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When Trying To Be Objective About Ethanol, Don't Include Lies To Balance The Argument

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Bovine manure can tip the scales

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Marc Rauch
By Marc J. Rauch
Exec. Vice President/Co-Publisher

In the past few hours, I encountered two different objective stories concerning ethanol fuel. Oops, let me correct that; I encountered two different "objective" stories concerning ethanol fuel (the inclusion of the quotation marks around the word objective is most critical).

One story was "The Pros and Cons of Ethanol Fuel" written by Larry West, and published on the ThoughtCo website.

The other story was "What is Ethanol Fuel," written by Rinkesh Kukreja, and published on the Conserve Energy Future website. Mr. Kukreja presented "advantages" and "disavantages" of ethanol fuel.

Both stories...both authors...both websites seem to be taking a neutral position on ethanol. On the face of it, it seems like they are merely intending to present both sides of the story, to be fair and balanced. But there's a problem with this intention, if I'm correct in my assessment of their intentions. There isn't always a valid alternative or 'other' point of view. You can't always do a "pros and cons" comparison in presenting an objective story. Just presenting (alleged) facts in support or opposition to an issue can be sufficient. But inventing false information, or implying that contrary facts exist (without stating that these are baseless facts) in order to give the impression that a balanced argument is being waged, is unfair and inequitable.

To Rinesh Kukreja I responded:

    "I presume you tried to make this an objective article, but when publishing an objective story you shouldn't include fictitious pro or con claims just to give it an air of objectivity. If there are no legitimate negatives (or no legitimate positives) just present the factual information - that in itself is objective.

    "For example, your first of five disadvantages is that "ethanol requires large piece of land." As it happens, less land is used today to grow more corn than ever before, and more ethanol is made from that corn than ever before (not to mention that more animal feed is derived from the very same corn). But that aside, the land issue is irrelevant because arid vacant land could be used to grow agave and buffalo gourds, and both of these can provide higher per acre/per annual ethanol yields than corn and sorghum - they also provide higher ethanol yields than sugar cane! Additionally, seaweed/kelp could be used to make ethanol, and seaweed/kelp can provide about 100 times more ethanol per acre, per year than corn. Needless to say, seaweed/kelp requires no land to grow.

    "The reason that corn is the primary crop for ethanol in the United States is that we happen to have the available land, experienced farmers who know how to grow corn, and the right climate to grow it. Growing corn for ethanol doesn't displace any other necessary crop, and the corn that is used for ethanol production doesn't deprive anyone from getting their fair share of corn chips, corn flakes, popcorn, or corn-on-the-cob (at a fair price).

    "Therefore, Rinkesh, as you can see, the "disadvantage" of requiring a large piece of land is just a canard. It's a talking point that holds no water... and I'm using this water analogy for a specific reason, as you will see.

    "Your third disadvantage is "water attraction." Frankly, you present several claims about ethanol and water that are simply ridiculous. You write that "Pure ethanol has high affinity for water, and it’s able to absorb any trace around it or from the atmosphere." This is not just completely incorrect, it's impossible. Ethanol has a very specific finite ability to absorb water. To say that it can absorb "any trace" of water around it or from the atmosphere makes it sound as if a gallon of ethanol could absorb 10 gallons or more of if it would suck everything dry.

    "One gallon of ethanol is capable of absorbing 4 teaspoons of water (4 teaspoons of a liquid is equal to 2/3 of an ounce). A gallon of ethanol contains 128 ounces. So that means that a gallon of ethanol can absorb about 1/2 of 1% of a gallon of water - that's hardly "any trace" of water it comes in contact with or from the atmosphere. Granted, ethanol does absorb more water than gasoline (yes, gasoline is also a hygroscopic substance), but this is a benefit, not a disadvantage. Water, when present in a fuel tank, usually forms because of natural condensation. Ethanol gets rid of that water, which is why products like Dry Gas were used to remove water in a fuel system in the days before the widespread use of ethanol-gasoline blends.

    "Moreover, ethanol does not suck water out of the air. You mention that the water absorption issue is of particular interest to boaters. It may interest you to know that Mercury Marine, the world's largest manufacturer of marine engines, states emphatically that ethanol has NO ability to grab water molecules out of the air. (You can see and hear the Mercury Marine Ethanol Webinar by CLICKING HERE.

    "I know that I have only hit on two of the five "disadvantages" that you enumerate, but I assure you that the other three are equally off base."

To Larry West's pros and cons, I wrote:

    "Let me begin by saying that any article that relies on David Pimentel as an authoritative resource immediately invalidates the article. Pimentel's reports, both solo and combined with Tad Patzek were completely discredited as soon as they were published, including rebuke from Patzek's own employing institution, University of California at Berkeley. The reports, by the way, were funded by the oil industry. The studies include erroneous and outdated data. To read more about this CLICK HERE, and scroll down to the section "EROEI" (energy returned on energy invested).

    "The rest of the negative comments concerning ethanol are also outright lies or gross exaggerations. For example, there is the sentence that reads "...biofuels aren't meant for all vehicles, especially older vehicles." This is lie combined with incorrect information. You see, for more than six decades, ethanol-gasoline blends were widely available in the UK, sold as "power alcohol." It was sold by the largest oil companies, Standard Oil, Esso (now called Exxon), and Cities Service. The blend was marketed as being safer, cleaner, more powerful, and less expensive. Concurrently, ethanol-gasoline blends were widely available in France, Italy, Spain, Germany, and Sweden. This means that all the great older vehicles such as Rolls Royce, Bentley, Aston Martin, Jaguar, Austin Healey, Triumph, MG, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Audi, SEAT, Fiat, Renault, Citreon, Volkswagen, Volvo, and Saab were able to (and expected to) run on ethanol-gasoline blends. This fact is widely unknown. You can read all about this, and see advertisements from those days in my article titled "The Hypocrisy of Big Oil." This can be found by CLICKING HERE.

    "In addition, Brazil has mandated the use of E15 and higher blends since 1978. The vehicles in Brazil are all virtually the same as those available in the U.S., Canada, Europe, and Asia. A 1980 Chevy Camaro in Brazil was the same vehicle as a 1980 Chevy Camaro in Brooklyn or Santa Monica. If it could run safely and efficiently on E15 on the streets of Sao Paulo, it could run safely and efficiently on Kings Highway in Brooklyn and Lincoln Road in Santa Monica.

    "The article also takes issue with the land needed to grow corn for ethanol, and brings up the waste of time argument about fuel vs. food. This is a completely invented problem. In the U.S. there is no shortage of corn-based food products, i.e., corn chips, canned corn, popcorn, corn flakes cereal, corn on the cob, corn oil, and corn syrup. There is as much corn for human consumption as ever (same percentage to the overall total - about 40%). The majority of corn grown is not for human consumption, and the corn used for ethanol is not discarded, the remnants are used as high-quality animal feed. The animals that the dry distillers grains (DDGS) are feed to are then used as human food. Therefore, it's not a fantasy of "food or fuel," it's the reality of "more food and more fuel."

    "The article above mentions a few negatives about growing corn related to land use and fertilizers. Often included as a problem is the amount of water required (although this article doesn't mention water use). Today, American farmers grow far, far more corn than ever before; and they do it using less land, less fertilizers, and less water than ever before. This can all be seen at the following resources:

    Land use -

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    Fertilizer use -


    "The reason for the increase in crop yields is due to hard work and great innovations in the agricultural industry. These innovations are used, or available to be used, anywhere.

    "In regard to water use, most corn grown in the U.S. (more than 85%) is not irrigated and of the top thirteen states who do irrigate, only Nebraska is known to grow corn. In other words, none of the corn belt is in the top 13 states who irrigate.

    "Interestingly, the U.S. used more irrigation water in 1980, before ethanol fuels were widely used than after, even with record ethanol production. Ethanol does not, or did not, cause more water use. See chart:

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    "So, if irrigation (and the diversion of water resources) is not used to grow all this corn, where does the water come from? It comes from rain."

Now, in the interest of fairness, and so that no one thinks I am being overly critical of the negative claims made against ethanol, let me say that I also found two of ethanol's "advantages" enumerated by Rinesh Kukreja to be incorrect. The first is the claim that ethanol minimizes dependence on fossil fuels. This is incorrect; it is totally and completely incorrect. Ethanol does not and has never minimized dependence on fossil fuels, and it probably never will. The reason I make this statement is that there is no such thing as "fossil fuels." Crude oil, coal, natural gas do not come from decaying organic matter - animal life and plant life. Fossil fuels is a misnomer invented to portray petroleum oil fuels as something honorable and historic. The proper description is "abiotic fuels," and they come from minerals.

(Here's some more information about the invention of the term "fossil fuels:" from Col. Fletcher Prouty. He spent 9 of his 23 year military career in the Pentagon (1955-1964): 2 years with the Secretary of Defense, 2 years with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and 5 years with Headquarters, U.S. Air Force. In 1955 he was appointed the first "Focal Point" officer between the CIA and the Air Force for Clandestine Operations per National Security Council Directive 5412. He was Briefing Officer for the Secretary of Defense (1960-1961), and for the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.)

It is correct to say that ethanol minimizes (and can replace) abiotic fuels.

The second "advantage" is Kukreja's claim that ethanol fuel is a source of hydrogen, which should uplift it as a formidable alternative source of fuel. This is a false statement. I'm not disputing that ethanol is a source of hydrogen, I argue with the notion that ethanol needs hydrogen to be a formidable source of fuel. Ethanol is a formidable fuel in its own right, and it has been so for hundreds of years. It is superior to gasoline, diesel, and kerosene; and it can be used to generate electricity. The extensive use of ethanol fuels for vehicles in Europe for more than half a century, and then the use of ethanol fuels in Brazil for roughly the same number or years proves this. And Brazil's use of ethanol to power electricity generators confirms its economy and efficiency to create electricity (there is no dispute that ethanol is much cleaner than coal).

In conclusion, I'm all for objectivity, but I'm really, really a stickler for the truth.

• NOTE: Special thanks to Dana Fletcher for data contained in my replies