Renewable, Low Carbon Ethanol Reduces Oil Consumption, Lowers Gasoline Prices

What alternative energy system does Big Oil currently hate the most?

I’ll give you a hint. It’s not EVs. Nor is it wind or solar. Though these systems currently represent serious threats to Big Oil’s market dominance they don’t compare to the one source of energy Big Oil is required to incorporate into gasoline. That, in the US, represents nearly 1 million barrels per day of renewable liquid fuel.

That’s right, I’m talking about ethanol.

Currently ethanol reduces US oil demand by nearly 1 million barrels per day. As such, it reduces overall carbon emissions, reduces fuel costs for American motorists, and makes the United States more energy independent. The fuel contribution coming from ethanol is greater than that produced by the Bakken Shale.

Ethanol does require a degree of fossil fuel use to produce it. Primarily natural gas is used to run the distilleries and oil to run the farm equipment (however, wind or solar could be used as replacements, further lowering carbon impact). But the field to wheels carbon emission is less than 50% that of gasoline (and even less if your gasoline is coming from a highly polluting source like tar sands). So, when traded for gasoline, ethanol produces far less of a carbon burden on the planet.

Most US ethanol currently comes from corn. As such, about 30% of the US corn crop, at present, goes to ethanol. And this puts an upward pressure on food prices. In combination with a current drought (ironically, largely the result of massive fossil fuel carbon emissions) first generation ethanol production has contributed to upward pressure on food prices.

Second generation ethanol production via cellulosic ethanol appears to be around the corner (2015). Cellulosic ethanol can come from a variety of feedstocks including switch grass and wood chips. Since most cellulosic ethanol can be produced from waste material or via grass grown on marginal lands, the impact to food production is far less than that of corn-based ethanol. So it appears a primary detractor for ethanol is rapidly evaporating.

On a scale of what is most harmful to what is least harmful to the environment and sustainability, you would rank fossil fuels as most harmful, corn ethanol as second most harmful, and cellulosic ethanol as least harmful.

Unfortunately, many mainstream media outlets are producing fresh attack pieces targeting ethanol. These run a gambit of false claims ranging from blaming ethanol for the current drought to ludicrously asserting that ethanol carbon emissions are comparable to gasoline. Others appear to be sounding the death knell for ethanol as a US fuel, citing both the drought and falling US gasoline consumption.

So why are mainstream media outlets producing fresh attack pieces on ethanol? The answer is anyone’s guess. Big Oil, for one, is certain to be delighted. But one does wonder that if falling US gasoline consumption means the end for the US ethanol industry, does it also mean the end for the US oil based gasoline industry?



How Global Warming Induced Drought Could Impact US Fuel Production

Do you know what’s the single largest source of US ‘oil’ production? If you said the Bakken fields in North Dakota, you’re wrong.

The largest source of US fuel production does lie in the heartlands. In fact, it’s the breadbasket. Yes, US ethanol production, which is now counted as ‘all liquids oil,’ is the greatest individual provider of US liquid fuels production. Currently at more than 800,000 barrels per day, ethanol is the largest single contributor to US fuels. And when combined with other biofuels produced in the US, that number reaches more than 1 million barrels per day.

But the current US drought is having a devastating impact on US farm production. Livestock farmers are so hard hit that they’re asking Congress and the EPA that the US ethanol mandate, put in place to aid US energy security, be relaxed for the drought. A third of all members of the House of Representatives have already signed a petition for an ethanol waiver.

Meanwhile, the EPA and the Obama Administration are pushing to keep the mandate, saying that stocks are still at adequate levels.

Livestock farmers have been outraged by spiking corn prices and an increase in prices to other feed such as hay. Many have been forced to sell their animals and a few have abandoned farming altogether. That said, the nation’s corn belt has dramatically benefited from the ethanol mandate, as has US energy security. The result is that there could be a clash between US livestock and US corn interest groups.

Currently, despite political pressure, it doesn’t appear likely that US ethanol mandates will be relaxed. However, if this happens, US ethanol production could fall, bringing down total US ‘oil’ production with it.

It is an ironic twist of fate that US biofuels production could be hampered by greenhouse gas emissions from an energy source it is intended to help replace. But this fact serves to underline how damaging continued expansion of fossil fuel use has become. Not only does it endanger US and world food security, it is also a threat to future US and world energy security as well.

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