Close your eyes, children, and I'll tell you a fairy tale: Corn ethanol can replace gasoline

By Russ Heaps

(June 25, 2011) Right up there with Roger Patterson's Sasquatch film and Bernie Madoff's $50 billion ponzi scheme, one of the greatest scams ever perpetrated against the American public is corn ethanol.

If you want to know which presidential candidate running in 2012 is serious about reducing the budget deficit and therefore the U.S. debt, it's the one (if there is one) who campaigns in the Iowa caucuses promising to end all subsidies for corn ethanol. To do so will require brains, courage and will.

Every president since Reagan has been a big supporter of ethanol. Nothing transforms a corn ethanol critic into one of the converted as rapidly as a run at the presidency. President Obama was a big supporter of corn ethanol, even as a U.S. senator; Illinois grows a lot of corn and has several refineries for producing ethanol. Just because our presidents, Republican and Democrat alike, capitulated to the corn lobby doesn’t make it right or smart.

Here are some facts about ethanol:

    •The amount of corn required to make enough ethanol to fill the 25-gallon tank of an SUV could feed one person for a year. Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute in the Washington Post.

    • It would take 546 million acres (an area more than 3 times the size of Texas) to grow enough corn to make the ethanol required to replace gasoline in fueling our cars. Farm land currently under plow for growing all crops is around 440 million acres.

    • Taxpayers are being taxed three times in supporting ethanol: subsidies to farmers for growing corn, subsidies to producers for making ethanol and higher prices across the board at the grocery store. As the price of corn escalates so does the price of everything it goes into from corn flakes to cattle.

    • In 2006 total subsidies (taxpayer money) for each gallon of corn ethanol produced was roughly $1.20. In that year, U.S. corn ethanol production was 4.9 billion gallons or about 3% of gasoline used. Let's see, carry the 1, umm that's approximately $5.9 billion in taxpayer dollars required to prop up the layers of business needed to replace just 3% of our gasoline needs for one year. That's in addition to the $2.30 or so it cost to by a gallon of ethanol in 2006.

    • On average, 150 gallons (yes, 150 gallons) of fresh water is required to make 1 gallon of corn ethanol. Only 5 gallons of fresh water is needed to refine 1 gallon of gasoline. (It takes nearly 900 gallons of fresh water to make one gallon of ethanol from soy beans.) Are you thirsty?

    • Corn ethanol is about 30% less efficient than gasoline, so for every gallon of gas you burn, you need roughly 1.3 gallons of corn ethanol.

    • Depending on how the reporting agency is cooking the books, for every Btu of energy needed to make corn ethanol, you get back between 1.1 and 1.3 Btus of energy. For every Btu invested in refining gasoline, the return is 6 or 7 Btus. Corn Ethanol makes wind mills look down-right efficient.

    • Corn ethanol burns dirtier than gasoline. What! Yep, the EPA admits that adding corn ethanol to every gallon of fuel in your car, will cause your vehicle to belch out from 4% to 7% more NOx and VOCs than gasoline alone. These are the pollutants blamed for smog and erosion of the ozone layer, as well as global warming and climate change — if you buy into that stuff.

Corn ethanol is voodoo technology. It's nothing more than a false solution to the goal of U.S. energy independence.