Category Archives: ethanol

Poultry Industry Struggles Since RFS Mandates Went Into Effect

This post (below) is from the USDA. I like this quote from the last sentence of the summary

“The cessation of broiler industry growth, due to slowing growth in population, per capita consumption of chicken, and exports, places new financial pressures on broiler producers and new stresses on industry organization.”

Though the USDA will not tell you that escalating feed prices resulted from using 40 percent of the corn crop for ethanol production, which is the main cause of the decline in poultry meat production here in the U.S., I think that almost any poultry producer will explain that to you rather quickly. (!)

From the USDA…

U.S. broiler production has leveled off after decades of rapid growth

Between 1960 and 1995, annual broiler slaughter in the United States grew from 1.5 to 7.4 billion birds—4.6 percent per year, on average. With birds also getting larger—from an average of 3.35 pounds to 4.66—total live-weight production grew at an average rate of 5.6 percent per year.

While average weights continued to grow steadily after 1995, growth in annual slaughter slowed sharply and then fell in 2009 and again in 2012. Total live-weight production reached 49.8 billion pounds in 2008, but did not exceed that figure until 2013. In all, live-weight production grew by just 1.3 percent per year between 2003 and 2013, one-fourth of the 1960-1995 growth rate.

High produc­tion growth in earlier decades—and slowing growth later—reflected movements in demand for chicken meat. The cessation of broiler industry growth, due to slowing growth in population, per capita consumption of chicken, and exports, places new financial pressures on broiler producers and new stresses on industry organization.

source: usda

More Bad News About Ethanol. It Causes Corrosion and Leakage of Underground Fuel Storage Tanks.

Ethanol got its start as an MTBE replacement when MTBE was found to contaminate groundwater. Both are octane boosters. MTBE, as a gasoline additive, was intended to help curb air pollution but was later found to be a carcinogen contaminant of groundwater.

Fast forward to now. We all know that ethanol policy leads to nitrogen groundwater contamination in corn growing regions, but now we are learning that it may also be contributing to leakage in or around underground gasoline station fuel storage tanks. Furthermore, a São Paulo study suggests that using ethanol in vehicles increases ozone air pollution.

After NIST held a two day workshop here in Boulder a year ago to study how the combination of certain microbes with ethanol may be accelerating the corrosion of steel underground storage tanks of gasoline containing 10 percent ethanol, they have released a new report based on their findings. It focused on sump pumps, among other storage and pumping components. The industry is studying whether certain diesel tanks are now leaking because they previously held gasoline mixed with ethanol.

The ethanol people will probably tell you this is yet another conspiracy by big oil against them. The gas station owners and petroleum distributors, on the other hand, will tell you how expensive it is to replace tanks and pipes and fittings and replace them with fiberglass ones to accommodate this product that is government mandated.

In my view this is an important story. There are good options other than ethanol to be used as octane boosters in our gasoline and it is time to consider them.

Here is the July 29, 2014 article authored by Laura Ost for NIST:

NIST Corrosion Lab Tests Suggest Need for Underground Gas Tank Retrofits

A hidden hazard lurks beneath many of the roughly 156,000 gas stations across the United States.

gas tank sump pump
A NIST study found that corrosion may pose a hazard at underground gas storage tanks at filling stations. The study focused on sump pump components, especially the pump casings (labelled #3 in graphic), which are typically made of steel or cast iron.
Credit: Environmental Protection Agency
View hi-resolution image
Gas Tank Corrosion
Optical micrographs of severe corrosion on steel alloy samples exposed to ethanol and acetic acid vapors — conditions typical of underground gas storage tanks — after 355 hours, 643 hours, and 932 hours.
Credit: NIST
View hi-resolution image

The hazard is corrosion in parts of underground gas storage tanks—corrosion that could result in failures, leaks and contamination of groundwater, a source of drinking water. In recent years, field inspectors in nine states have reported many rapidly corroding gas storage tank components such as sump pumps. These incidents are generally associated with use of gasoline-ethanol blends and the presence of bacteria, Acetobacter aceti, which convert ethanol to acetic acid, a component of vinegar.

Following up on the inspectors’ findings, a National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) laboratory study* has demonstrated severe corrosion—rapidly eating through 1 millimeter of wall thickness per year—on steel alloy samples exposed to ethanol and acetic acid vapors. Based on this finding, NIST researchers suggest gas stations may need to replace submersible pump casings, typically made of steel or cast iron, sooner than expected. Such retrofits could cost an estimated $1,500 to $2,500 each, and there are more than 500,000 underground gas storage tanks around the country.

The NIST study focused only on sump pump components, located directly below access covers at filling stations, just above and connected to underground gas storage tanks. The sump pumps move fuel from underground tanks to the fuel dispensers that pump gas into cars. These underground tanks and pipes also may be made of steel and could be vulnerable, too. “We know there are corrosion issues associated with the inside of some tanks. We’re not sure, at this point, if that type of corrosion is caused by the bacteria,” NIST co-author Jeffrey Sowards says.

Much of the U.S. fuel infrastructure was designed for unblended gasoline. Ethanol, an alcohol that can be made from corn, is now widely used as a gasoline additive due to its oxygen content and octane rating, or antiknock index. A previous NIST study found that ethanol-loving bacteria accelerated pipeline cracking.**

For the latest study, NIST researchers developed new test methods and equipment to study copper and steel alloy samples either immersed in ethanol-water solutions inoculated with bacteria, or exposed to the vapors above the medium—conditions mimicking those around sump pumps. Corrosion rates were measured over about 30 days.

The NIST study confirmed damage similar to that seen on sump pumps by field inspectors. The worst damage, with flaky iron oxide products covering corrosion, was found on steel exposed to the vapors. Copper in both the liquid and vapor environments also sustained damage, but corrosion rates were slower. Steel corroded very slowly while immersed in the liquid mixture; the NIST paper suggests bacteria may have created a biofilm that was protective in this case.

Although copper corroded slowly—it would take about 15 years for 1.2-millimeter-thick copper tube walls to develop holes—localized corrosion was observed on cold-worked copper, the material used in sump pump tubing, NIST co-author Elisabeth Mansfield notes. Therefore, stress-corrosion cracking is a concern for bent copper tubing because it would greatly reduce tube lifetime and result in leaks.

The NIST test equipment developed for the study could be used in future investigations of special coatings and biocides or other ways to prevent sump pump failures and leaks.

NIST held a workshop in July 2013 on biocorrosion associated with alternative fuels. Presentations and information from this workshop can be found

*J.W. Sowards and E. Mansfield. Corrosion of copper and steel alloys in a simulated underground storage tank sump environment containing acid producing bacteria. Corrosion Science. July, 2014. In press, corrected proof available online. DOI: 10.1016/j.corsci.2014.07.009.
**See 2011 NIST Tech Beat article, “NIST Finds That Ethanol-Loving Bacteria Accelerate Cracking of Pipeline Steels,” at

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

UPDATE: I have made a correction, since contacted by the author of the NIST article that the NIST conference was actually held in 2013, not a few weeks ago (here in Boulder). I have also added the post from NIST.

Ethanol Profits are Inverse to Corn Profits – For Now

Graph by Don Hofstrand, AgMRC

Ethanol profitability goes up when corn prices go down, and so can serve as a good hedge for corn farmers, provided the ethanol price is strong.

According to Hofstrand, a retired Iowa State University ag economist:

Production and consumption of ethanol remain in relative balance with a slight increase in net exports. This has resulted in a gradual reduction in ethanol stocks which has helped support ethanol price. However, future ethanol usage and price remains clouded due to the ‘blend wall’ and other transportation fuel issues.

source: Do ethanol returns serve as a hedge against low corn prices?

Less Corn. More Shrimp.

2013 Hypoxic zone measurements

Do you like shrimp?

This year’s Deadzone in our Gulf of Mexico waters will be about the size of Connecticut. It is estimated that the Dead Zone causes losses of $82 million per year to the seafood and tourism industries.

Much of it is caused by corn cropland fertilizer runoff that ends up going down the Mississippi River. Corn used to fuel cars – cropland used to feed cars, not people. In contrast, a healthy Gulf of Mexico sans Dead Zone would be capable of growing more shrimp, crabs, clams, and fish which humans love to eat. Which would you vote for if it were your choice, if you got to pick one over the other?

We should all resent this loss of soil and wasted fertilizer that poisons our – what should be – naturally rich, abundant, seafood-producing region of the United States, our Gulf of Mexico.

This is what agribusiness lobbyists, a couple dozen Midwestern policy makers in D.C., and a presidential caucus that begins in Iowa, have bought for you, Americans.

Wouldn’t we be a richer nation and have a higher quality of life if our vote was cast for healthy land, rivers, and waterways? If our vote was cast for a healthy seafood-producing Gulf region? The many livelihoods which could be enriched in the Gulf region would exceed the few Midwestern jobs at ethanol plants in a region where this biofuels policy is only contributing to ongoing depopulation of the Midwest as farms continue to get larger.

We live in an era where we struggle to find enough clean seafood. We could all win by having a healthy Gulf and healthy Midwestern land and water if we would reverse the corn ethanol mandate, prioritize sustainable farming methods, reestablish grasslands along waterways, encourage sustainable grazing lands, and grow real-food crops on smaller more biodiverse farms, once again, in the Midwest.

Less corn. More shrimp!

For further reading see:

1. Summer ‘Dead Zone’ expert notes connection to midwest corn planted for ethanol from Houston’s news.

2. 2014 Forecast: Summer Hypoxic Zone Size, Northern Gulf of Mexico (EPA)

3. Dead Zone Size of Connecticut Demands Federal Action.

Corn Acres Increased 25% from 2006 to 2012

You will see from the data in this post that the RFS mandated corn ethanol program spurred corn acreage by 25 percent in the U.S. because of a new and rapid increased demand, which drove prices higher.

Below, is a recent graph and report from the USDA:

Positive grower returns have supported the expansion of U.S. corn area since the late 2000s. Returns to corn production—the value above total economic costs that include opportunity costs of land, labor, and other owned resources—have been positive since 2007.

Returns reached a high of $224 per planted acre in 2011 before declining to $48 in 2013. With economic profit available from corn production, planted corn acres increased nearly 25 percent nationally from about 78 million in 2006 to a record of more than 97 million in 2012. In 2013, however, lower corn price expectations pushed down planted area, and lower corn prices, along with higher land costs, reduced returns to corn production.

From 1997 to 2006, economic returns to corn production had been negative, averaging -$74 per planted acre. During this time, planted corn acreage was relatively stable between about 75 and 80 million acres.

source: USDA