Ethanol in Gasoline: Not a Good Deal for the Consumers

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People buying into the myth that Ethanol is our energy ace have simply got to beware.

In Hawaii, that includes ”’The Honolulu Advertiser”’ pushing it (June 20, 2006), and in recent weeks Hawaiian Electric Co. spokespeople, Governor Linda Lingle, and local radio talk show hosts. We had the Bill O’Reilly/Sen. John Kerry love fest on June 29 asserting the ethanol option is the right one. Even President George W. Bush has been swayed by the rhetoric.


These politically correct solutions to our energy supply problems, if allowed to persist, are beyond silly and quite dangerous. Too few understand what energy is and does; too few know what goes on upstream of the gas pumps and behind the electrical switches.

There are many good handbooks of chemistry and engineering which can add considerable information to all. There are all too few engineers involved with these debates as well. Thus, according to American Automobile Manufacturers Association, the energy content in a gallon of Ethanol is well known to be about 76,000 Btu/gallon of ethanol. Gasoline by contrast contains about 50 percent more energy at 114,000 Btu/gal. (The British thermal unit, Btu, is one of many commonly used units of energy)

As Ethanol is mixed with gasoline, the energy per gallon of the mixed fuel drops, being diluted with the less energetic ethanol. The E85 mixture (85 percent Ethanol) contains 83,260 Btu/gal. Obviously, this is less energy than is in the gasoline itself, and as a result, the mileage will therefore drop.

A major reason why Ethanol is so popular in the United States is the presence of huge subsidies throughout, not because of any magical energy sources.

There are subsidies for growing the corn, for building the distilleries, and a 51 cent subsidy for every gallon of ethanol produced. This is to say that the taxpayers are paying much of the Ethanol tab. Whatever the consumers pay at the pump is so much the better for the ethanol lobby.

This excludes state tax credits and other subsidies.

For the record according to Patzek, in the 10 years from 1995 to 2004, taxpayers spent $41.9 billion in corn subsidies.

Currently, according to Patzek (UC Berkeley The Real Biofuel Cycles April 17, 2006), there is an estimated total ethanol tax credit of 57cents per gallon.

This is collected by the Ethanol lobby, too. Just to make things sweeter, the U.S. has erected import tariffs on imported ethanol of more than 50 cents/gallon to defend against lower cost imports of that Brazilian ethanol. This helps to inflate the price of ethanol to the consumers, quite similar to the tariffs erected to protect the US sugar lobby.

According to Tad Patzek, the true costs of corn ethanol to the taxpayers are $3.12 per gallon of ethanol, or $4.74 per gallon of gasoline equivalent GGE