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You are here: > News > January 29, 2007

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Bush’s Energy Plan Is Off Track and Unrealistic

Ethanol, which is not an efficient fuel, is even less a solution if it comes to a choice of "eat or drive."  Small increases in corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) are not going to have large impact.

By James Dunn

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President Bush’s energy policy, presented in his State of the Union address, projected a 20 percent reduction in U.S. gasoline usage in 10 years, primarily through a massive expansion of ethanol production. This is to be augmented, to a smaller degree, by improved efficiency of new cars starting in 2010 through yet-to-be-legislated higher CAFE mileage standards.

This plan is flawed, for several key reasons. First, increasing ethanol production fivefold over the already aggressive 2012 target may be good for the ethanol producers, but is not good for the U.S. or world populations as well as not practical or achievable! There is not enough corn in the U.S. to make 35 billion barrels of ethanol a year without adding 40 million acres of new crops. Why should we ask people if they would rather “eat or drive,” by using a fuel choice that has extremely poor fuel efficiency, and will dramatically drive up the cost of most corn-based foods to people in the U.S. and throughout the world.

Second, mileage is worse with ethanol. In recent tests, Consumer Reports showed that ethanol, while offering some improvement in emissions, has a much lower energy content than gasoline and, therefore, provides much worse mileage -- only 75 to 85 percent of typical gasoline miles per gallon. Also, reports from Cornell University scientists and other researchers show that the amount of energy expended in producing a gallon of corn-based ethanol -- from the fertilizer and tractor fuel to the harvesting, production and delivery of the finished ethanol fuel -- is actually greater than the net energy recovered when we burn each gallon of corn-based ethanol. Ethanol made from sugar crops and, preferably, switchgrass (cellulosic) offers more attractive returns, but cellulosic-ethanol production methods are still being refined, with high-volume processes not yet commercially viable.

As quoted in the MIT Technology Review, David Victor, head of the Energy and Sustainable Development Program at Stanford University, feels that “the target that (Bush) sets of cutting down gasoline consumption by 20 percent in a decade is, almost certainly unachievable.” “[There are also] big economic problems because [making ethanol from corn] certainly isn't competitive with other ways of making biofuels, such as from sugar”.

However, Bush’s other key method of increasing the U.S. CAFE (corporate average fuel economy) standards by 4 percent per year starting in 2010, makes far more sense, but will only contribute a small amount in the near term to his overall goal of reducing U.S. gasoline usage by 20 percent in 10 years. For instance, reducing the fuel used in new vehicles sold in 2010 by 4 percent would reduce the overall total gasoline consumed, by only about one-quarter of 1 percent since the new cars sold each year (about 17 million) represent only about 7 percent of the total U.S. vehicle population of over 220 million. However, after five to six years of continued increases of 4 percent per year in the CAFE standards, the total fuel savings could amount to a more significant aggregate level of 3 to 5 percent, depending on how broad the new standards are made.

Another factor is the impact on light trucks and SUVs, which represent over 50 percent of new vehicle sales. Higher CAFE standards are a more practical way to begin to wean our country from our “addiction to oil.” As stated by Stanford’s Victor, ”Some sort of a ratcheting up of fuel-economy standards is long overdue. And a lot of people have been calling for it. And maybe they have enough votes for it on the Hill, and enough support from the White House that something will actually get done about it.”

But why wait until 2010 to improve our vehicle efficiency and start reducing our use of fuel ? Why not start conserving fuel today with simple actions that everyone can take to improve their vehicle efficiency, regardless of the type of vehicle or fuel they use! With several simple, cost-free steps, as mentioned on the weekly radio talk show “This New Car,” virtually anyone can get 10 to 20 percent better mileage -- today!.

Although many of us drive hybrid vehicles, which are already quite efficient, there are several easy steps that we can take to further improve efficiency and reduce our use of fuel -- even with hybrids. The simplest, fastest method is to properly inflate our tires, preferably close to the maximum recommended pressure. This alone could save 4 to 6 percent of total US fuel use, if everyone would take just a minute to pump up their tires.

Another simple approach is to slow down! Just reducing the average highway driving speed to 60 miles per hour (from over 70 on many roads) could save another 3 to 5 percent. Also, more conservative driving habits (slower acceleration, anticipating upcoming lights and stop signs, less aggressive braking, and more coasting) will further increase our mileage. Other simple measures include using cruise controls on trips and paying attention to onboard miles-per-gallon displays -- which should be mandatory on all new cars!

Other methods include reducing weight of extra “junk” in our vehicles and reducing drag from roof-rack crossbars as well as open beds and tailgates on pickup trucks. For those purists who want the last 2 to 3 percent of mileage improvement, you should switch to synthetic oil and change your air filter and PCV valves on a regular basis.

If every American did just the simple things mentioned above, we could immediately reduce our country’s total use of gasoline by over 10 percent – today! In fact, these ideas should be viewed as standard conservation measures, just as we do in our homes by switching to fluorescent lights and smart thermostats, etc. to save electricity.

The most promising, but futuristic, concept offered by the president was the development of plug-charge hybrid vehicles with enough additional battery power to operate solely on electric power for up to 50 miles, dramatically reducing their use of gasoline, with net equivalent mileage of over 100 miles per gallon.

Although plug-in hybrids are five to eight years off, dependent upon the pace and cost of new advanced-battery development, they offer the most significant method of reducing the use of fuel, relying instead on our existing power grid and use of excess off-peak power for recharging. Other emerging energy-storage technologies such as nanostructured batteries from Altair Nanotechnologies or A123 Systems, or even new high-density ultracapacitors from EEStor, could speed up the introduction of affordable plug-hybrids and represent significant potential savings in future U.S. fuel use.

# # #


Corn Provides Food and Fuel

On Feb. 6, 2007, Mark A Smith <Bbitsmark {at} > wrote:

James Dunn is spreading ignorant propaganda with his article "Bush’s Energy Plan Is Off Track and Unrealistic." The following quote is an example of his uninformed personal opinions:

"Why should we ask people if they would rather 'eat or drive,' by using a fuel choice that has extremely poor fuel efficiency, and will dramatically drive up the cost of most corn-based foods to people in the U.S. and throughout the world."

Ethanol is neither a "poor efficiency fuel" nor does it require a "choice" between food or fuel, or as Dunn phrases it "eat or drive." Most corn is grown as feed corn. Sweet corn and flour corn have never been included in ethanol economics. Most U.S. feed corn exported comes right back to America or Europe in the form of fatty beef to make more "fatty Americans".

100% of the feed value, or more, is contained in the fermentation by-product. You don't choose between food or fuel. You get both food and fuel. Every acre of corn can produce the same amount of meat, milk and eggs in addition to fuel if you first fractionate the starch and oil out of the grain, producing ethanol and biodiesel. Most of the starch and fat in the whole grain, when fed as a ruminant feed, is fermented into "cow farts" and heat or otherwise wasted as low quality biomass production such as viscera (gut and organ hypertrophy). The rest simply induces a hormonal disorder which causes the "fattening" process, not to mention an inhibition of microbial populations which can process the fiber component (the anti-nutrient effect of high-starch feed). All cattlemen and dairymen understand the negative effects of feeding high-energy feed. They use grain because they can store and feed it efficiently, but use it sparingly.

Ethanol production is just a way to produce useful work from the whole grain in addition to the feeding value of the protein, fiber and ash fraction, via controlled fractional processing rather than farting it away, or just making fat cows.

Whole grains, or distiller's dried grains or soybean cake is nothing more than a supplement to the entire feed input for growing cows or other ruminants. These creatures want and expect low-density high-roughage grassy material and that's what they'll get most of their lives until the feedlot time comes. DDG provides the best high-energy/protein supplement without the gassy-fart carbs or anti-nutrient soybean chemicals, plus a bonus of yeast anti-microbial nutriaceuticals and bioavailable minerals made during the "high-quality feed supplement process" ie the ethanol fermentation process.

At the very least, no America, Canadian or "Other World" farmer ever needs to buy Saudi, or Texan, petroleum ever again. Nor "pay" to import it, in all the different ways payment is made these very dangerous days.

[One] might want to get a bachelor's degree or higher in animal husbandry, perhaps with a minor in carbohydrate metabolism, before [going] off spouting EXXXCON anti-ethanol propaganda as if it's scientific fact, let alone Big-R Reality.

Contact David Blume at for the real facts on ethanol ecology.

Look over Lion Kuntz's H2-PV website.


* * * *

Response by Jim Dunn

I am not sure that a response is worthwhile since Mr. Smith seems to have missed the points of the article, in his anxiety to explain how a cow's digestive system works, and the potential for using distillers dried grains and ethanol byproduct (which may be of significant value, but is no longer corn, and cannot be sold as 'cracked corn', a key international commodity!).
But I will restate the points of my letter to hope he sees the 'bigger picture':
First - There is not enough corn produced in the US to make 35 Billion barrels of Ethanol targeted by President Bush, in 10 years (without adding 40 Million new acres of farmland.)  If we used virtually all
the corn in the US, for ethanol, there would not be enough corn left to dry and sell as cracked corn for feeding chickens, pigs, etc., raising the cost of virtually all farm animals, chickens, pigs, beef cattle, etc. 
This would dramatically impact world food supplies, (and even dairy products, since even the corn ground into silage on dairy farms would have higher net value). Many other articles have also pointed this out -
see MIT Technology Review - - Bush's Dangerous Energy Proposal - Moving too quickly on alternative fuels could backfire, says one expert on ethanol fuels.
Second - Even if we try to make 35 B gallons of ethanol, upsetting the world corn market (which is already starting to happen) it would NOT yield a net increase in fuel since the energy yield is so low with ethanol - In fact, we will actually need 30-35% MORE Ethanol based fuel to replace the higher energy value gasoline being displaced ! - See The ethanol myth - https://.org/cro/cars/new-cars/ethanol-10-06/overview/1006_ethanol_ov1_1.htm   - Consumer Reports' E85 tests show that you’ll get cleaner emissions but poorer fuel economy ... if you can find it.  Consumer Reports states "after putting a 2007 Chevrolet Tahoe FFV through an array of fuel economy, acceleration, and emissions tests, and interviewing more than 50 experts on ethanol fuel, CR determined that E85 will cost consumers more money than gasoline and that there are concerns about whether the government’s support of FFVs is really helping the U.S. achieve energy independence. "Among our findings: The fuel economy of the Tahoe dropped 27 percent when running on E85 compared with gasoline, from an already low 14 mpg overall to 10 mpg (rounded to the nearest mpg). This is the lowest fuel mileage we’ve gotten from any vehicle in recent years. With the retail pump price of E85 averaging $2.91 per gallon in August, according to the Oil Price Information Service, which tracks petroleum and other fuel prices, a 27 percent fuel-economy penalty means drivers would have paid an average of $3.99 for the energy equivalent of a gallon of gasoline.  When we calculated the Tahoe’s driving range, we found that it decreased to about 300 miles on a full tank of E85 compared with about 440 on gasolineSo you have to fill up more often with E85." 
Third - The economics are difficult, and may not work without subsidies - The true cost of producing this much ethanol must include fertilizing and farming the 40 Million additional acres required to produce the 35 B gallons of (low energy content) ethanol, requiring billions of gallons of (extra) diesel fuel to operate the tractors and billions of cubic feet of natural gas to make the ammonia to fertilize the fields, (since most corn farmers don't have cattle or cows to produce natural manure). This only shifts the fuel use to Diesel and Natural gas, to produce the ethanol used to displace gasoline, a poor substitution. Furthermore, although there has been a stampede of investors rushing to build new ethanol plants, driving up the cost of corn; the ultimate issue is whether these plants can compete with gasoline as corn costs approach $4 per bushel, and gasoline prices stay under $3 per gallon.  In fact, E-85 will have to sell for 20-30% lower per gallon than gasoline to deliver the same energy content and fuel cost per mile. That’s because ethanol has a much lower energy content than gasoline: only 75,670 British thermal units per gallon instead of 115,400 for gasoline, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.  If too many corn ethanol plants are built, the market will tend to 'self-correct', diminishing the profitability of ethanol, to compete with gasoline, (which may stay under $3 per barrel for several years). 
In fact, many economists are already projecting an Ethanol Glut - see  'New prospect for US: glut of ethanol plants'  
Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
Fourth -  To  address the "Biological perspective" as requested by Mr. Smith - see the following story issued by American Institute of Biological Sciences.      Source  American Institute of Biological Sciences 
Fuel Ethanol Cannot Alleviate U.S. Dependence On Petroleum  - Science Daily — A new study of the carbon dioxide emissions, cropland area requirements, and other environmental consequences of growing corn and sugarcane to produce fuel ethanol indicates that the "direct and indirect environmental impacts of growing, harvesting, and converting biomass to ethanol far exceed any value in developing this energy resource on a large scale." The study, published in the July 2005 issue of BioScience, the journal of the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS), uses the “ecological footprint” concept to assess needs for ethanol production from sugarcane, now widespread in Brazil, and from corn, which is increasing in the United States.
The authors of the study assessed the energy required to produce the crops and to manufacture and distribute the resulting fuels. In the United States, ethanol yielded only about 10 percent more energy than was required to produce it .    Dias de Oliveira and colleagues then looked at some consequences of moving to greater fuel ethanol use. The results were unfavorable to fuel ethanol in either country. In Brazil, reducing the rate of deforestation seemed likely to be more effective for taking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. In the United States, reliance on ethanol to fuel the automobile fleet would require enormous, unachievable areas of corn agriculture, and the environmental impacts would outweigh its benefits.

"Ethanol cannot alleviate the United States’ dependence on petroleum," Dias de Oliveira and colleagues conclude. They argue for the development of multiple alternatives to fossil fuels. Ethanol may, however, still be useful in regions or cities with critical pollution problems, they write, and to make use of agricultural wastes.

Summary - A more realistic and achievable approach is to use basic conservation measures, and other fuel efficiency improvement methods to reduce the use of all fuels, while accelerating the development of Plug-in hybrids and enacting improved CAFE standards.  A new, more realistic Energy and Flex-fuel Bill is currently being reviewed in Congress - See -

• Provides big tax incentives for motorists to purchase plug-in hybrid vehicles. Because these hybrids rely far more on electric power (and less on gasoline) than today's hybrids, they would qualify for bigger tax breaks than today's models do.

• Ramps up oil displacement with biofuels by, among other things, offering tax breaks to gas stations that offer ethanol and other fuels.

• Establishes a detailed oil-conservation program, which would include "oil savings" audits of federal agencies.

• Boosts research on ethanol made from plant fiber and other noncorn materials by $1 billion over five years.

• Offers tax credits, loan guarantees, and grants to automakers and suppliers that retool factories to build more efficient vehicles.  

The critical element is to place far less emphasis on Corn based ethanol, which offers no real net energy gain, but instead accelerate the development of Celluosic and Algae based biofuels, while beginning the ultimate shift to Zero emission energy sources with the new Plug-in hybrids and pure Electric drive vehicles being shown in detroit for future market launch. 

For further info on ethanol as a fuel, see the 10 primary issues of ethanol, from

* * * *

See also

Page composed by Sterling D. Allan Jan. 1, 2007
Last updated November 21, 2014





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