Friday, September 12, 2008

The real problem with ethanol...

Observe this graph.  Now listen to this outstanding, straightforward explanation* why corn-based ethanol is not the answer to our energy problem.

I'm not saying it isn't the answer to our farm income problem (short term), it's just not a faintly viable alternative to oil.

It's not oil price.  It's not government policy. It's not bad guys in the MidEast.

It's too much effort for too little reward. 

Oil is like nothing else in the world. We just don't appreciate how much good living is packed in every barrel.

*Actually the whole "Crash Course" is very well done.

[via oildrum]


Anonymous said...


I wonder if you have checked out this supposed expert on energy. Opinions on ethanol are like noses, everybody has one but they all aren't right. All the data I have seen on ethanol is that it has a better net energy that what he says. Maybe he just supports your thinking on ethanol.

John Phipps said...


The most generous I have seen is a 60% energy gain for corn ethanol. Or an ERoEI of 1.6

The usual figure is 30%.

Doesn't change the position on the curve much. Nor does it compare to oil at 300% or the good old days of 100:1

Do you have a source for a bigger return?

Another argument has been that the ERoEI doesn't matter if you use coal to fire the stills. That doesn't appear to help all that much because the transportation of ethanol is so dependent on petroleum. However, the coal scenario is the best solution to the energy input cost.

Coal has a few other issues, however.

Ol James said...

While Mr. Martenson makes no claim to be an economist he sure makes a presentation like one. After listening to his take on the ERoEI and looking at his sources and reading his bio I have just a few of conclusions. But anytime a person can better themselves Kudos to them.
1- Maybe he needs to get into the real world a bit more. (The Internet is a good source for information but, it can also make pigs fly.)
2-He must have a lot of stocks in petroleum.(A lot of links to petroleum and related sites.)
3- If he isn't a lobbyist for petroleum..maybe he should be. (I think he could sell water to whales.)

Anonymous said...

So, John, how about letting the market work? I am sure you believe in free markets(well, except for a little government help for your business). May I suggest that the only way to determine with certainty whether the ethanol industry is real or only a creature of Congress is to repeal the blending mandate, the tax credit, and the tariff on imported ethanol, and see if ethanol from corn can survive. Will you go for that? Norman Harned

John Phipps said...


Thanks for reading. I'm guessing you are new to JWorld so to find out where I stand on both ethanol policy and farm policy, click on the appropriate "label" in the right sidebar.

You'll find my opposition to ethanol subsidies under energy and ethanol, and my opposition to farm subsidies under policy and farm bill/program.