The Auto Channel
The Largest Independent Automotive Research Resource
The Largest Independent Automotive Research Resource
Official Website of the New Car Buyer

Faulty Outcomes From Faulty Environmental Reports


Making sense out of nonsense

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
Marc Rauch
By Marc J. Rauch
Exec. Vice President/Co-Publisher

Late last night (Monday, February 14th), I received an email from a friendly acquaintance in Australia, who I met when I was a featured speaker at the 2016 Australian Biofuel Association conference in Brisbane. My friend is chief executive of a very prestigious and well-known automotive organization, and we correspond occasionally regarding alternative fuels, especially ethanol. He has asked my help a few times in trying to help educate Australians on ethanol. The email last night was typical, he wrote:

    "A government official advised me that he was given a link that demonstrates that ethanol derived from corn products is bad for the atmosphere... Is this correct? Can you please shed some light on this rather urgently."

I was stumped, and when I replied, I told him so. I've not heard of any new attacks on ethanol, and so I assumed the government official was simply referring to one of the crackpot anti-ethanol reports that I and others have already sent to the waste bin. For example, in October, 2018, Popular Science magazine published a story titled "Ethanol Is Renewable, But That Doesn't Mean It's Good For Us." When I learned of this story in May, 2020, I wrote and published a response (yes, sometimes I don't find out about things for a while). Titled "Just Because It's in Popular Science Magazine That Doesn't Mean It's True," I believe my response ripped the Popular Science story to shreds since the writer and the magazine never replied and never followed up with another piece like it.

When I woke up this morning, I found several new emails that seem to explain what my Aussie friend was asking me about. One email was from my business partner, Bob Gordon, who delights in sending me these notifications with the words "HAVE FUN." Bob knows that I love tackling these challenges, and I really do. Another email was an alert from the good people at, and a third came from a contact at Renewable Fuels Association. The three emails were referring to a newish research article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, titled "Environmental Outcomes of the US Renewable Fuel Standard." The study is authored by several individuals from four universities. The lead author is Tyler J. Lark, Assistant Scientist at University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The conclusion of this study is apparently what the Australian government official was talking about: That ethanol derived from corn products is bad for the atmosphere.

I read the study (link provided above) and immediately thought of two old time vaudeville jokes:

    Man walks into Dr. Kronkheit's office and says: "Hey Doc, every time I do this (swings his arm), I get a pain in my shoulder."
    Dr. Kronkheit says: "So don't do that!"

    Next patient says to Dr. Kronkheit: "Doctor, every time I drink a cup of coffee I get a sharp pain in my eye."
    Dr. Kronkheit says: "So take the spoon out of the cup!"

In other words, let's pretend that the research article is correct, and ethanol made from corn is bad for the atmosphere, then the answer is "So don't use corn to make the ethanol fuel." But the answer isn't: "Don't use ethanol fuel."

In reality, the Tyler Lark research article is not correct; ethanol fuel helps to clean the atmosphere by replacing filthy, deadly petroleum oil fuels. And, growing corn for ethanol is no more harmful than growing corn for tortilla chips, popcorn, and corn-on-the-cob eating, and growing corn for tortilla chips, popcorn, and corn-on-the-cob eating is virtually the same as growing any other crop. Consequently, unless a research study is suggesting that humans stop eating all cultivated foods, singling out corn crops is one giant load of bovine manure.

The correct bottom line is that the worst things for our atmosphere are related to gasoline and diesel fuel, not ethanol grown from corn. If the goal is to have a cleaner atmosphere and environment, then we have to eliminate gasoline and diesel fuel. Burning ethanol fuel, and the process of making ethanol fuel from corn are significantly less polluting than the burning of petroleum oil fuels, along with all the additional aspects that are required to take crude oil from the ground and refine it into finished fuels. Among these additional aspects is the international defense of petroleum oil, which often results in wars. And nothing wrecks our environment more than a war. In times when no hot wars are being waged, there are still all the activities related to the production of war materiel and the preparedness for the next hot war. This includes everything from powering equipment used for training exercises to manufacturing the bullets, tanks, ships, and aircraft, and even the buttons and zippers on uniforms. This all relies on petroleum oil, and it all fouls the environment. On top of this, we have all the environmental disasters caused by accidents. Anti-ethanol studies that are intended to comparatively reveal the "true" effects of ethanol production (versus petroleum oil fuels) by including a wide range of these peripheral items and outdated factors and data never take into account all the peripheral items and data related to petroleum oil. The anti-ethanol studies make it seem as though retail gasoline and diesel fuel pumps get their fuel straight out of the ground, free from any other costs and issues.

If anyone needs proof to understand the difference in how much pollution is caused by petroleum oil fuels versus ethanol, watch this:

I was not impressed by the study authored by Tyler Lark and the others. Even if Tyler Lark was a FULL Scientist, instead of just an Assistant Scientist, I wouldn't be impressed by the study's findings because it is nothing more than a re-hashing of the same kind of junk information and deductions that David Pimentel and Tad Patzek used to wrongly denigrate ethanol two decades ago, and the same kind of junky anti-ethanol information that I countered in my response to the Popular Science article mentioned above.

We primarily use corn in America to make ethanol because we have a lot of farmers who are great at producing corn and because our climate generally favors growing corn rather than sugar cane (one alternative). If the growing of corn or other land-farmed crops is problematic, then we should use the vast amounts of freely growing algae that are available in the waters in and around America. Algae can produce nearly 100 times more ethanol per acre, per year, than corn. In the case of Australia, they can also use algae or grow agave instead of corn. They have an enormous amount of unused land that would be great for agave. Agave can yield 3 or 4 times more ethanol per acre, per year, than corn.

However, there's a financial problem to immediately switching over to algae and agave as the primary sources of ethanol fuel: it's not cost-effective at this point. It would be cost-effective if we used and needed more ethanol fuel. But, to increase the use and need for more ethanol fuel two things must happen: The first is to remove the baseless restrictions placed on ethanol use. ALL internal combustion engines can safely, efficiently, and economically use ethanol-gasoline blends higher than E10. Every single internal combustion engine passenger vehicle on the road can run on blends in the E30 to E50 range, regardless of whether they are flex fuel vehicles or not, and with no modifications made to the engine and fuel system. Minor modifications to a vehicle's onboard computer will allow the vehicles to safely, efficiently, and economically use E85 branded fuels. Moreover, all new internal combustion engines should be manufactured to optimize the running on E85 and higher fuels. There's no additional cost to manufacture ethanol optimizing engines instead of gasoline optimizing engines.

The second problem that needs to be overcome is the dissemination of lies and ignorant stories about ethanol. Of course, this means kicking the oil industry's ass, and shutting down politicians and academics who owe their seats to oil industry bribery.

The choice is very simple: Do you want clean air and a healthier environment, or do you want more pollution and dead people?