Stephen W. Browne Rants and Raves

May 26, 2010

Soused on ethanol

Filed under: Uncategorized — Stephen W. Browne @ 12:10 pm

I did some research for a story on North Dakota corn growers and ethanol recently. It turns out ethanol was indeed a boon to corn growers this year, as the corn crop turned out to have low test weights and high moisture content.

Corn buyers pay by test weight, and grain elevators charge by percentage points of moisture to dry it. But neither of this matters much to ethanol plants, who aren’t interested in the food or feed value of the crop.

Since North Dakota is not big on cattle ranching, the feed market for lower-grade corn is minimal. Areas of the country where ranching is prominent tend to grow their own corn nearer to the end-user.

The ethanol plants sell their product to oil companies, who get a blender’s tax credit that enables them to sell the blend cheaper than straight gas and make a profit.

Yea for ethanol! Fuel of the future.

I have to wonder, can people count? Can they do simple experiments?

When I still had my ancient Honda Accord, I used to reset my trip meter every time I filled up to get an idea of what kind of mileage I was getting. It always seemed less when I used the 10 percent ethanol blend.

Now I have a Ford Ranger pickup. (I haven’t felt like a proper redneck without a pickup.)

Not long ago I filled my tank with pure gasoline and drove from North Dakota to Minneapolis. I arrived with a quarter of a tank left, which I used driving around town.

In Minneapolis I filled up with the 10% ethanol blend Minnesota requires by law, drove back and arrived with the needle on empty.

Conclusion 1: The slightly lower cost of the subsidized ethanol blend is more than offset by the lower mileage. I never use the ethanol blend if I can buy straight gas.

Conclusion 2: The function of the blender’s credit is to pay oil companies for the priviledge of selling watered-down gas. Nice deal for the oil companies.

This did not require me to search out and evaluate scientific studies, I did it myself.

The price of the blend is usually about 10 cents less than the cheapest unblended gas. Ten cents a gallon less for the blend, for about 14 gallons equals a buck-forty saved on a fill-up. That does not make up for the extra quarter-tank of fuel I burn. (That’s about 3 2/3 gallons of gas. Check the current price of gas, whatever it is today I don’t believe it’s $1.40)

Yet nowhere in the arguments pro or con ethanol have I seen anybody say they’ve tried this.

Can anybody do simple math or design a simple experiment anymore?


  1. you are right, the math is and has been clear for a long time. The energy per unit volume of ethanol is 34% lower than for gasoline, and at regular compression that extraction is even worse. when you factor in the subsidies, the payoffs, and the cost of food based fuel production make corn ethanol unsatisfactory. The Brazilian model only works for Brazil where sugarcane can be produced at easy cost and is the most effective ethanol feed stock. even in a perfect ethanol focused system where one can get it to produce equivalent power output, there is still a 15-30% increase in fuel consumption.
    Ethanol is not a help. only when we learn to make it from waste cellulose, will it be usefull.

    Comment by Louie — May 26, 2010 @ 4:52 pm

  2. This is what happens when enclaves of OMFR and their ‘viro lackeys have kept a country 60-70 years behind the rest of the world in energy technology for their own benefit.
    Most the rest of the world runs on diesel, and biodiesel can be made from any vegetable product/compost, not just corn or soybeans. Crude forms of it have been recycled from used restaurant fryer oil for decades, but the same forces responsible for what your post describes don’t want this technology widely used.

    Comment by Ted Amadeus — May 28, 2010 @ 9:33 am

  3. The fuel ratings are even worse using E85 (85% ethanol) fuel. I think it was Popular Mechanics magazine that did a test w/Flex Fuel vehicles for gas mileage using regular gas and E85. Needless to say, the mpg for E85 was not pretty.

    Comment by naman — June 1, 2010 @ 3:40 am

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