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Fill Up on Corn if You Can

Alexei Barrionuevo, NY Times
…To assess just how efforts to help E-85 catch on were going, a New York Times reporter, accompanied part of the time by a photographer, drove through the region where its popularity is greatest. They found that despite all the good will toward ethanol, success is far from assured.

The fuel does have plenty of powerful supporters. General Motors used the Super Bowl this year to kick off its “Live Green, Go Yellow” campaign to encourage Americans to buy vehicles that can run on either E-85 or conventional gasoline. Ford Motor and VeraSun Energy, the second-largest ethanol producer after Archer Daniels Midland, christened 300 miles of highway from Chicago to St. Louis the “Midwest Ethanol Corridor” in a marketing campaign that began in June.

But it also has plenty of drawbacks. Most oil companies want nothing to do with E-85, which they see as a money-losing alternative to their own petroleum-based products. Without help from the oil industry or a lot more flexible-fuel cars on the road, gasoline retailers are hesitant to install the expensive pumps, which can cost up to $200,000 with a new underground storage tank.

“There is no way E-85 can survive on its own without massive government subsidies at the state and federal levels,’’ said Lawrence J. Goldstein, president of the Petroleum Industry Research Foundation, an energy consultancy in New York.

Many drivers whose vehicles can run on ethanol will not buy E-85 unless it is markedly cheaper than regular gasoline, which has not always been the case. Part of the reason is basic economics: E-85 delivers only three-quarters as much energy per gallon as gasoline, meaning drivers will have to fill up their tanks more often if they choose to use the fuel.
(31 Aug 2006)

NASA joins Brazilian biofuel effort

Reueters via MSNBC
Space agency and Boeing team up with Tecbio to develop biokerosene
SAO PAULO, Brazil – Brazilian biofuel company Tecbio has linked up with NASA and the Boeing Co. to develop a biokerosene aviation fuel, Tecbio President Expedito Parente told a seminar on Monday.

The alternative vegetable-oil-based fuel to power airplanes was invented by Tecbio in 1980 and flight-tested in Brazil in 1984 before being abandoned. It attracted fresh interest after oil prices rose to record levels this year.
(28 Aug 2006)

The Energy Balance of Ethanol versus Gasoline

Robert Rapier, The Oil Drum
Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.

I am trying to spend more time writing on topics other than ethanol. But I get a lot of e-mails on that subject, and often have 3 or 4 mini-debates going on at a time via e-mail. I just finished a debate involving a government official and some big names over the energy balance of gasoline versus ethanol. There still seems to be a lot of confusion surrounding this issue, so I asked for permission to publish the exchanges. I was reluctantly given permission, provided I deleted the personal information from the government official (name and government agency). The exchange involved myself, a government official that I will refer to as “Tom”, Michael Wang from Argonne, and Vinod Khosla.

It all started when I got an e-mail from Tom. It wasn’t clear to me which specific essay he had read that prompted his e-mail, but he wrote:

Mr. Rapier,

If your assessment of the ethanol fuel cycle energy balance (and its comparison with the petroleum fuel cycle energy balance) is right, then not only is Vinod Khosla wrong, but many others of us in the energy community — including the U.S. Department of Energy and Argonne National Laboratory (see attached summary) must also be wrong.

…This exchange may help explain why I haven’t been posting as much lately, which some have asked about. These things take up a bit of my time every day, so I decided to kill two birds with one stone and make a post out of this debate. Let this also serve as a warning to those who want to bang heads with me. 🙂 If you want to win a debate with me, make sure you are arguing from a factual position. (27 Aug 2006)