The often hidden costs of plowing the fields, sowing, fertilizing, irrigating, harvesting, drying, storing, transporting, converting, and distributing the fuel clearly shows “no energy gain at all but rather a loss.” – Dr. Klaus L.E. Kaiser
The Biofuel Curse
Bio-Ethanol, Bio-Diesel, Biofuel mandate is more of a curse than a blessing
By Dr. Klaus L.E. Kaiser
Tuesday, July 8, 2014
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), President Obama, and his administration think that alternative energy sources (like wind and solar power) and biofuels in particular are the salvation from “climate change,” previously called “global warming.”
They view “carbon pollution” (a misnomer, as they actually mean carbon dioxide, CO2) as the root cause of the current economic and environmental malaise in general. That’s why they blessed the nation with the “Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).”
I think the opposite is true; neither CO2 nor the “carbon footprint” is the cause of today’s many problems. In fact, the world today would be much better off if that (scientifically proven) nonsense had never become a political football.
If anything, the world today is not suffering from excessive “carbon footprints” but from excessive “carbon think” by politicians in cahoots with all kinds of NGO (non-governmental organization) “experts.” The “grow-your-fuel” idea is just one of those NGO-driven and politician-embraced problems that do more harm than good. Let’s look at biofuels more closely.
The push to have a large proportion of corn converted to bio-ethanol for admixture into the nation’s gasoline supplies came from then Vice-President Al Gore as a means to garner votes in his home state of Tennessee. Then termed “global warming” was perceived as the number one threat to mankind’s survival and prosperity on the planet.
Agitators like Maurice Strong, Al Gore, David Suzuki and others promoted the idea of CO2 as a “global evil” that would cause runaway global warming, the starvation of millions of people and, ultimately, the wholesale destruction of life on earth. Thus was born the idea of growing fuel.
The farmers in the corn-growing areas were very receptive to that idea as they could foresee rising demand for their product, supported by the biofuel mandate and government handouts. Since its inception in 2005 this mandate has been expanded at least twice, from an initial 5% ethanol in gasoline to the current 15% (with seasonal and geographical variations) on average. That represents a lot of corn; in fact somewhere in the order of one third of what is grown in the U.S.
But the biofuel mandate goes further than just ethanol in gasoline. Even the U.S. military was compelled to use biofuels for the powering of ships and airplanes. Those types of biofuels come from oil plants like canola that were previously also grown strictly for human consumption. Of course, the canola farmers on the continent were equally receptive to such ideas.
Bio-diesel and bio-jet fuel can certainly be made from plant-derived oils. Chemically, such oils differ from normal diesel or jet fuel by having some oxygen atoms in their structure, but are comparable in many physical properties. However, the cost of growing and refining such oils for use in jets is prohibitive at ten to twenty times the cost of traditional fuel made from fossil oil. So why does the mandate persist? Does it prevent “climate change” or preserve the natural environment?
Are Bio-Fuels Good?
Whether you believe CO2 to be a “greenhouse gas” or not (it certainly is not) is entirely irrelevant in this context. The question here is only if growing (bio)-fuels and manipulating them to be used for powering various engines will reduce the CO2 output relative to the use of fossil resources. The unequivocal answer to that question is NO.
Every study performed that includes the often hidden costs of plowing the fields, sowing, fertilizing, irrigating, harvesting, drying, storing, transporting, converting, and distributing the fuel shows clearly that there is no energy gain at all but rather a loss. That energy loss automatically translates into a higher “carbon footprint” than otherwise necessary.
Good for nature?
Perhaps you think that pressing the (nearly) last piece of marginal land into agricultural production will enhance the local wildlife like the Monarch butterflies or protect the polar bears in the Arctic or be good for the penguins in the Antarctic.
Unfortunately, none of these is the case. The Monarch butterflies are close to being wiped out by conversion of marginal land which is the prime habitat for the milkweed plant (the preferred food for their caterpillars) and both the bears and penguins don’t give a hoot; they live off the other species in the oceans.
Good for the economy?
If you are a consumer of fuel like gasoline or diesel the biofuel mandate is certainly a part of increased fuel costs in recent years. Those increased costs come out of your pocket and largely go to the governments and biofuel producers by way of direct and indirect transfers. Of course and despite all protestations to the contrary nearly all levels of government are quite happy to see higher fuel prices as such automatically raise the revenue from cost-based taxes. Any claim to the contrary is a bold-faced lie.
Good for your mileage?
If your engine needs to deliver energy output at a certain level, the ethanol biofuel mandate is actually diminishing the available energy output from the ethanol-type fuel. The reason is easy to understand: both bio-ethanol and bio-diesel are, energetically speaking, already partly combusted hydrocarbons. Therefore, they cannot possibly deliver the same amount of energy as “un-combusted” fuel. Your fuel consumption will increase to compensate for that. Even if that were not a critical issue, ethanol in fuel can cause other problems in your vehicle.
Good for your vehicle? Anything but. In fact most car manufacturers have clearly stated that using gasoline with more than 10 or 15% ethanol will void any and all warranties. Even small amounts of water, for example from the air humidity can lead to phase separation, particularly so for two-cycle engines and in colder weather. Apart from that, ethanol is an excellent solvent that can dissolve many different materials that are fully resistant to pure gasoline.
Very simply, it is bad for your engine.
Good for business?
A considerable part of the bio-ethanol and other biofuel consumed in the U.S. is either imported directly from Brazil or produced in the U.S. from sugar imported from Brazil. For example, at least one U.S. company produces fuels from sugar. Without various government subsidies and mandates in support of such “green” enterprises, none of these alternative energy suppliers would have ever come about at all and most depend on the continuation of these incentive programs.
In reality, the cost for all that green comes right out of taxpayers’ wallets. Too many of such enterprises have gone bust soon after they received their last government “pay check.”
Good for farming?
While many farmers welcomed the original ethanol mandate as it supported demand for their products, new findings show an unexpected flip side: Some weeds are becoming resistant to herbicides, such as glyphosate, that are widely used to increase corn yields, For example, the magazine Nature reports that in the U.S. alone some 60 million acres of farmland are infested with glyphosate-resistant weeds.
Indirectly, the biofuel mandate is also to blame for the increased resistance to glyphosate and other herbicides because it spurred reduced crop rotation. All in the name of “saving the climate” from a non-existent “greenhouse gas” effect by the 0.04% CO2 in the earth’s atmosphere.
The EPA is now seeking comments and direction from users on how to cope with the problem they have helped to create in the first place. Their assessment and new regulations to be forthcoming will likely introduce substantial new requirements on corn and soybean farming that will entail additional costs for the farmers in several ways. I think the time may not be far off when even farmers will come to realize that the biofuel mandate is more of a curse than a blessing.
Dr. Kaiser can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org