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American Ethanol

Most of the time it takes a lot to get me really worked up about something, but for some reason when I get told that you can only make ethanol from corn and that using ethanol for fuel drives up food prices I want to blow a gasket.  What makes it worse is that a lot of people really believe both these ethanol myths and have very strong opinions based on these "facts".  The truth is that while ethanol is hardly the complete solution to energy independance in the United States, it sure does have a roll.  There are so many misconceptions about ethanol that I don't know where to start in debunking process.  Fortunately, my friends over at American Coalition For Ethanol have made available a wealth of information about ethanol.  The site is worth visiting.  I sure hope they don't mind me using their stuff!  The bottom line is that as motorists, we should be pushing for ethanol - not working against it - as a key part of an overall strategy to achieve energy independance.

Here's a quick summary of some real facts on ethanol:

Is it true that ethanol is driving up prices at the grocery store?

 No - the role of corn and ethanol in grocery prices has been grossly exaggerated by critics who have much to gain in keeping ethanol's potential limited. Corn prices, made higher lately in part due to ethanol demand, do have some impact on foods in which corn is an ingredient - namely meat, dairy, and poultry. Energy prices have a much more dramatic impact on food prices because all foods are dependent upon this expensive energy for processing, packaging, and transportation. Research shows that energy prices have at least twice the impact as corn prices in the grocery aisle.

What does "net energy balance" mean? What is ethanol's energy balance?

 Net energy balance is a term used to describe how much energy is needed to produce a product versus how much energy that product provides. Two professors that are long-time critics of ethanol claim that ethanol has a negative energy balance, but this is simply not true and has been debunked again and again by science. Scientific study after study has proven ethanol's energy balance to be positive. The latest USDA figures show that ethanol made from the drymill process provides at least 77% more energy as a fuel than the process it takes to make it. The bottom line is that it takes about 35,000 BTUs (British Thermal Units) of energy to create a gallon of ethanol, and that gallon of ethanol contains at least 77,000 BTUs of energy. The net energy balance of ethanol is simply a non-issue.

What impact does ethanol have on gasoline prices?
Ethanol adds to the overall supply of motor fuel in the U.S. and helps keep pump prices competitive and affordable. The blender's tax credit is usually passed down to consumers in the form of more competitive prices at the pump. An Iowa State University study shows that ethanol has saved American motorists up to 40 cents per gallon at the pump over the last several years.

What about ethanol's impact on fuel economy?

There is virtually no difference in fuel economy between unleaded gasoline and E10, the 10% blend most commonly available to motorists. Research shows that, on average, the difference is only 1.5% - a negligible amount, much less than the impact of wind speed, stop-and-go driving, and tire pressure.

E85 (85% ethanol 15% gasoline fuel) does typically generate slightly lower fuel economy than E10 or unleaded, but this loss is made up for in the fuel's high performance and high octane rating (at least 105 octane), cooler burn and longer engine life for the vehicle, and more economical price at the pump.

Please check out the website for more information.

Reviewed - August 24, 2014

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