Category Archives: ethanol

Reinert Interview: Opinion on Ethanol and What Would Be a Better Octane Booster Choice?

Today is the eleventh and final post in this Monday series of subjects covered during my summer 2014 interview of Bill Reinert, recently retired energy engineer for Toyota who played a key role in the development of the Prius and then assumed the role of future transportation planning of alternative-fueled vehicles at Toyota. See his full bio here. –Kay M.

K.M.: Years ago you said, “Using ethanol for fuel is like electing the dumbest kid in school as Class President.” Do you still stand behind that statement?

Reinert: Yes, I still stand behind that statement. Ethanol has remarkably destructive properties in your gas tank, especially on cars and engines that aren’t driven very much, like seasonal boats. It is hydroscopic so it absorbs water and the water gets throughout the fuel system and dirt or debris that’s normally in your tank gets emulsified. That gets plated out in your fuel system and your car runs very poorly. This has been documented time and time again, and it’s especially bad for cars or applications that aren’t designed for high levels of ethanol. It really has no upside and when we consider all of the damage that it does to our ecosystems, it is done for no good reason. I don’t believe anybody in the scientific community or at the Department of Energy (DOE) is seriously looking at bioethanol from corn except for the politicians.

I don’t think people realize how much energy is in oil and gas, and the amount of acreage necessary to make even small replacements is huge. And cellulosic ethanol, by the way, is a dream that will remain a dream.

K.M.: Ethanol got its window of opportunity as a methyl teriary-butyl ether (MTBE) replacement, because MTBE was added to gasoline to help prevent air pollution and then it was discovered that it was a water pollutant and a carcinogen. Now, ethanol advocates like to tell us that we need ethanol as an octane booster in our gasoline. Are there good alternatives to ethanol that might be used as octane boosters instead? What would you pick?

Reinert: I’d pick the bioethers. They’re not water contaminants and their half-life in the troposphere is very small. With a little more study I think they can make a contribution in improving the cetane and the octane of the fuels and thus allow us to use them in the most advanced engines that we have right now. The trade off with ethanol as an octane enhancer is that it’s hydroscopic and I would never make that choice, plus it has such a giant footprint. In comparison, we can make these ethers pretty quickly and pretty easily.

The bioethers, dimethyl ether (DME) and diethyl ether (DEE), are synthesis gases made from waste products. Since they’re not a fermentation product like corn ethanol is, all of the carbon gets turned into fuel whereas in fermentation, only the carbon that is converted into sugar gets used for fuel. DEE can be used in gasoline engines as an octane enhancer and DME could be used to increase the cetane of diesel, or, it could replace diesel altogether.

Octane boosters help prevent pinging in the advanced gasoline engines since we’ve increased the combustion pressure so high that the fuel pre-ignites. This means that new gasoline engines have started to resemble diesel engines.

And in order to reduce the nitrogen oxide emissions from the diesel engine, we are reducing its combustion ratio, making it more like the gasoline engine. However, this produces soot, which DME can help to prevent.

I’ve had some wonderful conversations with Steve Chu and others at the Department of Energy and what they want is a drop-in gasoline replacement. Ideally, we would be given optimum specifications, or fixed properties, for gasoline and diesel. There would be multiple pathways to arrive at those specifications, such as through syngas. This could be done through a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) grant. The fuel you’d want to pick in the end would be the one with the lowest societal costs. This is what we really need to be doing, but unfortunately, we’re not doing it.

To see last week’s interview subject on the best ways to power cars, including the pros and cons of using batteries, hybrid technology, ICEs, or fuel cells, click here.

I hope you have enjoyed this series for the valuable resource and the wealth of information that it has provided. Today marks its final day.

There is 3 Percent Less Energy in our Gasoline Supply with Added Ethanol

I cannot figure out why there isn’t a greater backlash from the U.S. citizen about our nation’s ethanol policy. While the world’s food and agricultural journalists are in a constant toot about food waste and how to prevent it, they don’t seem to notice that we are wasting the production from some of the best farmland in the world, the American Midwest, by burning massive amounts of corn for fueling our vehicles.

The environmental consequences are also enormous. This policy is causing alarming losses of soil from this rich productive region, it is a large reason behind the fertilizer run-off that creates the Dead Zone in the Gulf, and the policy has also led to a sad loss of monarch’s, songbirds, and biodiversity.

The EPA made a small move towards sanity when it attempted to reduce the mandates set above the blend wall, but now it has failed to follow-through, at least until after this November’s election, it would appear.

This U.S. policy is mandated food waste.

And it is less energy in your gas tank.

From the U.S. Energy Information Association:
Increasing ethanol use has reduced the average energy content of retail motor gasoline

EIA has adjusted its estimates of the energy content of retail motor gasoline in the Monthly Energy Review (MER) to reflect its changing composition. Ethanol and other oxygenates, which have lower energy content than petroleum-based gasoline components, have seen their share of total gasoline volumes increase from 2% in 1993 to nearly 10% in 2013. As a result, EIA’s estimate of motor gasoline’s average energy content per gallon has declined by about 3% over this 20-year period.


How Much Energy is Required to Grow and Harvest Various Crops and How Much Does it Cost?

Some like to say that food equals fossil fuel energy, and while I disagree with that over-simplification, we cannot deny that modern day agricultural methods rely upon fossil fuels. Today’s post comes from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. It breaks down some energy input numbers using data from the USDA as well as the EIA. Interestingly, it also compares energy inputs for growing crops to energy inputs for producing livestock. –Kay M.

Energy for growing and harvesting crops is a large component of farm operating costs

graph of operating expense for various crops, as explained in the article text

The U.S. agriculture industry used nearly 800 trillion British thermal units (Btu) of energy in 2012, or about as much primary energy as the entire state of Utah. Agricultural energy consumption includes energy needed to grow and harvest crops and energy needed to grow livestock. Crop operations consume much more energy than livestock operations, and energy expenditures for crops account for a higher percentage of farm operating costs.

Agricultural energy consumption includes both direct and indirect energy consumption. Direct energy consumption includes the use of diesel, electricity, propane, natural gas, and renewable fuels for activities on the farm. Indirect energy consumption includes the use of fuel and feedstock (especially natural gas) in the manufacturing of agricultural chemicals such as fertilizers and pesticides.

Energy makes up a significant part of operating expenditures for most crops, especially when considering indirect energy expenditures on fertilizer, because the production of fertilizer is extremely energy-intensive, requiring large amounts of natural gas. For some crops like oats, corn, wheat, and barley, energy and fertilizer expenditures combined make up more than half of total operating expenses. The proportion of direct to indirect energy use varies by crop. For example, corn, which is also used as an energy input for ethanol production, has relatively low direct fuel expenditures but has the highest percentage of fertilizer expenditures.

graph of U.S. direct energy consumption for crops and livestock, as explained in the article text

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Annual Energy Outlook 2014

The energy consumed in livestock operations is almost solely direct energy consumption and is relatively low compared with crop operations, both as a percentage of total operating expenditures and on a total energy basis. Livestock operations consume direct energy for ventilation systems, refrigeration, lighting, heating, watering, motors, and waste handling, whereas crop operations use energy to plant, harvest, irrigate, and dry crops. The energy consumed in the production of livestock feed is not included in this analysis of livestock energy consumption.

Distillate fuel is the dominant fuel for direct energy consumption for both livestock and crop operations. Distillate is used for crop tilling, harvesting, weed control, and other operations that require heavy machinery. Crop drying is another fuel-intensive farm activity, and the amount of fuel used varies by the type of crop and its moisture content. High-temperature dryers are powered by either electricity or propane.

Supplying water can also be an energy-intensive task. Although some farms have access to public water supplies, most farms pump water from wells and groundwater sources. Most pumping is done with electricity, but pumps in remote locations may use diesel or propane.

The chemicals used by the agricultural industry are a subset of the bulk chemical industry and include fertilizers and pesticides. Nitrogenous (ammonia-based) fertilizers require large amounts of natural gas as a feedstock and provide heat and power for processing. EIA’s 2010 Manufacturing Energy Consumption Survey estimates that the U.S. nitrogenous fertilizer industry consumed more than 200 trillion Btu of natural gas as feedstock in 2010 and another 152 trillion Btu for heat and power.

In addition to being major energy consumers, some farms are using renewable resources to produce energy. Wind turbines, methane digesters, and photovoltaics are the most common on-farm renewables. Renewable energy can help to offset the need for purchased energy. In some cases, the renewable energy produced on farms is sold to electric power suppliers, providing additional income for farmers.

Principal contributor: Susan Hicks

Ethanol Export Expansion Possible

This U.S. Grains Council chart illustrates potential ethanol use if countries enforced their current biofuels mandates.

The U.S. Grains Council is looking to export markets for ethanol expansion…

If countries enforced existing biofuels mandates using ethanol, their gasoline use in 2012 would suggest that the top 10 ethanol consumers would require 3.5 billion gallons of the renewable fuel. The next 10 would add another 393 million gallons of demand.

As examples of the potential ethanol demand that would be driven by enforcement of existing mandates, ethanol consumption in Japan would increase from 9 to 459 million gallons and in Mexico, from 4 to 236 million gallons. Starting this fall, the team will assess Japan and Korea, Latin America and Southeast Asia as potential markets for U.S. ethanol exports.

These markets represent the potential for a huge growth in global ethanol demand. The Council and its partners have initiated ethanol export market development programs in 2014.

Note that looking to expand the export of ethanol in today’s environment of surplus corn was highly expected. Maybe we should call it exporting our topsoil, exporting our tax dollars, and, exporting our Monarch’s and our songbirds to some forgotten place. Who are the winners? The big agribusiness companies.


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