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In The Heartland
17 July 2005
State Government Review Commission Office
America has made poor choices in energy policy, personal transportation, and food systems and now Governor Blunt wants all of Missouri’s motor fuel to be blended with 10% ethanol. We now have energy and food competing for the same resources - soil, water, and fossil inputs. There are claims that ethanol and soy diesel can help reduce the dependency on imported foreign oil which accounted for 58% of our petroleum demand in 2004. If all of the soy beans planted in the year 2000 were converted to soy diesel, it would be less than equivalent consumption of the school buses in that same year. Ethanol from corn is expected to replace 3% of the petroleum for motor fuel by 2025. Are the policies surrounding these two fuels sustainable?
During the civil war ethanol for lighting was displaced by kerosene, a much less efficient fuel, by an added tax on alcohol. In 1906 this tax was lifted and early automobiles ran on ethanol. Prohibition set in on alcohol still affecting the production of industrial ethanol today. Alcohol has been a political issue throughout its U.S. history.
Ethanol is proposed to replace MTBE as an oxygenator in motor fuel. Oxygenators are a band-aid cure for poor choice and design in combustion engines used for personal transportation. The blended fuels reduce the efficiency of current engines by almost 3%. Ethanol when burned produces aldehydes which require specialized catalytic converters not installed on most American autos. The argument for a cleaner burning fuel can be demonstrated, but not in the applications of today’s energy policies.
Who benefits from the ethanol and soy diesel subsidies? It is claimed that the farmers benefit. The farmers that may temporarily realize commodity price gains from energy programs are few and the benefits will be short lived. Programs costing state government much less such as the Missouri Department of Agriculture Sustainable Agriculture Demonstration Award grants, the Organic Certification Program, Women Infant and Children (WIC) and Senior Farmers’ Market Nutritional programs benefitted thousands of Missouri farmers and consumers.
Ethanol is subsidized by a reduced tax, but I am told that sustainable practices do not require subsidies. The more than five cents savings is to be passed on to consumers. What are the costs of the ethanol programs? The federal funding directed toward ethanol is presently around $3.8 billion with Missouri funding more than $8 million additional. Who actually benefits from the subsidies? The murderous confinement livestock giants reap additional profits due to cheap byproduct feedstuffs derived from starch ethanol and soy diesel production.
There are more than 20 studies on the efficiency of ethanol ranging from a .65 to a 1.38% efficiency. All are laden with assumptions and the ones touting a positive net energy gain are incorporating the heat from the solar fraction in growing the biomass. Can this component really be included in the heat balance and be realistic? It is an inefficient method of capturing and utilizing solar energy while mining an irreplaceable resource - our soil.
Ethanol and soy diesel production are pitting our energy policy on unpredictable weather, clean water resources, fossil inputs in herbicides and pesticides, unproven plant genetic engineering, and the very limited resource we are attempting to reduce - fossil energy. Urea production in the U.S. is declining, ammonium nitrate depends on natural gas price and availability, and both are now in global bidding competition with American farmers facing ever increasing input costs.
CAFTA will require that all sugar imported from the Carribean nations be converted to ethanol. Sugar ethanol production yields twice the energy that corn (starch) ethanol provides. Can Missouri’s farmers compete with imported sugar and will Missouri’s residents be faced with higher fuel prices than southern states that are utilizing imported sugar ethanol?
There are alternative ethanol and soy diesel programs that can help mitigate the environmental impacts of motor fuel, decrease farmer’s input costs, recycle soil nutrients, and increase the use of sustainable free-range livestock production. On farm production and use of bio-fuels make common sense. Independent, cooperative, or regional production of agricultural fuels and recycling the byproducts back to the soil can help Missouri’s farmers.
Ethanol atomized with diesel can increase the performance of conventional diesel engines, extend engine life, and reduce emissions. Ethanol is more suited to burning in high compression diesel engines than in conventional internal combustion engines. Utilizing soy diesel and ethanol in combination makes sense in agriculture. Sorghum produces more than twice the amount of ethanol per acre as corn and is less demanding on the soil, sugar beets more than six times the ethanol production per acre. Cellulosic ethanol reduces green house gases by as much as 85% compared to corn at 18-29%. Hemp restores soil properties while providing the best source of renewable oil as well as fiber byproducts that can be used for textiles, manufacturing, and paper.
A measure of efficiency is the ratio of the useful output to the total input in a system. A subsidy for confinement livestock feedstuffs, a mandate for Missourians to burn 10% ethanol, and a refusal to label ethanol fuels at the dispensing points so that consumers can make pragmatic choices are inefficient use of Missouri’s resources, funding that could benefit many more Missourians, and an interference in commerce.
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