Saturday, July 08, 2006

Is Ethanol the Answer?

My brain sometimes drives me nuts; I have thoughts that bounce around just about every subject. Things like ethanol fuel; I was just watching TV and saw an ad for Ford (yuck) and they were bragging about building 250,000 vehicles that run on ethanol fuel that's "...grown in the heartland." They show a farmer loading bushels of corn into his truck and everyone thinks "wow, that's so great; ethanol is the answer to our oil woes." Everyone except me I guess.

You see, I have a knack for seeing things from different angles; I don't do it consciously, I'm just able to see things differently than most. This served me very well in the later years of my military career. In the early years it tended to get me in trouble with my superiors since it seemed I was "questioning" them. Anyway, eventually I learned how to tactfully bring my thoughts to the table and they started listening to me. Anyway, I digress, so back to the "ethanol as the answer" dilemma.

Yes, ethanol is an alternative fuel that can help EASE our oil burden, but it cannot replace oil without a huge negative impact on the global food chain. Follow me here; the amount of corn needed to produce enough ethanol to supply even a fraction of the population, would tie up most of our crop-land. I did some digging and found out that it would take 11 acres of crop-land to fuel one car for one year. That same 11 acres can produce enough food for seven people for one year. Another interesting tidbit is production costs; it currently costs approximately $1.75 to produce one gallon of ethanol compared to $.95 per gallon of gasoline. Oh, and it takes 70% more energy to produce a gallon of ethanol than that same gallon holds (131,000 BTUs to produce one gallon that will put out 77,000 BTUs). Pretty staggering huh?

There’s another problem; land is a finite commodity, and agricultural land is even harder to come by. The available land for agricultural use is getting smaller every day; farms and ranches are being sold to real estate developers at an alarming rate. Let’s face it, the planet is getting smaller, and if we use it to produce a product that we don’t need to survive, to me is a bad idea. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for reducing our dependence on foreign oil and alternative fuel research, but I don’t think taking food off the table to put gas in the tank is a smart move. This is especially true when we have vast un-tapped oil fields available.

I can hear some of the arguments already; how big oil is gouging since it only costs $.95 a gallon to make, and we can’t drill for new oil because it will ruin the environment. Keep in mind that the $.95 is only the production (refinement) cost per gallon of gas and doesn’t include costs like overhead, research, taxes, profit, etc. Yes I said profit, but keep in mind, the oil companies only operate with a 7 – 9% profit margin, which is actually pretty low. As for drilling issues, the U.S. does more than any other nation to ensure the environmental impacts are kept to a minimum. Think about this; the U.S. is not allowed to drill new oil wells in the Gulf of Mexico because of our environmental laws, yet now Cuba is going to be drilling within 20 miles of our shores. Don’t you think the U.S., with our technology and the EPA, would be more apt (and capable) to protect the environment while drilling than some third world country?

Well, I’ve gotten off on a tangent again, so I’ll quit my rant. The bottom line is that ethanol is not the answer. It’s a start, but we need to take a hard look at the ramifications before jumping on the band wagon. Just something to think about.


BarnGoddess said...

excellent post! full of facts too. it would be nice if we could depend on other types of fuels other than our fossil fuels. Hubby and I have had this discussion many times. We are a Nation full of people who want everything NOW without discomfort OR hassles. I think this is one of the main reasons electric cars arent popular. They arent very fancy, they are small, and they dont get far...........but they can get a person from point A to point B.

Cowgirl said...

Ya know, I think that we could have a good chat about ethanol and biodiesel.

I do have to say that it wouldn't make that big of a difference on the food chain, as we still use corn for sweetners and other products (big business here in ADM land) and ethanol can be derived from just about anything that can be fermented...not just corn. And ethanol can be produced synthetically too.

I think that the most important thing is for the US NOT to be dependent on outside sources for fuel...not necessarily stop using petroleum all together. The prices are one thing, but depending on the volatile regions of this planet for oil is another.

The biggest reason we don't do this is because too many oil companies are in politics...same reason why this country does a lot of things...politics.

Love ya, man...and please don't get a Ford...I am nice about the Dodge...but the Ford...I just don't know. ;)

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