Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and sanctions and boycotts that followed launched retail gasoline prices to record highs, a vulnerability for Biden’s fellow Democrats in November’s congressional elections. Ukraine has been called the breadbasket of Europe since before WWI, and this war will greatly reduce the worldwide corn supply by 15%, Wheat supply by 8%. and the sanctions on Russia will reduce the supply of fertilizer by 12%. The world was already in a precarious food situation, and this may result in hunger worldwide will increase sharply.
Faced with this looming catastrophe in the November elections the Biden administration decided to act decisively to improve its chances in November, so on Tuesday Biden went to Iowa and promised to remove the prohibition to use the ethanol blend E15 even in the summer. The summertime ban on E15 was imposed over concerns it contributes to smog in hot weather, though research has shown that the 15% blend may not increase smog much more than the almost mandatory 10% blends sold year-round.
Is blending ethanol in the gasoline a good idea in the first place? It might be if the price of corn is low relative to gasoline. On April 14, 2022 the wholesale contract price of corn is $ 7.84 a bushel. A year ago, the price was below five dollars per bushel.
One bushel of corn makes 2.8 gallon of ethanol in the most efficient stills.
That makes the feed-stock price to produce ethanol $2.80 a gallon. Add to that 50 cents to make the stuff and distribute it and the price per gallon is $ 3.30
Since the heat content of ethanol is 67% of regular gasoline (no ethanol), the gasoline equivalent price of ethanol is $ 4.93 per gallon.
Nearly five bucks a gallon for ethanol! And that is before profit, blending, selling and taxes!
That’s the good news.
For the people that are worried about CO2 the bad news is:
To make corn you have to use 150 pounds of nitrogen fertilizer per acre. It takes the equivalent of 0.15 gallons of gasoline to produce one pound of nitrogen fertilizer. That comes to the equivalent of 22.5 gallons of gasoline to fertilize one acre. One acre of corn yields about 150 bushels of corn.
The fuel spent to produce one bushel of corn is therefore more than 0.15 gallons of gasoline. Since it also involves sowing, preparing the soil, cultivating, pesticides, phosphate fertilizer and harvesting it takes 0.25 gallons of fuel to produce one bushel of corn.
Here comes the kicker: When you ferment sugar into alcohol half the weight disappears as CO2! Let us examine the formula: C6H12O6 + Zymase → 2C2H5OH + 2CO2
The molecule weight of C2H5OH is 46 and the molecule weight of CO2 is 44.
Well almost half anyway.
Let us assume you have a car that gets 25 miles to the gallon and you drive 100 mile on pure gasoline. You have used 4 gallons of gasoline.
Now take the same car and drive 100 miles with a 10% ethanol mix, mandated by the EPA. Remember, they are concerned about CO2.
The ethanol has only 67% of the heat content of gasoline so the gas mileage will be lower. It will be consuming 0.04 x 0.9 +0.1 x 1.5 x 0.04 = 0.042 gallons per mile, 5% more or a total of 4.2 gallons for the 100 mile trip. With E15 it will be 4.3 gallons per trip.
So you consumed 3.78 gallons of gasoline and 0.42 gallons of ethanol, for a total of 4.2 gallons. We have all experienced this increase in gas consumption. And this is best case. With E15 you will consume 3.67 gallons of gasoline and 0.63 gallons of ethanol.
What about CO2 up in the air? In the pure gasoline case we produced 4 gallons worth of CO2.
In the ethanol mix case we produced 4.2 gallons worth of CO2.
Add to that another .4 gallons equivalence of CO2 from the fermentation, and another .04 gallons worth of CO2 to produce the corn in the first place.
The sum total is 4.64 gallons worth of CO2, or about 16% more than in the gasoline only case for the 10% mix. With E15 you produced 4.96 gallons worth of CO2.
But corn does absorb CO2 when it grows! Doesn’t that count?
Corn is one of the worst crops for soil erosion and uses up other nourishment that will not be used if you make ethanol from it. Granted the cattle are happy for the cakes that are left when the sugar and oil is removed.
In this age of looming food shortages nearly any other use of available tillable soil is to be preferred over ethanol production.
Oh, and one more thing. Assume that pure gasoline is 4 dollars a gallon at the pump, which includes 50 cents in taxes.
Unsubsidized ethanol should be $4.93 a gallon, before taxes
But we subsidize the ethanol production so the price of E15 is $3.90 a gallon at the pump.
If we used pure gasoline the hundred mile trip would cost sixteen dollars.
If we paid full price for the 10% ethanol blend we would pay $ 17.19 for the trip and produce 16% more CO2. And in the case of E15 we would pay $17.78 for the trip and produce 24% more CO2
We are really paying $ 16.59 for the trip, produce 16% more CO2 and leave a bill of $ 0.60 for our grandchildren to pay, the subsidy of 0.42 gallons of ethanol. In the case of E15 we would pay $16.77 for the trip, produce 24% more CO2 and leave a bill of $1.01 for our grandchildren.
This is EPA legislation at work, trying to combat the coming “climate catastrophe.”
There is a better way. Remove ethanol subsidy guarantees and let the corn be used to produce more chicken and pork, and use some of the acreage to produce grain for a hungry world. This will help to reduce food prices inflation.