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Published on November 19th, 2008 | by Nick Chambers

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Corn Ethanol Bust Provides an Opening for 2nd Gen Biofuels

It’s a fact. Corn ethanol has lost its luster. Its intrigue has gone from, say, Sean Connery in Dr. No, to the “let’s-just-pretend-they-never-happened” Timothy Dalton years. Each day now brings news of another ethanol plant closure or project put on “hold.” In fact, the stream of bad news for corn ethanol has become so steady that it has largely faded into background noise — just another sign of a crashing economy.

In reality, however, corn ethanol was set up for a crash before the faltering world economy gave it the impetus to go over the edge. I’m not suggesting that corn ethanol is going extinct, just that, as some industry experts have put it, corn ethanol is going through a “major adjustment” where the outcome will be large swaths of consolidation and efficiency improvements within the industry.

In a way, corn ethanol is finally coming of age. To put it crudely, little Timmy has stopped having wet dreams and gone out and met some actual women.

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Just so we’re clear, I think corn ethanol still has a place in the US economy, but it finally seems to have taken on a value related to the true level of its usefulness. Regardless of the food versus fuel political boondoggle, there was never any way we could have grown enough corn at a cheap enough price for some future president to stand in front of a corn ethanol refinery with a banner proclaiming “mission accomplished.”

And I say good riddance to the hype. Corn ethanol was starting to become a distraction. A political toy to dangle in front of the right constituents. A complicated enough issue that you could pay the right person to come up with whatever answer you wanted to support your position.

In fact, I think the corn ethanol bubble bust is actually A Good Thing for the biofuels industry as whole. Corn ethanol was always just a way to get from here to there. Nobody with a good grasp of the big picture ever thought we’d be filling all the cars in the US with 85% corn ethanol fuel. In their quiet moments, when they were really being honest with themselves, even the staunchest corn ethanol supporters would agree.

And with corn ethanol’s downfall, I think the potential major winners are second generation biofuels — biofuels made from non-food crops grown in a sustainable manner, waste agricultural material, or garbage. Biofuels like cellulosic ethanol (can’t we just call it “Celluline”), algae diesel, and perhaps butanol.

Now that attention has shifted from “Woo-hoo corn ethanol!” to “what’s next?”, second generation biofuels might actually get some of the political and investment attention they so desperately need.

If there’s any real hope for us to span the gap from now to when we can all drive, say, hydrogen fuel cell cars, we need biofuels. There’s no way around that folks. It’s a progression that has to happen and biofuels are the only way — and the only truly good biofuels are the ones most folks have never heard about (or have mistakenly confused with corn ethanol). These second generation biofuels are full of promise that they can provide energy independence in a sustainable manner.

I just hope that the bad name of corn ethanol hasn’t harmed the good name of biofuels in general.

Image Credit: tauntingpanda‘s Flickr photostream under a Creative Commons License.




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About the Author

Not your traditional car guy.



  • Bill

    Nick

    Good post. I share you perspective on corn ethanol. With the EPA having just raised the renewable fuel requirement, http://tinyurl.com/5bzmro, and corn ethanol becoming less viable, the stage is set for second generation biofuels. Here’s hoping they can scale up in the near future.

  • Bill

    Nick

    Good post. I share you perspective on corn ethanol. With the EPA having just raised the renewable fuel requirement, http://tinyurl.com/5bzmro, and corn ethanol becoming less viable, the stage is set for second generation biofuels. Here’s hoping they can scale up in the near future.

  • Michael Bryant

    waste to fuel seem a good market to go in to. Since garbage is cheap Ft process can be used to make green gasoline and desiel at go price. I think govement should encoruage any campany to do this. At least there should be more buzz about it.

  • Michael Bryant

    waste to fuel seem a good market to go in to. Since garbage is cheap Ft process can be used to make green gasoline and desiel at go price. I think govement should encoruage any campany to do this. At least there should be more buzz about it.

  • Doug

    Ding dong the witch is dead and now the flying monkeys can move onto bigger and better things. Here is to hoping someone can create a truly cost efficient algal bio-reactor!

  • Doug

    Ding dong the witch is dead and now the flying monkeys can move onto bigger and better things. Here is to hoping someone can create a truly cost efficient algal bio-reactor!

  • Jeff Baker

    This year, the cost of a bushel of corn doubled, rising along with numerous other commodities being bought and sold by speculators, including wheat, sugar and soybeans. Rice, which has no impact on ethanol production, TRIPLED in price. Some speculators withheld sizable blocks of commodities in order to create artificial shortages, and then they sold at a much higher price. Commodities traders were manipulating supply and driving prices, while critics erroneously blamed corn ethanol for escalating food prices.

    When crude oil spiked, the cost of transportation fuels doubled. The cost to ship corn, and foods in general, was a much bigger factor in food prices than the 5 cents per pound that was added to the cost of the corn itself. Ship a ton of corn from Iowa to China and see what happens to the price. The claim that corn ethanol is the main cause for the high price of foods can NOT be substantiated.

    Now the price of corn is back down to where it was a year ago, but are food prices dropping? No, because the raw materials in processed foods represent only a small fraction of the huge overhead cost of foods sold in supermarkets.

    There is no shortage of corn and no shortage of land to grow it on. We’re using roughly the same amount of land to grow corn that we used 30 years ago, and since then, the yield per acre has almost tripled. After being flat for decades, exports of whole corn increased by 20% this year. Corn farmers would export more if the demand was there. Almost all the corn we export is Not for human consumption. It is Feed Corn. Shipped to foreign countries gaining affluence, like China and India, to produce meat, dairy, and animal products.

    Ethanol refineries produce high protein distillers grains. This is animal feed that produces food. Ten to fifteen percent distillers grains added to the feed of dairy cows increases their milk production by 10 lbs per cow per week. It also puts 10% more meat on livestock and enhances the production of many other foods. This year, foreign demand and exports of distillers grains doubled, and its value increased dramatically. Corn ethanol is not just about fuel. It’s also a system for producing food. And when the energy balance is calculated, that must be taken into account.

    Over 80% of the corn crop is Feed Corn. We grow all the corn suitable for human consumption that the world can stand, and we could produce much more. There’s plenty of corn and distillers grains available for sale, if you can afford the shipping cost. The cost of the grain itself is minimal.

    The ethanol industry removes the starch from Feed Corn to make fuel. That’s no great loss in the realm of feeding livestock, because cows don’t digest the starch very well anyway. So the industry is taking low value corn starch and converting it into a high value fuel product. And what we have leftover is the more digestible portion of the corn kernel, as animal feed, in the form of high protein distillers grains. Corn oil is another byproduct of ethanol refineries.

    Some corn ethanol critics make the false assumption that people are starving, because starch is being extracted to make ethanol from 1 out of 4 bushels of corn. When in reality, the corn ethanol industry makes a superior feed product that produces more meat, dairy, poultry, fish, and pork, in addition to corn oil, and a renewable domestic fuel.

  • Jeff Baker

    This year, the cost of a bushel of corn doubled, rising along with numerous other commodities being bought and sold by speculators, including wheat, sugar and soybeans. Rice, which has no impact on ethanol production, TRIPLED in price. Some speculators withheld sizable blocks of commodities in order to create artificial shortages, and then they sold at a much higher price. Commodities traders were manipulating supply and driving prices, while critics erroneously blamed corn ethanol for escalating food prices.

    When crude oil spiked, the cost of transportation fuels doubled. The cost to ship corn, and foods in general, was a much bigger factor in food prices than the 5 cents per pound that was added to the cost of the corn itself. Ship a ton of corn from Iowa to China and see what happens to the price. The claim that corn ethanol is the main cause for the high price of foods can NOT be substantiated.

    Now the price of corn is back down to where it was a year ago, but are food prices dropping? No, because the raw materials in processed foods represent only a small fraction of the huge overhead cost of foods sold in supermarkets.

    There is no shortage of corn and no shortage of land to grow it on. We’re using roughly the same amount of land to grow corn that we used 30 years ago, and since then, the yield per acre has almost tripled. After being flat for decades, exports of whole corn increased by 20% this year. Corn farmers would export more if the demand was there. Almost all the corn we export is Not for human consumption. It is Feed Corn. Shipped to foreign countries gaining affluence, like China and India, to produce meat, dairy, and animal products.

    Ethanol refineries produce high protein distillers grains. This is animal feed that produces food. Ten to fifteen percent distillers grains added to the feed of dairy cows increases their milk production by 10 lbs per cow per week. It also puts 10% more meat on livestock and enhances the production of many other foods. This year, foreign demand and exports of distillers grains doubled, and its value increased dramatically. Corn ethanol is not just about fuel. It’s also a system for producing food. And when the energy balance is calculated, that must be taken into account.

    Over 80% of the corn crop is Feed Corn. We grow all the corn suitable for human consumption that the world can stand, and we could produce much more. There’s plenty of corn and distillers grains available for sale, if you can afford the shipping cost. The cost of the grain itself is minimal.

    The ethanol industry removes the starch from Feed Corn to make fuel. That’s no great loss in the realm of feeding livestock, because cows don’t digest the starch very well anyway. So the industry is taking low value corn starch and converting it into a high value fuel product. And what we have leftover is the more digestible portion of the corn kernel, as animal feed, in the form of high protein distillers grains. Corn oil is another byproduct of ethanol refineries.

    Some corn ethanol critics make the false assumption that people are starving, because starch is being extracted to make ethanol from 1 out of 4 bushels of corn. When in reality, the corn ethanol industry makes a superior feed product that produces more meat, dairy, poultry, fish, and pork, in addition to corn oil, and a renewable domestic fuel.

  • CNCMike

    Jeff,

    I,m glad somebody knows the truth about corn ehtanol. Most people have bought into the media hype without doing any investigation on their own.

  • CNCMike

    Jeff,

    I,m glad somebody knows the truth about corn ehtanol. Most people have bought into the media hype without doing any investigation on their own.

  • Doug

    Jeff,

    You are not actually addressing the true problems with ethanol. The problem is not the food vs. fuel that the media loves to harp on. It is the fact that ethanol is inefficient and just as harmful to the environment as petroleum. When you cradle to the grave ethanol it takes more energy to rpoduce than it provides.

  • Doug

    Jeff,

    You are not actually addressing the true problems with ethanol. The problem is not the food vs. fuel that the media loves to harp on. It is the fact that ethanol is inefficient and just as harmful to the environment as petroleum. When you cradle to the grave ethanol it takes more energy to rpoduce than it provides.

  • Steve-O

    Doug,

    How many studies have to be published before people stop thinking corn ethanol takes more energy to create than it provides? You are confusing it with GASOLINE.

    Cellulosic is more efficient yes, but alot of the energy in producing (even corn based) ethanol is free and clean, it’s called solar. Photosynthesis (sunlight and carbon dioxide) creates the corn starches.

    We will move on to more efficient ethanol, but ethanol is in general an excellent fuel. It comes from plant material, burns very clean. Those who continue to advocate electric only mobility don’t understand that coal and nat. gas are still the primary generating sources, and they would have to burn a gazillion tons more of that stuff at night to keep the grid charged enough for a nation of overnight car chargers.

    Biofuels and biofuel research and biofuel diversity is the best bet for now.

  • Steve-O

    Doug,

    How many studies have to be published before people stop thinking corn ethanol takes more energy to create than it provides? You are confusing it with GASOLINE.

    Cellulosic is more efficient yes, but alot of the energy in producing (even corn based) ethanol is free and clean, it’s called solar. Photosynthesis (sunlight and carbon dioxide) creates the corn starches.

    We will move on to more efficient ethanol, but ethanol is in general an excellent fuel. It comes from plant material, burns very clean. Those who continue to advocate electric only mobility don’t understand that coal and nat. gas are still the primary generating sources, and they would have to burn a gazillion tons more of that stuff at night to keep the grid charged enough for a nation of overnight car chargers.

    Biofuels and biofuel research and biofuel diversity is the best bet for now.

  • Doug

    Steve-O,

    As many studies as it takes to counter the one that say that it is far from carbon neutral. The fact that it is made from corn automatically makes it dependent on fertilizer and modern agriculture techniques. Ethanol is not as efficient as almost any other bio-fuel, that makes it a marginal tech to dump a ton of money into.

  • Doug

    Steve-O,

    As many studies as it takes to counter the one that say that it is far from carbon neutral. The fact that it is made from corn automatically makes it dependent on fertilizer and modern agriculture techniques. Ethanol is not as efficient as almost any other bio-fuel, that makes it a marginal tech to dump a ton of money into.

  • Tim Cleland

    Although I agree that corn ethanol is not the best biofuel, most modern studies now find that there is approximately a 30-40% energy gain from ethanol production. When ethanol is used to replace gasoline, (remember it takes energy to make and distribute gasoline as well), it makes it approximately 50% gain (the energy that was not expended to make the gasoline that the ethanol replaced has to be added into the ethanol figures).

    50% gain is getting into the respectable realm. No one would scoff at a 50% gain in automobile MPGs.

    The additional positive of ethanol is that the energy that is used to make it comes ~80% from coal and natural gas (only 20% petroleum). In essence, ethanol production takes less favorable sources of energy (solid: coal, and gas: natural gas) and creates a useful liquid form of energy. Even if the the energy gain was zero, there is value in that for energy security reasons (we have lots of coal and natural gas here in the U.S.).

  • Tim Cleland

    Although I agree that corn ethanol is not the best biofuel, most modern studies now find that there is approximately a 30-40% energy gain from ethanol production. When ethanol is used to replace gasoline, (remember it takes energy to make and distribute gasoline as well), it makes it approximately 50% gain (the energy that was not expended to make the gasoline that the ethanol replaced has to be added into the ethanol figures).

    50% gain is getting into the respectable realm. No one would scoff at a 50% gain in automobile MPGs.

    The additional positive of ethanol is that the energy that is used to make it comes ~80% from coal and natural gas (only 20% petroleum). In essence, ethanol production takes less favorable sources of energy (solid: coal, and gas: natural gas) and creates a useful liquid form of energy. Even if the the energy gain was zero, there is value in that for energy security reasons (we have lots of coal and natural gas here in the U.S.).

  • Doug

    Tim,

    What kind of monkey math is that. You must be one of the guys that does the polls for GM. Ethanol is not an efficient form of fuel, it burns cleaner, and is sustainable yes, but efficient no. It is time for all of the money that has been wasted so far on ethanol to be spent on more efficient bio-fuel research. The money needs to be spread evenly among the top three or four most efficient forms of bio-fuel.

  • Doug

    Tim,

    What kind of monkey math is that. You must be one of the guys that does the polls for GM. Ethanol is not an efficient form of fuel, it burns cleaner, and is sustainable yes, but efficient no. It is time for all of the money that has been wasted so far on ethanol to be spent on more efficient bio-fuel research. The money needs to be spread evenly among the top three or four most efficient forms of bio-fuel.

  • Jeff Baker

    If you’re driving around on gasoline, chances are you also have up to 10% ethanol in your fuel. So credit ethanol for replacing toxic methanol based MTBE and for oxygenating your gasoline, without contaminating your ground water. Studies show that ethanol lowers the price of gasoline by 15%. This saves us billions of dollars every year. Take note of the thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in county, state, and federal tax revenue that ethanol is generating. Every dollar in ethanol subsidies spins-off ten dollars worth of economic stimulus.

    People who live in states with blender pumps, like S. Dakota, Minnesota, and Iowa, save more on fuel. Because locally produced ethanol goes straight to the retail pump, instead of being shipped far away to a gasoline blending terminal and then shipped back to gas stations. Local ethanol blender pumps have an advantage over a centralized oil industry. They take local ethanol and cut out long distance shipping costs. Part of the blending subsidy may also be passed-on to consumers. That translates into higher efficiency and cheaper fuel at the pump. You can also try different ethanol blends and find out which one gets your vehicle the best mileage for the money. Steve-O, I remember you got 20% better mileage on E20 than you got on regular gasoline. That’s why blender pumps are sweeping the Corn Belt and will also be installed in emerging ethanol states, such as Texas, California, Arizona, Tennessee, Louisiana, Florida, New York, Pennsylvania and others.

    Louisiana now has the most advanced ethanol development program in the country, expected to get a 5 to 1 return. Renergie Inc. is building 10 sweet sorghum based modular ethanol plants around the state, which will supply local ethanol directly to local blender pumps. Another approach in Texas and Arizona is to integrate ethanol refineries with cattle feeding operations and dairy farms. The adjacent manure is converted into biogas CHP for plant production power, and the distillers grains byproduct is fed to the adjacent cows to produce milk or meat. This is better than a 3 to 1 return.

    You can also credit the corn ethanol industry for laying the groundwork for the emerging cellulosic ethanol industry. Poet Ethanol is equipping their corn ethanol plants with cellulose capability, which will also make them energy self sufficient. Same with Chippowee Valley Ethanol and others. Ethanol efficiency is improving dramatically. What may have been true 5 years ago is not true today. You can throw the old negative studies in the trash.

    Companies like Vera Sun and Pacific Ethanol are having problems, because of the way they mismanaged their companies. They agreed to buy high priced future supplies of corn, just before the price of wholesale ethanol took a nosedive along with crude oil. That caused sudden imbalances for ethanol producers that they will have to adjust to. The stronger companies are still stable and the industry is viable.

    Corn ethanol was never meant to save the country. But it does supplement gasoline with a clean domestic fuel that replaces some foreign oil. Corn ethanol is capped at 15 billion gallons a year, which is too low. What we should do is take ALL of our feed corn, extract the starch for ethanol, and use mainly distillers grains for domestic feed and export. That would triple our domestic ethanol production to about 30 billion gallons a year. We should increase the blending wall to somewhere between 20 and 30%. And we should mandate that all new vehicles be ethanol compatible. Ethanol refineries should not be converted to butanol. They should be converted to algae production, whereby the corn sugars are fed to multiply algae in dark tanks as in the Solazyme system. At corn ethanol refineries, the components for algae production are already in place: CO2, corn sugar, waste heat, nutrient rich effluent and waste water. That would give you biodiesel from the algae oils, ethanol from the algae starch, and additional high protein animal feed to sell alongside distillers grains. This would be more than a 10 to 1 return.

    Ethanol has the potential to be transformed well beyond our expectations. The engines that are coming are smaller, lighter, and more efficient, with a much higher power to weight ratio, because they will be optimized for ethanol, not just gasoline.

  • Jeff Baker

    If you’re driving around on gasoline, chances are you also have up to 10% ethanol in your fuel. So credit ethanol for replacing toxic methanol based MTBE and for oxygenating your gasoline, without contaminating your ground water. Studies show that ethanol lowers the price of gasoline by 15%. This saves us billions of dollars every year. Take note of the thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in county, state, and federal tax revenue that ethanol is generating. Every dollar in ethanol subsidies spins-off ten dollars worth of economic stimulus.

    People who live in states with blender pumps, like S. Dakota, Minnesota, and Iowa, save more on fuel. Because locally produced ethanol goes straight to the retail pump, instead of being shipped far away to a gasoline blending terminal and then shipped back to gas stations. Local ethanol blender pumps have an advantage over a centralized oil industry. They take local ethanol and cut out long distance shipping costs. Part of the blending subsidy may also be passed-on to consumers. That translates into higher efficiency and cheaper fuel at the pump. You can also try different ethanol blends and find out which one gets your vehicle the best mileage for the money. Steve-O, I remember you got 20% better mileage on E20 than you got on regular gasoline. That’s why blender pumps are sweeping the Corn Belt and will also be installed in emerging ethanol states, such as Texas, California, Arizona, Tennessee, Louisiana, Florida, New York, Pennsylvania and others.

    Louisiana now has the most advanced ethanol development program in the country, expected to get a 5 to 1 return. Renergie Inc. is building 10 sweet sorghum based modular ethanol plants around the state, which will supply local ethanol directly to local blender pumps. Another approach in Texas and Arizona is to integrate ethanol refineries with cattle feeding operations and dairy farms. The adjacent manure is converted into biogas CHP for plant production power, and the distillers grains byproduct is fed to the adjacent cows to produce milk or meat. This is better than a 3 to 1 return.

    You can also credit the corn ethanol industry for laying the groundwork for the emerging cellulosic ethanol industry. Poet Ethanol is equipping their corn ethanol plants with cellulose capability, which will also make them energy self sufficient. Same with Chippowee Valley Ethanol and others. Ethanol efficiency is improving dramatically. What may have been true 5 years ago is not true today. You can throw the old negative studies in the trash.

    Companies like Vera Sun and Pacific Ethanol are having problems, because of the way they mismanaged their companies. They agreed to buy high priced future supplies of corn, just before the price of wholesale ethanol took a nosedive along with crude oil. That caused sudden imbalances for ethanol producers that they will have to adjust to. The stronger companies are still stable and the industry is viable.

    Corn ethanol was never meant to save the country. But it does supplement gasoline with a clean domestic fuel that replaces some foreign oil. Corn ethanol is capped at 15 billion gallons a year, which is too low. What we should do is take ALL of our feed corn, extract the starch for ethanol, and use mainly distillers grains for domestic feed and export. That would triple our domestic ethanol production to about 30 billion gallons a year. We should increase the blending wall to somewhere between 20 and 30%. And we should mandate that all new vehicles be ethanol compatible. Ethanol refineries should not be converted to butanol. They should be converted to algae production, whereby the corn sugars are fed to multiply algae in dark tanks as in the Solazyme system. At corn ethanol refineries, the components for algae production are already in place: CO2, corn sugar, waste heat, nutrient rich effluent and waste water. That would give you biodiesel from the algae oils, ethanol from the algae starch, and additional high protein animal feed to sell alongside distillers grains. This would be more than a 10 to 1 return.

    Ethanol has the potential to be transformed well beyond our expectations. The engines that are coming are smaller, lighter, and more efficient, with a much higher power to weight ratio, because they will be optimized for ethanol, not just gasoline.

  • CNCMike

    Actually if you build engines specifically to run on ethanol with 13 or 14:1 compression and appropriate cam you will get about 15 to 20% better mileage than a comparable gas engine and about 98% less pollution.

  • CNCMike

    Actually if you build engines specifically to run on ethanol with 13 or 14:1 compression and appropriate cam you will get about 15 to 20% better mileage than a comparable gas engine and about 98% less pollution.

  • Tim Cleland

    “What kind of monkey math is that. You must be one of the guys that does the polls for GM. Ethanol is not an efficient form of fuel, it burns cleaner, and is sustainable yes, but efficient no. ”

    If you’re referring to the fact that ethanol has a lower energy density than gasoline, you’re correct, but that’s already accounted for in the data mentioned in my post above. In most of the studies I’ve seen, they use the unit GGE (gallon of gasoline equivalent) which for ethanol is very close to 1.5 gallons.

  • Tim Cleland

    “What kind of monkey math is that. You must be one of the guys that does the polls for GM. Ethanol is not an efficient form of fuel, it burns cleaner, and is sustainable yes, but efficient no. ”

    If you’re referring to the fact that ethanol has a lower energy density than gasoline, you’re correct, but that’s already accounted for in the data mentioned in my post above. In most of the studies I’ve seen, they use the unit GGE (gallon of gasoline equivalent) which for ethanol is very close to 1.5 gallons.

  • ChuckL

    Tim, you can not compare ethanol efficiency with gasoline on a gallon per gallon basis. It takes about 55% more ethanol to cover the same distance when it is used in the same engine.

  • ChuckL

    Tim, you can not compare ethanol efficiency with gasoline on a gallon per gallon basis. It takes about 55% more ethanol to cover the same distance when it is used in the same engine.

  • Douglas

    It doesn’t matter if it is efficient or not, it is a fuel that you can make in your garage, cheap and easy. No more money into the hands of the corporations that are robbing us is the point, self sufficiency is the only answer.

  • Douglas

    It doesn’t matter if it is efficient or not, it is a fuel that you can make in your garage, cheap and easy. No more money into the hands of the corporations that are robbing us is the point, self sufficiency is the only answer.

  • Mark in Texas

    ChuckL

    It depends on the engine. A higher compression ratio improves the efficiency of the engine. Problem is that an engine with a higher compression ratio requires higher octane gasoline otherwise you get preignition, dieseling, knocking and all sorts of problems that ruin performance and will destroy your engine pretty quickly. That is why when lead was removed from gasoline in the early 1970s which lowered the octane rating of gasoline, the car manufacturers had to respond by decreasing the compression ratio. At the time, people complained that the new cars had poor performance and got worse gas mileage.

    Unleaded gasoline has more energy content than ethanol but it can only be used in engines that are inherently less efficient. Ethanol increases the octane rating of gasoline when mixed which allows the use of more efficient high compression ratio engines. The increase in efficiency translates into more miles per gallon as well as more horsepower from the same size engine.

  • Mark in Texas

    ChuckL

    It depends on the engine. A higher compression ratio improves the efficiency of the engine. Problem is that an engine with a higher compression ratio requires higher octane gasoline otherwise you get preignition, dieseling, knocking and all sorts of problems that ruin performance and will destroy your engine pretty quickly. That is why when lead was removed from gasoline in the early 1970s which lowered the octane rating of gasoline, the car manufacturers had to respond by decreasing the compression ratio. At the time, people complained that the new cars had poor performance and got worse gas mileage.

    Unleaded gasoline has more energy content than ethanol but it can only be used in engines that are inherently less efficient. Ethanol increases the octane rating of gasoline when mixed which allows the use of more efficient high compression ratio engines. The increase in efficiency translates into more miles per gallon as well as more horsepower from the same size engine.

  • Mark in Texas

    Nick

    Sadly, I think that you have it wrong on how the price drop is going to encourage celulosic ethanol.

    If prices were still high, it would be possible for some laboratory processes to be tried out in the commercial world, despite costing more than corn ethanol to produce. The high price of ethanol in the market would have allowed them to still make money while gaining valuable knowledge and experience in actual production which would eventually translate into cheaper cellulosic ethanol production.

    As it is, the ethanol industry is going to limp along, largely supported by government mandates until the price of gasoline heads back up. Most of the innovations in the ethanol industry are going to be aimed at reducing the cost of producing corn ethanol. This is a good thing in and of itself, but probably not what you were hoping for.

  • Mark in Texas

    Nick

    Sadly, I think that you have it wrong on how the price drop is going to encourage celulosic ethanol.

    If prices were still high, it would be possible for some laboratory processes to be tried out in the commercial world, despite costing more than corn ethanol to produce. The high price of ethanol in the market would have allowed them to still make money while gaining valuable knowledge and experience in actual production which would eventually translate into cheaper cellulosic ethanol production.

    As it is, the ethanol industry is going to limp along, largely supported by government mandates until the price of gasoline heads back up. Most of the innovations in the ethanol industry are going to be aimed at reducing the cost of producing corn ethanol. This is a good thing in and of itself, but probably not what you were hoping for.

  • Doug

    Jeff,

    Thank you for the info and helping to prove my point. Ethanol is not the bad guy, corn ethanol is. Corn can be used for many things and the byproducts can as well, but it is still the least efficent crop to use for fuel. Corn is a resource dependent crop compared to most other viable fuel stocks. I would love to see your idea about corn sugars for the algae process given serious consideration.

    Douglas,

    Have you seriously broken down the cost to “home brew” ethanol? Once you factor in the equipment and the feedstock, you don’t save money for 5-10 years unless you are cranking out a lot of fuel.

  • Doug

    Jeff,

    Thank you for the info and helping to prove my point. Ethanol is not the bad guy, corn ethanol is. Corn can be used for many things and the byproducts can as well, but it is still the least efficent crop to use for fuel. Corn is a resource dependent crop compared to most other viable fuel stocks. I would love to see your idea about corn sugars for the algae process given serious consideration.

    Douglas,

    Have you seriously broken down the cost to “home brew” ethanol? Once you factor in the equipment and the feedstock, you don’t save money for 5-10 years unless you are cranking out a lot of fuel.

  • Tim Cleland

    “Tim, you can not compare ethanol efficiency with gasoline on a gallon per gallon basis. It takes about 55% more ethanol to cover the same distance when it is used in the same engine.”

    I agree with you, and I thought that was clear on that in my second post above. 1.0 GGE (gallon gasoline equivalent) of energy is ~1.5 gallons of ethoanol. They take all that into consideration in the all studies I’ve seen.

  • Tim Cleland

    “Tim, you can not compare ethanol efficiency with gasoline on a gallon per gallon basis. It takes about 55% more ethanol to cover the same distance when it is used in the same engine.”

    I agree with you, and I thought that was clear on that in my second post above. 1.0 GGE (gallon gasoline equivalent) of energy is ~1.5 gallons of ethoanol. They take all that into consideration in the all studies I’ve seen.

  • LonnieB

    I agree with Nick (Mr. Celluline) and Jeff. Doug has some valid arguements, as well. A wide spectrum of information is always better than a narrow viewpoint. Thank you, fellas.

    My take on the subject of corn-based ethanol is that it is a “bridge fuel”, but not a particularly good one. I believe that we have put our ethanol eggs in the corn basket for infrastructure reasons.

    By that I mean the equipment farmers have to grow and harvest the feedstock, the state of technology to distill the fuel and the distrbution network. And so, as a nation, we must resolve ourselves to upgrade and modify the existing infrastructure. Our government should focus on thee re-creation of that infrastucture, more than the sex life of the farting tree bat.

    We should focus on the second generation technologies and the use of alternative sources. Perfecting the cellulosic process to produce “celluline” would bust the possibilities wide open. Plant stock such as Jerusalem Artichokes would be an excellent source for this process. They’re weeds in most parts of the country and have limited food interest, but with the cellulosic process could produce as much as 16 times the ethanol per acre than corn, according to some studies.

    Another possibility would be to form a partnership with the Dominican Republic for sugar cane, since Brazil doesn’t generate enough ethanol for export to put a seriuos dent in our needs. On a recent trip to the island, I saw thousands of acres planted in cane and thousands more sitting fallow. (They make better cigars than the Cubans now, too _ BTW.)

    Something that could have a very positive impact on ethanol availability would be the availability of home distilleries at a reasonable price. The proliferation of these would open up a whole new market opportunity…feedstock suppliers who buy their product directly from farmers and sell at whoelsale prices to the public. I, for one, would be all over this.

    I drive a 2003 Mustang Mach 1 with a 10:1 compression ratio. I am planning to converting it to ethanol, someday soon. Distribution and availability are the only things holding me back. They are also holding me back on my plans to start a business producing ethanol-powered crate engines for car enthusiasts.

    I guess the answer depends on how much cooperation, or more likely, interference our government will give. That’s the discouraging aspect of it all. Until it becomes a serious vote-getter, I’m afraid that the second generation of biofuels may have to wait until the current generation of politicians either comes on board, gets voted out or dies off. Given the number of career politicians in Washington, it will probably be the latter.

    Biofuels may well end up being a “We the People” thing, with local cooperatives and feedstock cartels as the driving force. But rest assured, our government WILL come up with a way to tax that! That is the one thing they are quite adroit at.

  • LonnieB

    I agree with Nick (Mr. Celluline) and Jeff. Doug has some valid arguements, as well. A wide spectrum of information is always better than a narrow viewpoint. Thank you, fellas.

    My take on the subject of corn-based ethanol is that it is a “bridge fuel”, but not a particularly good one. I believe that we have put our ethanol eggs in the corn basket for infrastructure reasons.

    By that I mean the equipment farmers have to grow and harvest the feedstock, the state of technology to distill the fuel and the distrbution network. And so, as a nation, we must resolve ourselves to upgrade and modify the existing infrastructure. Our government should focus on thee re-creation of that infrastucture, more than the sex life of the farting tree bat.

    We should focus on the second generation technologies and the use of alternative sources. Perfecting the cellulosic process to produce “celluline” would bust the possibilities wide open. Plant stock such as Jerusalem Artichokes would be an excellent source for this process. They’re weeds in most parts of the country and have limited food interest, but with the cellulosic process could produce as much as 16 times the ethanol per acre than corn, according to some studies.

    Another possibility would be to form a partnership with the Dominican Republic for sugar cane, since Brazil doesn’t generate enough ethanol for export to put a seriuos dent in our needs. On a recent trip to the island, I saw thousands of acres planted in cane and thousands more sitting fallow. (They make better cigars than the Cubans now, too _ BTW.)

    Something that could have a very positive impact on ethanol availability would be the availability of home distilleries at a reasonable price. The proliferation of these would open up a whole new market opportunity…feedstock suppliers who buy their product directly from farmers and sell at whoelsale prices to the public. I, for one, would be all over this.

    I drive a 2003 Mustang Mach 1 with a 10:1 compression ratio. I am planning to converting it to ethanol, someday soon. Distribution and availability are the only things holding me back. They are also holding me back on my plans to start a business producing ethanol-powered crate engines for car enthusiasts.

    I guess the answer depends on how much cooperation, or more likely, interference our government will give. That’s the discouraging aspect of it all. Until it becomes a serious vote-getter, I’m afraid that the second generation of biofuels may have to wait until the current generation of politicians either comes on board, gets voted out or dies off. Given the number of career politicians in Washington, it will probably be the latter.

    Biofuels may well end up being a “We the People” thing, with local cooperatives and feedstock cartels as the driving force. But rest assured, our government WILL come up with a way to tax that! That is the one thing they are quite adroit at.

  • Matt

    Everyone should just start walking. i mean whats the rush?

  • Matt

    Everyone should just start walking. i mean whats the rush?

  • jaxon

    Permaculture based ethanol for the revolutionaries…

  • jaxon

    Permaculture based ethanol for the revolutionaries…

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  • Julian

    This is sad, green hype, which is really too bad, because hype is the last thing green needs.

    Take a look on the SEC’s site for their audited reports, or even their unaudited 10q…no joy. Also no joy on their own website, which doesn’t even list a name for investor relations. Also no news on the performance or fundamentals of the stock.

    Most companies (even hungry micro caps) can run a web site better than this. Under ‘about us,’ though, you can’t even get information that counts about their management! Unless what you wanted to know was the professional NFL highlights of the president’s career, whose qualifications for developing algal oil technology include being involved in “a variety of business ventures”.

    Snake oil comes in shades of green, it seems.

  • Julian

    This is sad, green hype, which is really too bad, because hype is the last thing green needs.

    Take a look on the SEC’s site for their audited reports, or even their unaudited 10q…no joy. Also no joy on their own website, which doesn’t even list a name for investor relations. Also no news on the performance or fundamentals of the stock.

    Most companies (even hungry micro caps) can run a web site better than this. Under ‘about us,’ though, you can’t even get information that counts about their management! Unless what you wanted to know was the professional NFL highlights of the president’s career, whose qualifications for developing algal oil technology include being involved in “a variety of business ventures”.

    Snake oil comes in shades of green, it seems.

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