Any thorough analysis of ethanol you can read arrives at the same conclusion; it is not good for cars, not good for the atmosphere, and not good for the price/availability of food. Yet I am pessimistic that any helpful change will be made by our government. The farm lobbies are very strong and the Iowa primary will support the government subsidies. All candidates that hope to do well in the Iowa primary must go public with an “Ethanol is next to Godliness” pronouncement.
There is a glimmer of hope though in that the German people are seeing the light now and that Europe may follow. Perhaps our leaders will become more aware of ethanol’s impact.
Below is a post by Peter Gossilin, a German scientist and blogger I read most every day, about the subject that I found interesting. He does not cover the problems of shipping ethanol.
Problems with pipelines
Pipelines are by far the most efficient and cheapest way to move large amounts of liquid, costing only about a third of transport by rail or barge. According to the Association of Oil Pipe Lines, there are 95,000 miles of pipelines in the United States for transporting refined petroleum products — by far the most extensive such network in the world. About 70 percent of petroleum in the United States is moved through pipelines.
But piping ethanol poses problems. A typical pipeline carries a number of different kinds of petroleum products. A pipeline might ship several thousand gallons of high-octane gasoline, followed by a similar amount of lower octane gasoline, followed by a shipment of diesel fuel.
With nothing between the shipments to keep them apart, portions of each mix with the shipment ahead and behind. When the product reaches its destination, the mixed high- and lowoctane gasoline can be sold as part of the lower-grade shipment, but the mixed diesel and gasoline must be set aside and re-refined into the discrete products.
Unfortunately, shipping petroleum products leaves deposits in the pipes — deposits that ethanol — with its higher solvent properties — can dissolve, contaminating the shipment. Water can also get into pipelines. Petroleum products don’t mix with it; but ethanol is hydroscopic: it blends with water. As a result, with ethanol, instead of re-refining only a small part of the shipment, it may be necessary to re-refine all of it — or even discard some as hazardous waste.
Shipping ethanol in an E-10 blend with gasoline might seem a solution. However, water in the line can actually “strip out” the ethanol, again making it necessary to re-refine the entire shipment. Ethanol is also said to cause corrosion in pipelines, a problem that is still being studied.
Even if these factors are overcome, there’s still another, more basic problem: most existing pipelines simply don’t run in the right directions.
The media today in Germany are filled with the news of the ethanol debacle.
The government has mandated that super grade gasoline be sold with a minimum content of 10% ethanol in Germany, so-called E10 gasoline. But as always, when the wishes of the government clash with the wishes of the markets and citizens, then you get chaos. That’s the case today in Germany.
Never mind that burning ethanol is an environmental debacle that leads to the destruction of forests and food shortages that lead to higher prices and more hunger worldwide, but it also burns less efficiently and causes damage to many cars. It is yet another well-intentioned program that is making things only worse. Nobody in Germany wants the stuff – neither the drivers nor the environmentalists.
WDR public TV has a report here (in German), which interviews an expert from the environmental group Bundesumwelt- und Naturschutz, Werner Reh, who calls the whole program “stupidity”:
Laws are passed where ethanol percentage requirements are mandated without even knowing where the quantities are going to come from. They have to be certified. A 35% reduction of CO2 has to be shown. Yet the indirect impacts on landuse are not even included in the calculation, and if you do that, then the entire CO2 reduction is wiped out completely.”
But German consumers are not avoiding ethanol for those reasons. Many are simply afraid that the 10% ethanol content will damage their auto engines. So what is the result? They aren’t buying the fuel blend and are opting for the more expensive super premium gasoline instead, paying about €0.40 (about 60 cents) per US gallon more.
Petrol stations aren’t selling the unwanted ethanol blended fuel. So with unsold E10 gasoline piling up, refineries will soon find themselves scaling back production and will incur additional costs, which eventually the consumer will have to bear.
Gas stations that are still offering the fuel will continue to do so. But the rest are refusing to order it. Holger Krawinkel, energy expert of the Federal Association of Consumer Centres (that’s the best translation I can come up with) offers a brilliant observation, read here:
With biofuels, the costs of CO2 savings are very high.”
Unfortunately that’s the case with almost all renewable energy forms, and not just with biofuels. And we should again ask ourselves what are these high costs for?
A couple of tenths of a degree less warming over 100 years.