May 30, 2024

The Ethanol Problem

David Broussard recently penned a piece describing the problem with the push to use ethanol as a “renewable energy source”, one that is supposed to ease our dependence on foreign – read “Islamic” – oil.

As David says, the dream of replacing gasoline with corn alcohol simply is not going to happen:

The US uses about 130 billion gallons of gasoline a year.  Using our 2/3rds rate we would need 195 billion gallons of ethanol to get the equivalent amount of fuel for the US.  195 billion gallons would need 570 million acres of corn being grown per year.  The US total land area is 9.1 million sq km (2.3 billion acres).  So, if we could devote 25% of the total land mass of the US to growing corn just for ethanol use…we would be OK.  The reality is that only 18% of our land is arable, so we would not be able to do it anyway (and we actually only cultivate .21% of our total land).

In the end, we could use ethanol as a filler to spread out gasoline, but not as a replacement.  It seems to me that we should still be looking at hydrogen fuel cells for our long term solutions.

Consider also the problem of relative efficiency.  Ethanol, as D.B. says, is only about 2/3 as efficient as gasoline, meaning that more of it must be consumed to produce a similar result.

So even if we could meet our energy needs with ethanol in the short term this fuel’s inefficiency would require an ever-increasing amount of resources to be expended in its production.  Ethanol is not viable as a primary source of energy in the long term.

Regarding the production, distribution, and use of hydrogen as a replacement energy source, I agree with David that this is the way that we should phase out gasoline as our main source of transportation energy.

There is the question of how to provide the power required to create free hydrogen for use in this system.  According to one engineer I know and trust, the best way to do this is to use nuclear power to run hydrogen production plants.

Nuclear fission is anathema to the green movement, of course, and they’ve spent much time and effort blackballing the nuclear power industry all over the world.  Regardless, I believe this is right way for the West to proceed.  As I wrote in a discussion about global warming:

Many environmentalists and Muslim fundamentalists would take us backward to the time of the horse-drawn plow, the former foolishly not considering the massive human death toll that it would take to re-stablize society at their idealized technology level and the latter rabidly desiring it.  Neither are correct.

The way to a better life for all is forward through advances in science and technology, not intellectual and economic surrender.

Now is no time to give in to fear.  It is far better to face the nuclear genie than to depend on hostile, unstable nations run by and for the benefit of terroristic philosophies, whether Islamic or communist.


Marc is a software developer, writer, and part-time political know-it-all who currently resides in Texas in the good ol' U.S.A.

View all posts by marc →