastructure and cut out the ethanol middleman?

    Garbage and sewage can yield gas and synthetic oil and are yet woefully underutilized. Where municipal landfill and feedlot wastes ARE used is in powering ethanol plants because this is the politcally correct usage for them in the Corn Belt; not because this is the most efficient use for them.

  • Ruth Spira

    I’ve thought all along that ethanol would be a wasted

    step. Isn’t it also highly corrosive? Would all pipelines, gas pumps and (older) vehicle gas tanks

    tolerate the liquid?

  • Ruth Spira

    I’ve thought all along that ethanol would be a wasted

    step. Isn’t it also highly corrosive? Would all pipelines, gas pumps and (older) vehicle gas tanks

    tolerate the liquid?

  • Mike Erchenbrecher

    Ethanol is still a questionable source of energy when all things (fertilizers, etc) are added into the equation. But, I agree with T. Boone Pickens in that I would rather recycle the dollars here in the US than export them.

    If you look back about 15 years, you will see that Pickens was heavily involved in Natural Gas as a vehicle fuel. THe problem is distribution and the heavy tanks needed to hold the CNG in the cars.

    I have asked my senators to for many years to come up with a better energy plan – one that includes alternative energy.

    I feel that we can drill in ANWR and other places if we do so carefully and with new technologies, I think these places would be safe.

    My plan is to open up ANWR and off shore areas for drilling AND for every barrel of oil we get from that, we must put in place an equal amount of energy from alternative sources. Simple plan that would appeal to both sides of the energy equation.

  • Mike Erchenbrecher

    Ethanol is still a questionable source of energy when all things (fertilizers, etc) are added into the equation. But, I agree with T. Boone Pickens in that I would rather recycle the dollars here in the US than export them.

    If you look back about 15 years, you will see that Pickens was heavily involved in Natural Gas as a vehicle fuel. THe problem is distribution and the heavy tanks needed to hold the CNG in the cars.

    I have asked my senators to for many years to come up with a better energy plan – one that includes alternative energy.

    I feel that we can drill in ANWR and other places if we do so carefully and with new technologies, I think these places would be safe.

    My plan is to open up ANWR and off shore areas for drilling AND for every barrel of oil we get from that, we must put in place an equal amount of energy from alternative sources. Simple plan that would appeal to both sides of the energy equation.

  • George Danz

    Alcohol is not good for engines and messes up rubber seals, not to mention what it does to the present day metals in engines. It has significantly less energy content that gasoline and it purportedly takes more energy to make than that which it saves. Finally, by taking corn out of food production, food prices will go up, which they already have done.

    I believe that the most viable energy solution for the US (not that wind and solar should not be advanced) is Nuclear. France has perfected their reactors and have standardized on a single type of reactor which all of their technicians understand. Their safety record is unblemished. Three Mile Island would not have even made the news had their technicians just allowed the automatic safety mechanisms work as designed. We must use this green, non-poluting source of energy for much of our electricity rather than burning up oil and coal for electricity. Oil and coal ARE poluting.

  • George Danz

    Alcohol is not good for engines and messes up rubber seals, not to mention what it does to the present day metals in engines. It has significantly less energy content that gasoline and it purportedly takes more energy to make than that which it saves. Finally, by taking corn out of food production, food prices will go up, which they already have done.

    I believe that the most viable energy solution for the US (not that wind and solar should not be advanced) is Nuclear. France has perfected their reactors and have standardized on a single type of reactor which all of their technicians understand. Their safety record is unblemished. Three Mile Island would not have even made the news had their technicians just allowed the automatic safety mechanisms work as designed. We must use this green, non-poluting source of energy for much of our electricity rather than burning up oil and coal for electricity. Oil and coal ARE poluting.