Friday, April 20, 2007


Hey, you know about Ethanol? That gasoline fuel substitute that is made from corn and other processed veggies and plants? According to the auto industry it's the answer to all our problems. They're even making cars to run on both ethanol and standard gasoline.

Since they found building electric cars cost prohibitive or something (what was the reason for stopping their production?), the car companies have been pushing this ethanol as a cleaner burning, gasoline substitute that will ease our dependency on foreign oil. I won't bore you with the details (for once) so if you're interested you can go here to view the supposed benefits of ethanol.

We already use a ton of ethanol in our current gasoline mixture. About 10% ethanol, 90% gasoline. It's called E10. However, the industry wants to ramp up to E85 (85% ethanol, 15% gasoline) which would work with the 6 million Flexible Fuel Vehicles (FFVs) already on the road. Rock on, hippies!!!

But wait, says a study out of Stanford University!! Maybe they said 'Not so fast', 'Hold your horses', or 'Whoa, Nellie!!' (like Keith Jackson). However they said it, they have some results to back up their caution. Mark Jacobson ran a computerized study that simulated the air quality in the year 2020 on the assumption more and more vehicles will be running on E85. Results? Um, yeah, not so rosy.

I will allow Mr. Jacobson to explain: "In our study, E85 increased ozone-related mortalities in the United States by about 200 deaths per year compared to gasoline, with about 120 of those deaths occurring in Los Angeles," Jacobson said. "These mortality rates represent an increase of about 4 percent in the U.S. and 9 percent in Los Angeles above the projected ozone-related death rates for gasoline-fueled vehicles in 2020."

Turns out while gasoline produces increases in benzene and butadiene, two carcinogens we've been breathing since....well...since birth, I guess....ethanol raises formaldehyde and acetaldehyde which increase ozone, which in turn increases smog. I hate smog. Didn't we just clean up L.A.?

Smog and it's chemical byproducts cause about 800,000 deaths a year (according to the World Health Org). I'm no expert, but that seems like a lot of dead people for what is supposed to be a clean burning fuel. So what gives?

Jacobson again: 'we found that using E85 will cause at least as much health damage as gasoline, which already causes about 10,000 U.S. premature deaths annually from ozone and particulate matter. The question is, if we're not getting any health benefits, then why continue to promote ethanol and other biofuels?'

Why indeed, Mr, Jacobson? Again, I know little of this, but I bet there are billions of dollars involved. Some half assed research revealed the following:

April 18, 2006: $84 million invested into Pacific Ethanol by group headed by Bill Gates.

March 9, 2007: CMGI invests a cool $7 mil into Earthanol, a stupidly named company that's trying to create ethanol out of animal waste. Can't wait to smell fuel stations if that ever works.

Or how about a pact between Japan and Brazil to produce ethanol from alternative means that could be worth $8 Billion? With a capital 'B'!!

It seems, like most everything in industry, money is the root of all evil. Well, you can include good and indifferent to that as well. Money is the root of everything in business. So you can be sure this study will be pushed aside, debunked, even mocked. Keep in mind there is something equally valuable on the line: Reputations.

Jacobson once more: 'There are alternatives, such as battery-electric, plug-in-hybrid and hydrogen-fuel cell vehicles, whose energy can be derived from wind or solar power. These vehicles produce virtually no toxic emissions or greenhouse gases and cause very little disruption to the land—unlike ethanol made from corn or switchgrass, which will require millions of acres of farmland to mass-produce. It would seem prudent, therefore, to address climate, health and energy with technologies that have known benefits.'

Anyone listening?

Today's distraction: Solve a global warming word find puzzle. Love these things! And you can rescramble it if you want to try it again.


Anonymous said...

The American Lung Association of Upper Midwest strongly disagrees with the Stanford computer model study on E85 emissions. We test emissions using real fuel and real vehicles, our outcomes are different than Prof. J's.

See more on E85 at:

BeachBum said...

Of course you do. However, if there is any doubt at all, why not invest more into alternative fuels that we KNOW produce little to no emissions?

Do you disagree that ethanol raises formaldehyde and acetaldehyde levels? Seems to me that should be proven rather easily one way or the other.

Anonymous said...

"However, if there is any doubt at all, why not invest more into alternative fuels that we KNOW produce little to no emissions?"

We can't afford to wait for the "perfect" alternative fuel to get on on the market, even if one exists.

Here's what we know about E85:

1) It's cleaner-burning than gasoline. We are certain on this point.
2) There are 6 million vehicles on the road right now that can use E85, with more on the way.
3) Many drivers will choose E85 over gas when the price is right and it is convienent.

We are not pitching E85 as "the answer," nor suggesting that all vehicles use it. However, if you have an FFV, and the pump is next door, and the price is 40 cents less, why not choose a clean air fuel?

We have proven this works in Minnesota (310 stations, more than 18 million gallons sold last year), it can work in other states, too. Just one of many solutions -- any step that takes us away from fossil fuels is NOT wasted effort or money, in our opinion.

Bob Moffitt
Communications Director
ALAUM Clean Fuels Program

BeachBum said...

Bob, while I agree that any step away from fossil fuel is not wasted money, I question whether so much money being pumped into one major alternative fuel source can twist perceptions.

If someone does discover that ethanol isn't as clean and efficient as everyone currently believes, do you really think major corporations that have sunk hundreds of millions of dollars into this or the agricultural industry (D.C. Lobby Alert!) who sees this as an unprecendented business opportunity will just shrug and figure something else out?

It seems to me that there are just as many other alternative energy source (my favorite being the sun when I see it on that rare occasion) that putting most of our chips on ethanol is a sucker's bet.

You and your group may not be pushing this as 'the answer' because it's being done for you. All you hear about ethanol is what a great alternative it is to gasoline. Well what if it's not so great, as this study suggests. What if it's just emitting different chemicals, not necessarily better. Seems to me E85 is new enough that these are legitimate questions.

Anonymous said...

E85 isn't new to us, BB. We have been using it regularly for more than a decade.

If we found out E85 is worse for the lungs and air than gasoline, as this study suggests, we would join the opposition. That's highly unlikely, as more people are looking at the Stanford study and scratching their heads...

We may not be a big DC lobby, but we are not without influence. Look at smoking rates and smoking bans across the county. We recently joined a lawsuit of the EPA to make them crack down on major polluters -- and won in the Supreme Court.

The name and reputation of the ALA is not for sale. If our science agrees with some industry supporters, all fine and good. If not, we won't be partners for long.

Nice chatting with you!


BeachBum said...

Appreciate the input.

Now if you wouldn't mind giving us your take on Jessica Alba......