We don’t need to reform the RFS, it’s time to scrap it

posted at 8:31 am on September 28, 2013 by Jazz Shaw

It’s easy to allow some of the “little things” to get lost in the midst of Shutdownpalooza 2013, but since everyone is in the mood to be reminding their elected representatives of their supposed duties anyway, let’s not forget another disaster looming on the horizon. Next year, the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) will be kicking things into high gear, requiring Americans to push more than 14 billion gallons of ethanol through their vehicle engines just to comply with federal mandates. This could still be changed, but it’s going to require a serious expression of will by Congress. To get them in the proper frame of mind, they recently received a letter from a number of prominent conservative groups running the range of diversity from Grover Norquist to the National Black Chamber of Commerce. Here’s just a taste of it.

Re: Renewable Fuel Standard “Reforms”

Dear Senator & Representative:

It has come to our attention that Congress is considering legislation this fall to reform the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). We, collectively and individually, believe the only reform to this failed government mandate should be to repeal the RFS. Repealing this mandate would bring certainty to the fuel markets and eliminate the harmful impacts this government program has had on businesses and consumers.

The RFS is a clumsy and misguided command and control mechanism that requires a certain level of ethanol to be blended into the nation’s transportation fuel supply. Gasoline has been required to contain 10% ethanol. The EPA plans to increase the amount of ethanol blended into gasoline by 50%. This is a horrifically bad idea. Congress has been working towards ending the counter-productive and costly RFS. Debt limit negotiations or other legislative vehicles moving through Congress at this time should not be used to expand regulatory burdens and impose additional costs on Americans.

Going one step further, Americans for Tax Reform has provided a primer over at Human Events for those student who may be a bit late arriving to class. Here is what your tax dollars and government power binging is getting you:

Getting Less For More
Implicit in the ethanol mandate is the reality that without such a policy, Americans would not use nearly as much ethanol—and for good reason. During most of the past 30 years, ethanol has been more expensive than regular gasoline. Furthermore, ethanol contains one-third less energy than gasoline.,,

If ethanol is more expensive and less efficient, it is easy to see why the fuel necessitates a mandate but hard to understand Congress’s justification for doing so. Unable to stand on economic grounds, ethanol proponents make claims about reductions in foreign oil and greenhouse emissions. Upon closer scrutiny, these defenses of ethanol also fall apart. A seminal study by Princeton University’s Tim Searchinger and several co-authors found that corn based ethanol nearly doubles greenhouse emissions over 30 years. While burning corn ethanol may produce fewer carbon emissions, growing, harvesting, and refining corn ethanol is a carbon intensive process.

There’s plenty more, so if you happen to find yourself chatting with somebody who is buying into all of the government sponsored (under the guise of the “trade association” pushing ethanol) “Don’t Be a Dummy” ads, (See EDIT below) make sure they get to read that. The truly hilarious part of the linked article on the pro-RFS advertisements is the association spokesperson’s cries of poverty and helplessness in the face of Big Oil’s Big Money and the influence they hold in Washington. Anyone who has ever gone near the Iowa caucuses already grasps the mendacity in this characterization, but it doesn’t stop them from claiming the role of David to the oil industry’s Goliath.

Unfortunately, for the new standards to go into place at this point, all Congress needs to do is… nothing. And sadly, that’s what they’re generally best at.

EDIT: (Jazz) Thanks to comments for pointing out that the original link to the Sheboygan Press article on the group pushing the “Don’t be a Dummy” ads was gone. It was there last night, but a site search this morning doesn’t show it anywhere. However, I’ve replaced the link with another to a related article which references the same interview with the group.


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Hmmm…quote of the day about Christie, first weekend post about RFS.

Meanwhile Ted Cruz and Mike Lee are usurping the House right out from under Boehner and Cantor (about time), and nary a mention.

Reminds me of…..well nevermind.

Gonna see what’s happening over at Twitchy.

can_con on September 28, 2013 at 8:40 AM

It takes more energy to create a gallon of ethanol than that gallon will put out. The stuff isn’t cost-effective to saving on fossil fuels in the least. So what will RINOS and Democrats do about that and the other details about this type of boondoggle?

Likely say the objections stem from ultra- and arch-conservatives trying to keep their rich friends in Big Oil(TM) from losing money. In the meantime, food prices will continue to rise and car engines will break down faster and more totally, requiring the engine or even the car be replaced.

Well, at least Obama is making nicey-nice with the Iranians. Maybe he’ll do well with them that after the next 9/11, they’ll dance in the street fr five hours instead of six.

Liam on September 28, 2013 at 8:41 AM

government sponsored (under the guise of the “trade association” pushing ethanol) “Don’t Be a Dummy” ads

Jazz, more about this, please. (The linked page is no longer available). I’ve been meaning to track this annoying ad down.

petefrt on September 28, 2013 at 8:45 AM

…from the picture…looks like the government has ‘ it’s fly‘ …open again!

KOOLAID2 on September 28, 2013 at 8:49 AM

. Here’s just a taste of it.

…the Republicans should be screaming and pointing to something else…”HERE!…taste this!….but they’re part of it!

KOOLAID2 on September 28, 2013 at 8:52 AM

It’s not cost or energy efficient and is more polluting but, it just feels so right. Hail gaia!

Dr. Frank Enstine on September 28, 2013 at 8:58 AM

petefrt on September 28, 2013 at 8:45 AM

CRAP! It was there at 8 pm last night. Let me look around. Thanks for flagging it.

Jazz Shaw on September 28, 2013 at 9:04 AM

And then there is the fact that American farmers and huge conglomerates have increased the price of corn – which in turn escalates the price of farm animals (protein), and causes other crops to escalate in price as that same land could be used to grow something affordable that Americans want and need.
Stupid demands and regulations only further diminish our “right to choose”.
Making alcohol from corn is a centuries-old practice – best sipped judiciously.
“White Lightnin’” will literally knock the wind right out of ya.
Better my digestive tract than my big block Chebby.
~(Ä)~

Karl Magnus on September 28, 2013 at 9:07 AM

Well, the Sheboygan press article has disappeared in the last 12 hours, but I found another one with the same interview quoted and replaced it. Thanks for catching that.

Jazz Shaw on September 28, 2013 at 9:11 AM

Not wasting my time. If the elite want this, and they do, then they will get it just like Marxist care and everything else.

bgibbs1000 on September 28, 2013 at 9:18 AM

Jazz Shaw on September 28, 2013 at 9:04 AM

Tried to find out something about that ad on Google, but found next to nothing. Could it have been scrubbed?

petefrt on September 28, 2013 at 9:24 AM

Our government never scraps a spending program. It’s not about corn and ethanol, it’s about graft and power. It’s possible they may transmogrify it into another green energy boondoggle, but scrap? Not going to happen.

Fenris on September 28, 2013 at 9:32 AM

There’s something not right about that picture.

bluegill on September 28, 2013 at 9:33 AM

The truly hilarious part of the linked article on the pro-RFS advertisements is the association spokesperson’s cries of poverty and helplessness in the face of Big Oil’s Big Money and the influence they hold in Washington.

Though of course they won’t talk about Mexican and Central American poverty, made worse by the artificial inflation of the cost of those countries’ staple grain. The RFS is a program whereby we hurt both ourselves and our neighbors.

Tzetzes on September 28, 2013 at 9:35 AM

I ask without sarcasm: What is the Progressive stance on RFS mandates?

It seems like repealing these laws would be a rare moment where both the Leftists and rational Americans (conservatives, etc.) could join together under a common cause.

RFS is crony-capitalism, rent-seeking, and looting, plain and simple. Things the Left claims to be against.

visions on September 28, 2013 at 9:41 AM

I ask without sarcasm: What is the Progressive stance on RFS mandates?

It seems like repealing these laws would be a rare moment where both the Leftists and rational Americans (conservatives, etc.) could join together under a common cause.

RFS is crony-capitalism, rent-seeking, and looting, plain and simple. Things the Left claims to be against.

visions on September 28, 2013 at 9:41 AM

It depends on whether said proto-Communist is owned and operated by ADM or by Occupy.

Steve Eggleston on September 28, 2013 at 9:45 AM

Time to channel Bishop…

28 comments or bust

That an effort to stop burning our food is getting so little attention is a rotten shame.

Steve Eggleston on September 28, 2013 at 9:54 AM

Though of course they won’t talk about Mexican and Central American poverty, made worse by the artificial inflation of the cost of those countries’ staple grain. The RFS is a program whereby we hurt both ourselves and our neighbors.

Tzetzes on September 28, 2013 at 9:35 AM

Nice catch. Those south of our border are even more impoverished by the lack of corn and corn products, staples of their existence.
They can always illegally cross the border and pick cantalopes, lettuce, and strawberries I guess.
I miss my real Mess’kan Tamalés, especially at Christmastime.
~(Ä)~

Karl Magnus on September 28, 2013 at 9:59 AM

Though of course they won’t talk about Mexican and Central American poverty, made worse by the artificial inflation of the cost of those countries’ staple grain. The RFS is a program whereby we hurt both ourselves and our neighbors.

Tzetzes on September 28, 2013 at 9:35 AM

I’m led to believe the Third World bitterly holds it against America that we burn their food to run our cars, driving up food costs beyond their reach.

petefrt on September 28, 2013 at 10:11 AM

It takes more energy to create a gallon of ethanol than that gallon will put out. The stuff isn’t cost-effective to saving on fossil fuels in the least.

Liam on September 28, 2013 at 8:41 AM

That’s actually incorrect. If any fuel took more energy to synthesize than it put out, it wouldn’t be worth using.

Measured in standard international units (British Thermal Units, or BTUs), the results look like this;

It takes .77 BTU to make 1 gallon of ethanol. That gallon generates 76,330 BTUs when burned, a thermal efficiency factor of about 99.12 (i.e., you’re getting approximately 99 BTUs “out” per one put “in”).

One gallon of regular gasoline takes 1.25 BTUs to synthesize. It generates 116,090 BTUs when combusted, an efficiency factor of 92.87. Ethanol is the “higher energy” fuel, but not by much.

As for E85, the figures are 1 BTU in, 82,294 out, or a TE of exactly 82.294.

The conclusion? An engine designed to run on straight ethanol is slightly more efficient than one designed to run on straight gasoline. However, since the burning temperature is higher, the engineering and materials have to be really good. Among other things, ethanol attacks the typical rubber seals used in fuel systems like Calvin and Hobbes go after a box of Sugar Blast Berry Bombs Cereal.

So the seals have to be something else, preferably high-strength plastics, or even metal alloy, as are used in the propellant systems of liquid-fuel rocket engines. The best seals? Solid welds in the joints. Which puts up the cost, again. (And makes maintenance really… interesting.) The best type of engine for ethanol fuel? A gas turbine, or better yet a rocket (see below).

An engine running on straight gasoline will always be easier and cheaper to build and maintain. Simply because the stresses on it will always be lower.

An engine running on E85 will never have the efficiency of either of the other two. And considering that you’re running 85% ethanol in the mix, it will be at least as big a pain in the a$$ to engineer as a straight-ethanol engine. Which, again, costs more in terms of design and materials. Far from a “good compromise”, E85 is a bastard cross with the vices of both parents and the virtues of neither.

BTW, a few notes;

1. All this data on ethanol was known in the early days of automobiles and aircraft. They tried running IC engines on ethanol, kerosene, and even castor oil (no, really) back then. Gasoline, the lightest distillate fraction of oil, was finally chosen because all the other alternatives were worse than it was, either in cost, handling problems, or both.

2. The problems of using ethanol (alcohol) and its variant forms (turpentine, etc.) were investigated very thoroughly by everyone in the liquid-fuel rocket business before World War 2. The German A-4 (aka V-2) IRBM ran on a 40/60 water/alcohol (WALC) mixture, burned with LOX (liquid oxygen, that is, not smoked salmon). The H2O was added to reduce the burning temperature to avoid melting the rocket motor itself, which was mostly made of mild steel.

At White Sands after the war, during the V-2 Upper Atmosphere Exploration Program (1947-53),the U.S. Army used a 25/75 WALC mix to get the maximum velocity, and thus altitude, out of the V-2; since burning time was actually shorter, they concluded that they could get away with it, and they did, 83 times. (The 11 launches that failed were considered acceptable, and that’s actually pretty good considering the age of the equipment being used.)

3. During the war, people in remote areas (notably in the Pacific and Africa- and probably Tennessee, too) ran their vehicles on “home-grown” ethanol, straight from the still. (Fun fact- in the Philippines, “white lightnin’” is known as “sugarhead”, because it’s made from sugarcane, not corn.) The trick was to ream out the carburetor jets to increase flow capacity, as opposed to flow rate; the main problem was that ethanol burned up motors. (Big surprise there.)

4. Those thermal efficiency figures, of course, assume 100% efficiency of the combustor, which no engine ever achieves. Most IC engines are about 10 to 12 percent efficient; a gas turbine is at about 14, and a liquid-fuel rocket achieves about 16% efficiency overall. (It looks great on paper at high velocity in vacuum, but in atmosphere, right after ignition and liftoff, the efficiency really sucks.)

The Three Laws of Thermodynamics win every time. The short form for them being (as per C.P. Snow);

1. You can’t win. (Because you can never get more energy out of a closed system than you put into it to begin with.)

2. You can’t break even. (Because entropy always increases in any system.)

3. You can’t even quit the game.(Because try as you may, you can’t get down to absolute zero, either.)

Then of course there’s Zeroth’s Law, which basically says if A and C are equally warm, and C and B are the same temperature, than A and B are the same, too, no matter how much that honks off the “experts”.

Which sounds a lot like the ethanol debate, actually. Lots of heat, not much else.

clear ether

eon

eon on September 28, 2013 at 10:21 AM

eon on September 28, 2013 at 10:21 AM

Actually, it’s called “deductive logic”, a mathematical thought process unknown to most in D.C. They should all read a book or two.
The syllogism is lost on the Ø’Bumbler cabal.
Ethanol is a canard, a gubmint handout that only enriches (p)sychophants of The Øne.
~(Ä)~

Karl Magnus on September 28, 2013 at 11:12 AM

eon on September 28, 2013 at 10:21 AM

We’ve moved way beyond the early 20th century in engine technology. We can build engines specifically designed to run ethanol.

That said, why would we do so, when ethanol costs more to produce than gasoline, has a one-third lower energy density, and requires diversion of feedstocks which drive up the cost of our food, thus impacting disproportionately the poor?

Boeing once did a study of what it would take to build an ethanol-fuelled jetliner. It would be a much larger aircraft for the same capacity because of the additional fuel needed to go any given distance, but the eye-grabbing portion of the study was the amount of arable land in the United States which would be needed to service a completely replaced fleet of jetliners just for domestic flights — about two thirds. And that doesn’t even begin to cover what cropland would be needed to fuel a fleet of pure ethanol vehicles…

The study used to be widely available on the Internet, but has disappeared from all but a very few places, but see the following — the links are still operational. The reason the slides have disappeared from wide distribution is Boeing’s “suppression” of them in the light of several multi-million dollar federal contracts for the development of biofuel aircraft.

The Anchoress had a discussion about this from a different standpoint — her article was “Is Ethanol crossing an Ethical Line?” and here’s what I wrote there:

“Feed grains” are grown on land which might be used for “food grains”; there is a fixed amount of arable land available to any farmer, and the farmer decides what to grow on that land in order to maximize his/her profit. If “feed grains” are being used for ethanol, they are being grown as “fuel grains”, not “feed grains” — and competition for that quality of biomass drives up the profitability of growing it.

The moral aspect comes into play when the ethanol created is not used for necessities of society (such as transporting other foodstuffs to market) but for recreation (as in allowing the Rich Democratic Presidential Hopeful to buy and fuel his Hemi-powered Chrysler 300 rather than a Smart). When people starve so RDPH can drive his 300 about town, that certainly falls into the morality category.

This covers the problem in a nutshell. Note page 12 — 1/2 acre of soybeans to fly a single passenger from LA to Washington DC. Page 13 says even more — if the jet fleet currently servicing the United States were to switch to 15% biofuels, about 10% of total US cropland would be allocated to building the necessary additive. Simple arithmetic says that if we needed 100% biofuel for that jet fleet, two-thirds of all our cropland would be allocated to growing that fuel. My point: there’s only so much cropland available, and food, feed, and fuel will compete for that land; with that competition, the price of food will rise.

Of course, we will need to get used to that, given the interesting chart on page 4 of the Boeing slideshow I reference above, which shows the levels of oil reserves available for use historically and into the near future. Is there a way out? Doesn’t look like it to me. But everyone who uses energy frivolously at some point in the near future will obviously be contributing to the starvation of a less fortunate human being elsewhere on the planet as more of our croplands are diverted to fuel production.

That was written in 2008 — six years ago. Now, what has changed in the energy environment? What charts in the Boeing slide show would need to be changed to update them to the present? Certainly not the biomass slides — we are not growing biomass which produces more ethanol… But we are finding more petroleum deposits. Yes, they will run out one day, but by then we will have energy sources unknown today.

unclesmrgol on September 28, 2013 at 11:16 AM

and yet it takes oil to create the items used to create,ship,store,and dispense/use ethanol. we would still need to drill even w/ gasoline not being used at all.
and when its -20f here (really 10f and lower) in maine those extra btus in gas really help.

dmacleo on September 28, 2013 at 11:42 AM

the price of farmland in upstate NY has shot up over the last few years in response to the need for more corn. Don’t burst the bubble!!

tlynch001 on September 28, 2013 at 12:49 PM

Gasoline has been required to contain 10% ethanol. The EPA plans to increase the amount of ethanol blended into gasoline by 50%. This is a horrifically bad idea.

At the current consumption rate of gasoline, we don’t have enough land to produce enough corn to make half that much ethanol. A 50% ethanol mandate in gasoline would turn the “breadbasket of the world” into a nation unable to feed its people.

On an energy-yield (heating value) basis, the best corn-farming methods consume about 80% of the energy yield of ethanol in fossil fuels, and ethanol emits about the same amount of CO2 as gasoline per unit energy. This means that substituting ethanol for gasoline increases CO2 emissions by 80% in a best-case scenario.

There may be some use for ethanol in gasoline, since some oxygenated compounds (such as ethanol) help engines burn cleaner and emit less carbon MONoxide. This was the reason for the addition of MTBE to gasoline, before it was found to leak into drinking water from underground storage tanks. But the clean-burning effect of ethanol can be achieved with about 2 or 3% ethanol in gasoline.

Anything beyond that is a waste of valuable corn. People can eat corn, but can’t drink gasoline. So let’s eat what we can, and burn what we can’t!

Steve Z on September 28, 2013 at 1:08 PM

More than a few stations are offering non-ethanol. It costs more and takes some planning, but it gives better mileage/power and is a good way to make a small protest against being governed by the scientifically ignorant.

1andyman on September 28, 2013 at 1:27 PM

Just as well have us bend over and shove it up our rears than making fuel out of it. Same outcome…lower costs.

trs on September 28, 2013 at 8:32 PM

Ethanol is the modern, leftist plan to get all the old cars off the road. By ruining them.

Squiggy on September 29, 2013 at 8:26 AM

At the current consumption rate of gasoline, we don’t have enough land to produce enough corn to make half that much ethanol. A 50% ethanol mandate in gasoline would turn the “breadbasket of the world” into a nation unable to feed its people.

On an energy-yield (heating value) basis, the best corn-farming methods consume about 80% of the energy yield of ethanol in fossil fuels, and ethanol emits about the same amount of CO2 as gasoline per unit energy. This means that substituting ethanol for gasoline increases CO2 emissions by 80% in a best-case scenario.

There may be some use for ethanol in gasoline, since some oxygenated compounds (such as ethanol) help engines burn cleaner and emit less carbon MONoxide. This was the reason for the addition of MTBE to gasoline, before it was found to leak into drinking water from underground storage tanks. But the clean-burning effect of ethanol can be achieved with about 2 or 3% ethanol in gasoline.

Anything beyond that is a waste of valuable corn. People can eat corn, but can’t drink gasoline. So let’s eat what we can, and burn what we can’t!

Steve Z on September 28, 2013 at 1:08 PM

Jazz was a bit unclear on that – a 50% add on E10 equates to E15 (15% corn-a-hole). That’s cutting very close to the soil on the corn crop, and would also render most automobiles in dealer showrooms and on the road inoperable – my 2012 Toyota Tacoma has a warning sticker right on the filler cap to not put E15 in.

Steve Eggleston on September 29, 2013 at 1:32 PM

Ethanol is the modern, leftist plan to get all the old cars off the road. By ruining them.

Squiggy on September 29, 2013 at 8:26 AM

And most of the new ones (see the comment between yours and this one).

Steve Eggleston on September 29, 2013 at 1:33 PM

As an Iowan I can tell you that this is going to be a tough sell. Even people who are normally marginally conservative have been bought off by what is essentially farm welfare. Farmers get new equipment and new trucks with their profit and the ag dealers sell more stuff. Too bad they can;t see that what’s good for Iowa isn’t good for America.

Free Indeed on September 30, 2013 at 9:31 AM