January 30, 2007

Boland to further mandatory ethanol consumption

State Representitive Mike Boland will introduce a bill which futhers the effort to increase consumption of E85, a fuel which consists of 85% ethanol and 15% traditional gasoline.

Boland had already been a sponsor of a bill which required that all new vehicles purchased by the State of Illinois be "flex-fuel" capable, which means they can run on either E85 or standard gas. Boland's new measure extends this mandate to local governments in Illinois as well.

Guess it's a good thing if you're a corn producer, but from what I've heard, Ethanol isn't the wonder fuel of the future it's cracked up to be and brings along many negatives as well. Of course, politicians from corn producing states and the presidential candidates who love them are always pushing Ethanol, but again, it's not a magic bullet for the environment nor dependency on gasoline and other much better alternatives exist.

I don't have the technical argument for and against Ethanol at my fingertips though. Anyone have some more specific info on this product and whether it's the way to go?

There's been some excellent and informative comments on this topic, and some links to further info have been helpfully provided.

First of all, I should note that details of the Boland proposal can be found at mikeboland.blogspot.com.

A consumer reports article is found here.

Illustrious and accomplished commenter "Yinn" also writes:
"I've written "Ethanol in Illinois" (http://www.citybarbs.com/?p=38) about some of the impacts to the communities near them. Another article, "New Harvest: Rain" (http://www.citybarbs.com/?p=41) talks about one of the potential downsides of ethanol production, which is high water consumption, and how that might fit into regional water woes in the future."

And interestingly enough in light of the mammoth production of pig waste a Barstow hog slaughter operation will generate, he provides a link to "New Equation: Pig Poop = Black Gold" (http://www.citybarbs.com/?p=46) which discusses U of Illinois researchers having found a way to convert hog manure into crude oil.


At 1/30/2007 7:58 PM, Blogger cruiser said...

E-85 and flex-fuel vehicles are a joke. Go to Consumer Reports for the story. Seems gas mileage drops 27% with E-85, and the current flex-fuel vehicles are gas hogs. Butanol is a much more viable alternative because nothing has to be converted to run it and it can be run at 100%. Plus it get 17% better gas mileage than regular gas.

At 1/30/2007 9:12 PM, Blogger nicodemus said...

I have done a little reading on the subject, because for so long, Midwestern politicians carry on as if ethanol and/or biofuel were indeed a "magic bullet". So I figured if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is, so I looked a little closer at it. Here is what scientists say:

1. There are huge costs of producing ethanol, both financially and in terms of using FOSSIL fuels, gas or coal. i.e., it takes gas to plant and harvest corn and to process it in the plants to convert it to fuel. Also there are big costs in rehabbing all the gas pumps and plants and the channels of distribution. We can't just wake up one morning and say "okay, we're running on ethanol now". Obviously, there is more to it than that. It would take huge federal subsidies. I mean if you criticize big oil corporations and agribusiness subsidies, you'll LOVE ethanol.

2. What would make up for all the millions of tons of grain commodities that would no longer be used for food? I was listening to a guy on the Michael Reagan show today who said: "we are the first civilzation who wants to BURN UP our food supply in order to replace our energy supply."

3. Corn is a renewable resource but to even put a small dent in our energy needs, we would have to plant corn from coast to coast, from "a**hole to-elbow". Getting back to #1 above, it just wouldn't be cost effective or energy effective.

Personally, when it comes to alternative energy,
I would much rather have millions of windmill turbines spread across the continent and the oceans, whipping up electricity and hydrogen cells. For more info, see

At 1/31/2007 4:41 AM, Blogger The Inside Dope said...

Thanks Nico.

I'd heard all those factors as well, but it had been a long time ago and I didn't recall exactly what the negatives were. I did recall that the energy required to produce it was very high.

I know that those who are serious about weaning the country off of our oil dependency don't think much of ethanol.

In that respect, all this push for rapidly expanding and converting and trying to ram ethanol down consumer's throats could actually be detremental to our energy future in that it will detract from other, perhaps better and more efficient alternative fuels, as well as accomplishing nothing but replacing one fuel with a slightly better one.

If they're sucessful in setting up billions of dollars in investments in ethanol, it will be just that much harder to switch from that to something better sometime down the road.

I suppose it's like getting all smokers to go to a "light" cigarette. Not really much progress towards the real goal.

At 1/31/2007 9:26 AM, Anonymous yinn said...

I've written "Ethanol in Illinois" (http://www.citybarbs.com/?p=38) about some of the impacts to the communities near them. Another article, "New Harvest: Rain" (http://www.citybarbs.com/?p=41) talks about one of the potential downsides of ethanol production, which is high water consumption, and how that might fit into regional water woes in the future. I don't know how it is by you, but in NE Illinois counties such as McHenry and Boone we are expecting water shortages--tied to growth--within the next 20 years. So much for Illinois being the "OPEC of water," as I understand some Texans have called us.

(In April the rural voters will, if it's approved by a judge, vote on whether or not to establish a water authority over Boone, DeKalb and McHenry counties to better conserve groundwater. It is incredibly controversial & I'll be covering that discussion, too.)

Guess I'll throw in a third link, "New Equation: Pig Poop = Black Gold" (http://www.citybarbs.com/?p=46) since it's related to this topic. U of I researchers have found a way to convert hog manure into crude oil, FWIW.

At 1/31/2007 11:07 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Only Boland would tought outdated mandates. I do not believe his cadilac is E85 ready.

At 1/31/2007 3:47 PM, Anonymous Uncle Ben said...

Brazil has done some exciting work with ethanol made from switchgrass, so the commonly envisioned corn based ethanol may not be exactly where the final market ends up. Some kind of ethanol energy is likely to be important the meet the future energy demands of our nation.

At 1/31/2007 11:58 PM, Blogger The Inside Dope said...

Uncle Ben,
That seems to be the common consensus. Ethanol will continue to be an important alternative, but it's source will evolve. I understand that sources other than corn are more efficient, with one of the best being cellulose, which I imagine can be extracted from switchgrass and other sources easier than corn.

Great comments with some valuable information. I'll post the links in the post so readers can refer to them easily.

At 2/01/2007 8:31 AM, Blogger Mike Huntoon said...

if folks are interested in more details about Boland's proposal, they can visit mikeboland.blogspot.com to see the full text of Boland's most recent news release on this topic . . .

At 2/01/2007 9:29 AM, Anonymous uncle ben said...

I even saw on the Discovery channel where there are pilot projects to use C02 emissions from power plant to actually stimulate algae growth. The algae sludge can be processed into a product similar to bio-diesel.

The latest research indicates that the ethanol industry as a whole is becoming more efficient, and the net gain from the use of a wide variety of agricultural by-products to produce ethanol and biodiesel will be far greater than the "nay-sayers" were insisting a few years back.

At 2/01/2007 10:32 AM, Anonymous yinn said...

Hey thanks! What a surprise & an upper to see the links up front! Illinois is smack in the middle of some exciting developments & I am delighted to be able to contribute to the discussion.

At 2/01/2007 1:51 PM, Blogger The Inside Dope said...

No problem Yinn.. thank you for the links and articles.

Uncle Ben, I actually saw that same program where they used a small portion of the CO2 output from a power plant to grow algae in big tubes.

They said that to utilize all the CO2 the plant puts out would take hundreds of acres... I don't recall the exact number. Remember that graphic that showed how large an area it would take? The power plant itself was reduced to a speck in the middle of this vast field of algae tubes.

So at least that specific process would be extremely land intensive and not practical except in the dessert southwest where the land and amount of sun required for the process is available.

It also appeared to take a large amount of processing to extract the "oil" from the algae, which might not be that much of an energy gain in the end.

I think it's great that they're doing it, and utilizing even part of the CO2 output is better than nothing, but again, it appears to be yet another technology that shows great promise, but has a fatal flaw that prevents it from being a real answer.

At 2/01/2007 7:20 PM, Blogger Benton Harbor said...

Some great info here, that's for sure.

And similar to the cellulose and switchgrass bases, I seem to remember an article in one of the car magazines I subscribe to, that eventually the stalk and scrub from corn will be just as useful in ethanol production as is the corn itself (ah, the cellulose factor).

At 2/02/2007 12:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

what does Iowa do? There law seems reasonable.

At 2/02/2007 4:51 PM, Blogger nicodemus said...

I am surprised that nobody, (not even Mike Boland) is extolling the virtues of industrial hemp. It can't be any more (or less) impractical than ethanol. I remember that there was a lot of talk about hemp about 10 years ago. Tell me: Was he hemp thing just a fad? Was it based on solid scientific evidence ...or was it just a bunch of old hippies who wanted to get high again??

At 2/06/2007 6:29 AM, Blogger The Inside Dope said...

I think it's more than just a 'fad', and apparently you can't get a buzz from industrial hemp as I understand it.

The fact is that the oil from the plant and it's other uses makes it an amazingly versitile and useful crop.

But .... Until the last of the 60's anti-hippie crowd is chucked in the clay, nothing will happen to take advantage of such a cheap, useful, and renewable resource.

At 2/06/2007 9:18 AM, Anonymous yinn said...

Marijuana is grown to have a high content of THC, its active ingredient. Industrial hemp has virtually none. Also the seeds are edible just as soybeans are, but not only are these "hemp nuts" a rare complete vegetable protein like soy, they have a healthier balance between the Omega-3s and Omega-6s. Meanwhile we're so backwards we are allowing Canada to corner the market with this crop. Too bad.


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