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Lawmakers Out To Kill the Corn-Based Ethanol Mandate 314

Posted by Soulskill
from the i'm-all-ears dept.
mdsolar tips this report: "Teams of lawmakers are working hard on bills to cut corn-based ethanol out of the country's biofuel mandate entirely, according to National Journal. It's the latest twist in America's fraught relationship with biofuels, which started in 2005 when Congress first mandated that a certain amount of biofuel be mixed into the country's fuel supply. The Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) was then expanded in 2007, with separate requirements for standard biofuel on the one hand and cellulosic and advanced biofuels on the other. The latter are produced from non-food products like cornstalks, agricultural waste, and timber industry cuttings. The RFS originally called for 100 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol in 2010, 250 million in 2011, and 500 million in 2012. Instead, the cellulosic industry failed to get off the ground. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was forced to revise the mandate down to 6.5 million in 2010, and all the way down to zero in 2012. The cellulosic mandate has started to slowly creep back up, and 2014 may be the year when domestic production of cellulosic ethanol finally takes off. But then last month EPA did something else for the first time: it cut down the 2014 mandate for standard biofuel, produced mainly from corn. And now Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA) and Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) have teamed up on legislation that would eliminate the standard biofuel mandate entirely."
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Lawmakers Out To Kill the Corn-Based Ethanol Mandate

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  • by jellomizer (103300) on Tuesday December 17, 2013 @04:08PM (#45717931)

    I applaud them for trying. I also applaud them louder for realizing it didn't work and ending it.

    The problem in this stupid political landscape, You can't go back and say, It seemed like a good idea at the time, however I stopped it after we found out it didn't meet expectations. Which is really stupid, because it creates bad policies that just keep going on and on creating more harm, and making political leaders afraid to try something new.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 17, 2013 @04:17PM (#45718047)

    Al Gore [politicsdaily.com] knew it was a mistake when it was first put into place. He put it in to get more votes from corn farmers.

    Its not "switching your position because you learned it was wrong". Its corruption from the get go thanks to Al Gore. How much did this raise food prices and cause people to go hungry? How many engines for cars of poor people were ruined by the extra water in the fuel?

    No one will care because a mistake from the DNC is to be forgotten and anyone who points it out is making up a "fake controversy".

  • by dpilot (134227) on Tuesday December 17, 2013 @04:19PM (#45718077) Homepage Journal

    Blasted flip-flopper!

    (Sarcasm alert)

    In "Earth" David Brin tried to come up with 3 culturally neutral definitions for sanity. One was the ability to be satiated - to say you have enough of something, and stop. Another was the ability to evaluate how things are going, and change your plans and actions based upon events and results. I forget the third. I once went back and located it again, trying to remember it. I forgot it, again.

  • by borcharc (56372) * on Tuesday December 17, 2013 @04:43PM (#45718343)

    I looked at several ethanol proposals back in the 2000's, every single one I took a pass on investing in because it was obvious that I would loose my shirt the second the government pulled the rug. These things, just like wind, have never been or never could be profitable without the subsidy. Anyone who was dumb enough to invest in these things deserves to lose their shirt. I completely gave up on renewable energy in 2008 when it was clear to me that no one wanted real solutions, just government handouts. I saw several technologies and processes never built because they were profitable on their own and everyone wanted something with a government handout attached.

    Another major issue is with renewable power generation that isn't wind or solar. I can list off 10 projects that the utilities conspired to kill because they would be able to drive down the price of electricity in an area forcing them to shut down their legacy generation due to oversupply. The wind/solar mandate is the culprit in many of these cases as they have no choice but to buy X amount of wind/solar and they have to buy at the public market (electricity is traded electricity on a market based system in regional markets) so anything other than what they have and the feds require is a major threat for them.

  • by mlts (1038732) on Tuesday December 17, 2013 @04:45PM (#45718381)

    You won't be breaking 0-60 records anywhere near a metro area anyway.

    Believe it or not, diesels are getting embraced in the US. The Mercedes Sprinter van is a hit, and both Ford and Fiat (er, Chrysler) are both trying to get some type of decent diesel engine in a van that can compete. This is important because of fleet use of these vehicles.

    The "grocery getter" (i.e. half-ton) pickups are getting diesels as well, starting with the Chrysler RAM 1500.

    As for hybrids or electric vehicles, I've wondered about just having a pure EV drivetrain, then using a generator from Onan or Kohler mounted onboard with a fuel tank. This would require less time to design around, because the generators are already pre-made, and could be easily replaced if a part fails. Most motorhomes have an onboard genset, usually mounted underneath the rig, and if mounted properly with shock mounts and an exhaust resonator, are not loud.

  • by Em Adespoton (792954) <slashdotonly.1.adespoton@spamgourmet.com> on Tuesday December 17, 2013 @04:49PM (#45718429) Homepage Journal

    But how am I supposed to give billions in subsidies to corn farmers then?

    By converting their cornfields to switchgrass. They'll need to re-tool, which isn't cheap (which is where the grants and subsidies come in), but in the end, they'll end up with a much cheaper crop that doesn't need the same rotation and fertilizers you require with corn. So even if the subsidies are less, after the initial investment, the profit margin for farmers will be increased.

  • by CanHasDIY (1672858) on Tuesday December 17, 2013 @05:01PM (#45718591) Homepage Journal

    Lifted from [peterkaminski.com]
    Sanity, he suggests, is "when a person is adaptable and satiable, capable of realistic planning and empathizing with his fellow beings." In the book, he expands on these traits:
    flexibility -- to be able to change your opinion or course of action, if shown clear evidence you were wrong.
    satiability -- the ability to feel satisfaction if you actually get what you said you wanted, and to transfer your strivings to other goals.
    extrapolation -- an ability to realistically assess the possible consequences of your actions and to empathize, or guess how another person might think or feel.

    Huh.. so I live in a world populated mainly by insane people...

    That explains a lot, actually.

  • by CanHasDIY (1672858) on Tuesday December 17, 2013 @05:02PM (#45718613) Homepage Journal

    Cellulose is the only way to go. One of the most promising sources is switch grass [ornl.gov], which can be grown on much more marginal land, and pretty much re-plants itself (due to deep roots).

    I've heard similar things about hemp, with the added benefit of hemp being useful for more than 1 thing.

  • by icebike (68054) on Tuesday December 17, 2013 @05:17PM (#45718785)

    It's not just the corn; it's the ethanol.

    Ethanol is a poor excuse for a bio-fuel: low energy and not well-suited for pipelines because it is corrosive and absorbs water.

    True, but the energy density of ethanol [wikipedia.org] is low hanging fruit. You can get there relativity easily. And for the standard automobile, E10 can be burned with minimal detrimental effects, zero changes in equipment, and minimal-to-zero engine re-tuning.

    Changing out the physical engines in a country's entire automotive fleet is cost prohibitive, so what ever is synthesized as a fuel stretcher must be easy to manufacture and not require extensive or expensive engine changes.

  • by BenJeremy (181303) on Tuesday December 17, 2013 @05:23PM (#45718865)

    Switchgrass, Sugar Cane, and Hemp all provide more sustainable, easier-to-convert alternatives to creating ethanol, which, even with the subsidy, was more expensive per mile to operate vehicles with when made using corn.

    These alternatives cost about 30% less to convert and are easier to grow.

  • by Artagel (114272) on Tuesday December 17, 2013 @05:50PM (#45719191) Homepage

    Remember, that ethanol is present as an oxygenate to prevent carbon monoxide and soot. The discontinuation of the use of MBTE (methyl tert-butyl ether) left ethanol the primary one. Methanol is even worse for engines than ethanol. Whatever the shortcomings of ethanol from an engineering basis, it is non-toxic in reasonable quantities.

  • by icebike (68054) on Tuesday December 17, 2013 @07:02PM (#45719987)

    And yet we see cars have been running their entire lives on E10, with none of these effects.

    Gas tanks are sealed. You don't have a wet wind blowing over your gas.
    Fuel system seldom malfunction (at least NOT more often than prior to E10. I've NEVER had a gasline freeze using E10, in spite of 30 years living in Alaska.)
    Corrosion and injector/pump damage? Maybe, but these are replacement parts anyway, they needed servicing prior to E10, and still do today.

    So if Blue Oval cars can't hack E10, its a good reason to avoid blue oval cars.
    The rest of the fleet has made improvements in durability and reduced maintenance more than sufficient to overcome any damage associated with E10.

    Doesn't mean I like E10. I suffer the same miles per gallon reduction that everyone else sees. (Well maybe less, since the car is new enough to have the tune compensated for it).

    The post you replied to was stating why ethanol was chosen, as opposed to Jet A, or Diesel or Butanol.
    The point being that it is the only alternative we have that can be mass produced, and still operate in the current fleet with minimal tuning changes.

  • by Guppy (12314) on Tuesday December 17, 2013 @07:36PM (#45720375)

    Cellulose is the only way to go

    To borrow an old joke: Cellulosic Ethanol is the fuel of the future -- and always will be.

    From a chemistry or molecular biology perspective the concept looks great -- similar Hexose sugar units are in Sugar / Starch / Cellulose, so why not use the most abundant and cheapest material? The problem looks different from the perspective of evolutionary biology, however. Naturally occurring Cellulase enzymes, sourced from a wide range of different organisms, have each undergone a long process of optimization through evolutionary history. Yet every enzyme remains extremely slow and inefficient (compared to enzymes that process sugars and starches). Why is that?

    I believe the reason is that Cellulose (or rather, the Cellulose-in-Lignin composite matrix that plants use) is the end result of a very long evolutionary arms race between plants and their consumers. It has evolved to be resistant to microbial degradation -- never totally resistant, but just tough enough to ensure no critter gets a free lunch out of digesting it.

    Of course, not all Cellulosic Ethanol need be derived from purely microbial techniques; chemical and chemical/biological hybrid processes might break the evolutionary deadlock. Others have suggested engineering the starting material itself, starting with plants designed to produce more easily digestible Cellulose (which brings up the problem of how well they would defend themselves against insects and pathogens). Unfortunately, in each of these alternate solutions, the amount of work needed is enormous, and it is possible we are simply out of time, with regards to the funding for this sort of research.

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