Preparing to shoot a few segments of Big Jon in 5 for BEER2WHISKEY in our upstairs studio at Barley's Taproom in downtown Greenville. That's owner Josh Beebe preparing for his closeup.

Monday, June 27, 2011

E85: Corn Ethanol by Any Other Name...

Gas prices are falling.

Can I hear an Amen?

In my neck of the woods, the price of a gallon of regular dropped to $3.15 over the weekend. That's from a high a few weeks ago of $3.83 at the same station.

I realize South Carolina has it better than many other areas when it comes to filling your tank, but I suspect every area is enjoying a similar drop in price.

I pass a gas station everyday that actually pumps E85. That's the slop that is roughly 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline. No clue who buys it, but they are selling it for $2.91 a gallon.

I suspect that people who don't know any better are actually convinced they are saving money buying E85 rather than gasoline.

They would be wrong.

Corn ethanol only provides about 66% of the energy of gasoline, so a gallon of E85 has about 72% of the energy of a gallon of gasoline.

To make it simple for us social studies majors, if you figure your car gets 30 mpg from a gallon of gas, that means it will get less than 22 mpg from a gallon of E85, or about 27% fewer miles per gallon.

You would have to buy roughly 1.27 gallons of E85 to travel those 30 miles delivered by a gallon of gas.

Let's see, $2.91 X 1.27 = $3.70. So glad this didn't involve long division.

That makes corn ethanol considerably more expensive for you, the consumer, than gas right now.

Even when gas was at $3.83 a gallon in good old Greenville, SC, today's E85 price is just marginally better.

And to be able to charge that bargain-basement rate of $2.91 per gallon for E85, we lucky taxpayers forked over $2 in direct subsidies for every gallon of corn ethanol produced, according to a 2010 Congressional Budget Office (CBO) study; otherwise the price of E85 at my local purveyor would be nearly $5 a gallon.

You don't need to be a calculus major to see that E85 really costs about 50% more and delivers about 27% less energy than gasoline.

Hey, but it's clean, right?

Yeah, not so much.

Even the EPA admits corn ethanol burns dirtier than gasoline to the tune of between 4% and 7% for NOX and VOC -- the two worst pollutants of air quality.

Depending on whose numbers you accept, from 25% to 40% of the annual U.S. corn crop is now being diverted into ethanol production. No matter how you fudge the books, at least 25% of our annual corn crop is going into the ethanol scam.

That's corn unavailable for bread, corn syrup, breakfast cereal, cattle feed and (gasp) bourbon, among a bazillion other things.

If you've shopped in your nearby Piggly Wiggly or Publix, you are aware food prices are skyrocketing. Now you know one of the reasons why.

Just think of it as a transfer of wealth from your wallet to those good people along the corn-ethanol-production chain.

A bit of corporate welfare, if you will.

It's not all bad news, however.

The U.S. Senate recently voted to end all corn-ethanol subsidies. This doesn't mean much because it was an amendment tacked onto some bill that wasn't going to pass anyway; but it still signals a willingness, for the first time, to end these nonsensical taxpayer-funded subsidies for an energy source that requires nearly more energy to grow, manufacture and transport than it provides when consumed.

Man, I hate corn ethanol and, consequently, I hate E85.

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