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Ethanol - a conspiracy by "big oil"?

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Heard an interesting interview on the radio the other day, of David Blume, a proponent of Ethanol as a fuel, who got stuck into "big oil" for misinformation and propaganda about ethanol and the food price crisis. his interview is here

But his points:

  1. the US hasa surplus of corn even after ethanol production, so ethanol production does NOT cause food price rises.
  2. ethanol production from corn uses only the starch, leaving the remainder of the grain as a high quality livestock feed that is better than the original corn (because the starch in the original corn isn't digested by cattle and is just hard work for their digestive systems to pass!)
  3. "Big oil" has a history of working against ethanol production - he reckoned that the womens' temperance leagues in the US were funded for millions by one of the Rockerfeller's who owned oil......prohibition subsequently destroyed ethanol production, which until then had been a major source of automotive fuel....but not afterwards!
  4. Cellulosic ethanol (which I've suggested here should be good value) is "just" an attempt to industrialise ethanol production - "normal" ethanol production is not an "industrial" process - ie almost anyone can do it, which makes it much harder for "big business" to control. A difficult process like cellulosic ethanol production preserves the industry for serious capital.
  5. Corn is poor feedstock anyway - there are numerous plants that can get up to 20x the quantity of ethanol per hectare, including many that can grow on marginal lands.
  6. Pretty much any petrol car built since 1999 can run 50% ethanol right now with no modification. Modifications for 100% ethanol (aparently 98% where he is, with 2% petrol to stop people drinking it!) normally only take a couple of hundred $$'s, or many new cars can now take 100% with juts a change to the computer settings.

All-in-all the guy reckons that there's a majore push by "big oil" to prevent the establishment of relatively simple ethanol economy where farmers might contract directly to local distilleries who supply local gas stations.

they're doing this by misinformation about the effects of ethanol on food prices, effects on cars, etc., etc - promoting scientific studies that support their point of view, highlighting press stories that do the same, and so forth - pretty much the same tactics that Tobacco has used for the last 30 or 40 years to "stay alive".

as far as conspiracy theories goes this one seems pretty reasonable to me....I can't replay the interview ast het moment for various technical reasons, but I think I got the gist of it above...feel free to expand or explode my points as required! :)

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As long as there are really poor people and downtrodden, it's not ethically right to pursue a some sort of a green-fascist utopia, which would actually mean suffering for the great majority of people and lowered living standards for the rest.

Big Oil, Military Industrial Complex are small beans compared to Agri-Mafia and dystopic, deep ecology based green fascist movements of our times.

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2. Cattle can digest the starch in grains, which is why they are fed grain and not just grass.

3. Big oil gets generous subsidies to put ethanol in their fuel, this makes them happy. The subsidies are also pork (the political kind) for farmers.

4. If you want to use 100% ethanol to run every car, the entire world's food production would be vastly insufficient. Cellulosic ethanol in theory uses things like wood offcuts or plant waste from farming to produce ethanol, not competing with food in cost and availability. That is why it is being pursued, it aims to be cheaper and better than food sources.

5. This is all true, but I wouldn't trust 1000 backyard operators to be responsible for the quality control for each batch. Ethanol can cause fuel system problems because it carries water through the system, so that much is not a conspiracy.

Ethanol at 10% is basically a subsidised oxygenate additive that reduces your fuel economy but has a octane boosting effect. It is not the answer to our prayers, I'm not even sure what problem it is supposed to be a solution to. More economical cars or electric cars would be a much more beneficial path to pursue for both energy security and CO2 issues.

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I stand corrected!

However I'd note that people are happy enough to put ethanol brewed and distilled by thousands of plants worldwide through their bodies - I dont' see that small-scale industrial production of ethanol would cause a QC problem - Brazil has over 300 plants, and Sao Paulo, possibly the 3rd largest city in the world does not have air pollution......

Acrage is a problem with corn - but corn is not a good feedstock for ethanol - there are much better. It hits the headlines "merely" because it is what is available in the USA. Brazil uses sugar cane and gets 7500 litres ethanol/hectare compared with 3000 for corn. It is self sufficient in liquid fuels on 1% of its arable land.

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