I like ethanol, for drinking that is. For an automotive fuel, fermented and distilled from corn or the like, its damn near useless. Oh sure, when the price difference between E-85 and regular gasoline is large enough, I've used it in the past, but that's a stunning example of selling out principled objections for saving $15 or so. I know there are many decent articles already floating around explaining the math, but here's fast simple explanation:
1. Ethanol cannot compete economically
or environmentally with gasoline, especially as straight ethanol has 34% less energy
than gasoline. Sure, you can blend straight ethanol to make E-85, but if you do, you need to extract
all of the water from the azeotropic
ethanol, which is an energy intensive pain. Even then, if gasoline costs, say, $4.00 a gallon, E-85 needs to cost, without subsidy
, ~$3.04 to break even. . More than likely, corn ethanol production is limited in the long term by inevitable price increases in phosphorus
, etc. Oh, the other problem
is that trucks and jet engines won't run on alcohol.
2. The focus on ethanol detracts money, time, and public knowledge away from better alternative energy sources. My personal favorites are oil from algae and butanol
, though there are lots of other candidates. If I had to steer U.S. energy policy, I'd eliminate every incentive for corn ethanol immediately, pump research funding into algae
, non-corn ethanol, and battery technology. On top of that, I'd build nuclear power plants as quickly as possible.