Is This The Solution?


Any hardcore ethanol fans out there? I always thought the answer was smaller more fuel efficient cars. Is ethanol going to be the way of the future? I though it was supposed to be electric?

25 Comment

  • No, ethanol is not the answer. It’s an answer with a whole new gaggle of problems.

  • Ethanol steals food from the lips and mouths of children. Its the result of an exceptionally effective lobbying scheme. In short, that car is not what Jeebus would drive.

  • It’s not an answer – it has its own massive set of environmental and human health impacts (and uses a ton of oil to grow the corn used in the creation of ethanol). At best it’s a high-long-term cost stop-gap while an actual long-term solution is being developed.

  • Ethanol is no more the answer than drilling; the food that is used to produce ethanol could help abate the world hunger crisis.

    There is no one simple solution, but a good start is tons of investment and incentives so that (1) there are no non-hybrid cars produced starting in a few years (2) we move as a whole towards smaller, more fuel efficient cars (3) we transition to electric cars, and (4) most importantly, we do everything possible to encourage smart growth — transit oriented development (DC gets it right with all the new condos and apartments above metros), improve public transportation infrastructure, development of high speed trains, subways, and monorails, plus more bike and segway lanes, in place of air and car travel, at least in urban and close in suburban areas. That’s a good start, at least on the transportation front.

  • Everyone above is on target. E85 is a boondoggle, but it’s also a useful way to justify continued subsidies in the US to the farm lobby.

    I think it’s way too dramatic to say that ethanol production is taking food from the quivering lips of starving children. It may be useful spin, but hunger has much more to do with national interest and the global food trade regime. Ethanol maybe distorting that market even further, but serious changes to US and European farm subsidies are needed, clearly.

  • Apparently it can also lead to premature engine failure. Here’s a post from today on Auto Blog Green:

  • Its not _quite_ that simple. No, corn based ethanol in the US is not the answer. However, it does _potentially_ help as a spring board for a next generation of ethanol, produced e.g. from switch grass. Besides land you need a lot refining, distribution etc. infrastucture.

    Also, ethanol is much more of an answer in Brazil which has arguably the best conditions in the world for producing ethanol from sugar cane. They have quickly trippled production of ethanol per hectare. There is not a huge amount of land being converted to ethanol production there at the moment. Cattle and soy are much bigger problems in terms of loss of forest cover there, for example.

    There is no shortage of food in the world at the moment. Adding more production of food is unlikely to solve the food problems. More pressing is stop subsidizing developed country farmers for food production and let developing countries compete with what they’ve got.

  • Agreed with the posters above — Ethanol isn’t the solution and is a massive political boondoggle that ultimately uses as much or more oil than gas. GM is really making a push to rebrand its products as green cars, though, and DC is one of their test markets. I saw a similarly promotional Chevy SUV last week, but it was a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle. That, at least, shows much more promise. See if you can’t snap a picture of one of those puppies.

  • Ethanol isn’t the correct answer, but its the one that GM and Ford picked a few years ago. They have been doing a TON of ethanol research as their way of being cutting edge on the environmental/gas mileage. Once again, these companies picked the wrong technology… sigh. Being from Detroit it makes me sad inside.

  • Again, you should at least say “corn based ethanol in the US” to be a bit more accurate.
    And hydrogen is of course promising, but far from commercial. Ethanol technologies are already commercial. Electric cars need electricity – that inevitably, for quite a while, does mean coal and gas. And carbon capture and storage is far from cheap or simple (just as an example, capturing and storing CO2 can need up to 40% more capacity in a power plant to have the some power output to the grid).

    Nothing this complicated is that simple. 🙂

  • What’s the question? Lower cost? Fewer carbon emmission? Better for the environment? Domestic supply? There is no easy answer. New2CH – I like your thinking. Propane vehicles are used in other successfully countries to reduce emmissions and cost – same energy output as gas (so can be used for commercial vehicles), cheaper and low emmssions – not even part of the discussion as far as I can tell.

  • Wow- something that EVERYONE seems to agree on. This is rare! I’m assuming that most on the board (and DC residents in general) are pretty left-leaning, So WHY did the farm bill pass??? I don’t understand why more people weren’t Like “hey- this is weird, I agree with GW on this one…” Is it just that people pay less attention to ag/farm policy than other more sexy topics?

  • Farmes should grow wheat, not gas and high-fructose corn syrup!

  • (and by “EVERYONE” I mean- everyone who has commented on this board on this question so far- not everyone in the country, world etc.)

  • Steve, (and to make Parkwood Person “happy” ;)), I disagree – farmers (or rather, land) should grow many things for “productive” purposes too. Farmers should grow food where it makes sense with minimal or no subsidies and if anywhere, trade needs to be freer on farm products.

    Btw, its saddening how protectionist most Democrats, including the current Second Coming, are…

  • Don’t believe your favorite celebrity. Hybrid cars are probably worse for the environment than your normal american gas-guzzler.

    Funny how people tend to forget about manufacturing.

  • Use of ethanol isn’t directly taking food away from folks who are starving, but its emergence certainly has contributed to the huge spike in commodities prices.

  • holy smokes, Anon 1:59. I read the article, picked up the name “Sudbury, Ontario” as a dead zone due to mining necessary for hybrid batteries, typed it into google maps and wham – a giant brownfield appears.

    I knew that hybrids aren’t nearly as cost effective over their lifetimes as a small, efficient gas automobile. I also knew that driving less, using mass transit, etc is better for the world, anyway. But massive nasty dead zones? not what I thought hybrids were about.

  • Too bad the pollution in Sudbury, Ontario was from mining efforts around the start of the 1900’s (which I am pretty sure was WELL before the Prius)…

    Didn’t see ANY citations for that article or references to where facts were obtained from either…

  • Yeah.. these life cycly analysis are notiously difficult to make. But the article does not seem like the most scientific life cycle analysis I’ve ever seen…

    “To recap: The production of a single battery to be used in the Prius starts from Canada, to China, and finally to Japan. One can simply imagine the amount of fuel that is needed to complete this world-round trip to produce a single battery for the Prius.”

    So what? Any car is made up of parts that have been produced all over the world, the raw materials for which have travelled through various steps of refinement throughout the world. The logistics of it all are staggering.

    A big problem with some hydrids is that they are trapped in the “my car has to accelarate from 0-60 in 8 seconds” thinking, and end up sacrificing a lot of the potential fuel efficiency gain. I.e. hybrid Sport SUVs are perhaps not the best place to start with hybrids.

    Anyway, I am also pleasantly surprised how sensitive to gas prices car model demand has been. I see a lot more smaller new cars on the streets now. What is missing in the US is a predictable, transparent, small incremental increase in gas taxes over the next 10 year type of plan that would slowly but surely move the fleet to the right direction, no matter what war or other might throw oil prices temporarily up or down. Just trusting that we are close to peak production of oil is not going to be enough.

  • THe only way farmers are making money on growing corn is through ag subsidies. Those subsidies are producing a product that does not reduce CO2, actually causes more rapid degeneration of engine parts, high fructose corn syrup – which is leading to a diabetic explosion, and cattle feed. Why not pay those subsidies to farmers to produce grains and other products that results in healthier americans and that reduces the cost of health care so we don’t need nationalized health care (pipe dream).




    That’s all I have to say.

  • If we’re going to burn anything, it shouldn’t be corn, it should be hemp, which should be made legal. Hemp can be used for building materials, food, clothing, shampoo and conditioner, and even powering cars. And it grows easily and abundantly w/out chemicals, like a weed (or its brother plant).

    But I think we should come to the conclusion that burning anything for power is a bad idea. We should just skip this step and go directly to focusing on producing efficient (and eco-friendly!) batteries and powering everything with solar and wind. Using corn or whatever will only delay that inevitability.

  • Again.. its not quite that simple. Although it could be made a lot more simple by removing all hidden or unhidden subsidies to coal (in particular) and gas.

    Wind has made a break through, but is still quite far from being bulk base load.
    Solar is making good strides but will not be bulk base load any time soon.
    And, a lot of old coal plants are aging rapidly. Gas is certainly going to have to be a huge part of the picture going forward, and so is, unfortunately, most likely more efficient coal. In places like China and India there is even no discussion – coal will and has to be used.

    KKenyon: “Boo food as a commodity”. Tell that to our fellow human beings in developing countries (no, I am not saying freeing food trade would not have its problems, but it would be far better than subsidizing developed country farmers like crazy AND at the same time denying developing countries access to the market).

  • People talk a lot about the fact that the source is bad. The emissions are also just as bad and actually produce worse air quality for asthmatics than fossil fuels.

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