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I think immigration works just fine without water. Irrigation is the word you want. Otherwise, this is spot on: corn ethanol is a con. Though the "competition for food" angle is way overhyped; they're different kinds of corn. But it takes more oil to make either one than you save using ethanol -- which this story proves they have no intention of actually doing.

Posted by Fnarf | March 27, 2007 6:18 PM

You'd be surprised at how corn dependent our diets have become. We actually consume more corn per capita than Mexico now.

Posted by Gitai | March 27, 2007 6:23 PM

Obviously I meant immigration. You can't grow crops without it.

Posted by ECB | March 27, 2007 6:28 PM

I haven't seen any data that suggests E-85 ethanol blend produces less emissions than gasoline powered vehicles. I understand it actually produces more because fuel mileage (mpg) using E-85 is not as good as gasoline. This might change with further research, however I hear the major auto manufacturers see ethanol powered vehicles as an intermediate goal in power plant design i.e., they aren't really excited about it. Their Holy Grail is still electric and eventually hydrogen. Based on their current research, I fully expect to be able to do 200 mph in a relatively inexpensive electric powered vehicle in the next 15 years.

Don't forget this weekend's Formula One race in Sepang, Malaysia, Barnett. I tell you that new kid, Louis Hamilton, is one hot driver for a rookie. Even Savage would find him exciting.

--- Jensen

Posted by Jensen Interceptor | March 27, 2007 7:23 PM

Even if they're different kinds of corn, there's still competition: an acre growing corn for fuel is an acre that can't be growing corn (or anything else) for food.

Sugarcane is actually a much better source of ethanol than corn (hence Bush's little PR stunt in Brazil a few weeks ago) but there's not much of the US that is suitable for cane production and the sugar growers (to whom the Bush family owes at least one election in Florida) would never allow the necessary imports.

But plug-in cars are hardly the answer, either. Where do you think that electricity in the plug comes from? Here in the NW it might come from hyrdopower, but in Austin it comes from burning hyrdocarbons (probably lovely coal).

Posted by Joe | March 27, 2007 8:09 PM

The only way biofuels can compete with the energy output of petroleum is by sitting in the ground for 100 million years. So, we just need to learn to sit back and be patient. Either that or develop controlled hydrogen fusion.

Posted by laterite | March 27, 2007 8:13 PM

Plug-ins are not the answer, no, but part of the answer. Yes, the power has to come from somewhere, which is usually a coal power plant. But that does not change the fact that there are 50 million people with carbon machines in their driveways. Wouldn't it be better to centralize the production of carbon rather than having it spread out among the entire populace? Once we do that, we can focus on getting the power plants clean and safe. Plug-in hybrids can be implemented right now and battery technology has progressed to 300 miles a charge (look at the tesla roadster). That is more than enough for a day trip to the mountains or the beach as well as a days commute to work, which the most that people do with their cars. The key is to get the production of carbon out of the hands of the public. That would be a huge step in the right direction.

Side Note: Don't even get me started on Hydrogen, they don't even have a way to properly store enough of it in your car for a decent trip, let alone an infrastructure (like fill-up stations) to support it. Plug-ins are ready now (and have been since 96', just watch Who Killed The Electric Car)

Posted by Brandon H | March 27, 2007 9:31 PM

NPR did a report about this whole E-85 fraud a few months ago.

Not only is Ford producing a bunch of "multi-fuel" cars to meet their economy targets, but most of the people who buy these cars are completely unaware of it. Ford's assertion that 50% of the time the car burns E-85 rather than gasoline is utter bullshit. Buyers go into a Ford dealer and buy Taurus (or whatever). The dealer never bothers to tell the buyer that it can burn an alternative fuel. So even people who live a block away from an E-85 station, and own a multi-fuel car, are still burning 100% gasoline in them because they don't even know they own a multi-fuel car.


Ford is obviously doing this as a way to technically meet the letter of the law, and has no real interest in doing anything to help the environment. Unless they can make money at it.

Posted by SDA in SEA | March 27, 2007 10:53 PM

Taking away our dependence from corn requires a different ethanol strategy. One way to go about this is to empower local communities to produce ethanol from the best available feedstock. I wrote a long article yesterday on the benefits of decentralizing, or "regionalizing" alternative energy as it relates to ethanol production. Not only does this support the local economy, but it reduces the strain on major ethanol crops like corn. This will surely happen with the help of cellulosic ethanol production.

The biggest hurdle the cellulosic ethanol producers face at the moment is the cost of the enzyme needed to breakdown the cellulose into a sugar. While everyone from private industry to the US govt is throwing money at these research projects, we have yet to hear how they are going. I posted last week on this topic specifically in the article, "Cellulosic Enzyme Cost Reduction is still a WIP".

I frequently write about the business side of alternative energy on: Energy Spin: Alternative Energy Blog for Investors-Served Daily. You can find the articles mentioned above there.

Francesco DeParis

Posted by Francesco DeParis | March 28, 2007 7:41 AM

I think immigration works just fine without water.

i'm not sure i agree with this, either...

Posted by infrequent | March 28, 2007 8:20 AM

The major use of corn isn't as human food, at least not directly. Its main competitive use is animal feed and industrial products, some of which are eaten (HFCS) and some of which aren't (plastics). Ethanol is another form of price support for corn, but isn't impacting the food supply much. More corn is being grown for food than at any time in history already. It's just a question of WHAT KIND OF food.

Mexicans may have a right to be annoyed at price irregularities in corn, but that has way more to do with the widespread conversion of Mexican agriculture to wheat and especially beef, and their own hopelessly screwed-up price support system, not ethanol-growing in Iowa.

Boy, if you want an earful, ask an Iowan about ethanol from corn. Even the most devout Christian there rates it slightly higher than Jesus. They think ethanol is going to save their souls. What they should be worrying about, though, is the fact that most of their state is now polluting the seabed in the Gulf of Mexico; modern corn-growing techniques are extremely damaging to the land (petroleum-based fertilizer + petroleum-based pesticide washed into the Mississippi with the entire contents of their aquifier = Death Zone downstream).

Posted by Fnarf | March 28, 2007 9:30 AM

Ethanol is another form of price support for corn, but isn't impacting the food supply much.

Not now it's not, but imagine if every car ran on the stuff. I would also prefer not to destroy the rest of the rainforest for the production of sugar ethanol.

Posted by keshmeshi | March 28, 2007 11:05 AM

We need cars that can run on high fructose corn syrup, or maybe transfats.

Where are there E85 stations in Seattle?

Posted by him | March 28, 2007 11:42 AM

"Boy, if you want an earful, ask an Iowan about ethanol from corn."

HI-YO! *ba dum dum*

Posted by laterite | March 28, 2007 12:20 PM

Wow, a complete moritorium on development of Biofuels for five years? Talk about tossing out the baby with the bathwater. There are plenty of options of biofuels to be generated from non-food plant sources, even ones which won't steal farmland from food production. The argument against deforestation is a valid one, but it is possible to have biofuels without deforestation. Regulation would seem to be a better approach than banning.

Posted by boyd main | March 28, 2007 12:29 PM

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