Latest IRL News and Commentary

Ethanol, Schmethanol
by Lance Freespeed
March 1, 2006

I am not a scientist, nor a statistician. But it is not difficult to clearly see that the "Ethanol spin" is shaky at best. Yet, it seems that the American public is swallowing it up without question or caution.

Without government subsidies for the farm crops that are used to produce ethanol, it would not be economically viable, and will end up costing a great deal more than gasoline in the long run. In fact there is not a bio-fuel that is viable as a replacement for gasoline at our current consumption. There is not enough land on the planet to produce enough bio-diesel to replace even a small percentage of global gasoline usage. Bio-fuels might be a good supplement, but they certainly are not a viable substitute or solution.

Incidentally, Methanol has been used in IndyCars and Champ Cars for over 20 years. It is currently primarily made from natural gas, but can be made from coal, of which we have massive supplies in the US. Coal does not make very tasty muffins either. Methanol can also be made from sea water. However, though it can be done, it is not made from oil.

If made from coal alone, with current known coal reserves in the US, we could produce enough Methanol to fuel every vehicle in the US for the next 500 years.

The way I see it, the ethanol campaign and push is kind of like the drug dealer that gives his customers a little "taste". Then, once they come to depend on his product, he is free to start charging whatever he wants, because he knows they will do whatever they must to get their fix. Simply blending gasoline with Ethanol will not even make a significant dent in our consumption of gasoline. The whole point is to eliminate dependence on oil as a vehicle fuel. It will be gone within our lifetime, but that's a completely different article. So we really have to look at something that will replace gasoline altogether.

Also, if ethanol becomes prominent in a non-gasoline blended form, we will end up using farmland to produce fuel, and then where do we grow the food? We will still end up importing either food or gas. Not a good choice to have to make.

Here is the math: We use more than 60 Million gallons of gasoline per day in the U.S. That is nearly 22 Billion gallons per year. To put that in perspective, pause just a second and without doing the actual math, take a quick guess at how long you think one million seconds is , and write it on a piece of paper (in days, weeks, months...etc), and no cheating!

Are you ready?

One million seconds is a little more than 11.5 days. One billion seconds is over 31.5 YEARS. Now think about how much 22 Billion Gallons per year is. Staggering isn't it?

OK, now let's think about how much corn (or whatever) we would have to grow to replace that gasoline. Let's forget for a moment that Ethanol does not have as much energy as gasoline, so according to a chemical engineer I know, accounting for increased engine efficiency combined with the lower energy of ethanol, we would likely use as much as 10-20% more ethanol than gasoline.

So we have to grow enough "stuff" (well, corn seems to be the highest yield) to make at least 22 Billion gallons per year at our current usage (which incidentally is still growing). Keep in mind that you only get one crop per year per acre. Each acre can produce approximately 464 gallons per year. That means we would have to dedicate no less than 47 million acres to producing corn (or whatever) for vehicle fuel alone.

Currently, according to the USDA, there are about 75 million acres dedicated to growing corn in the US, and our production is more than twice the world's second biggest producer (China, also the second most oil-thirsty nation.)

We would have to reserve about 63% of our entire national corn production to produce enough fuel to meet the current demand. Imagine a drought or some other catastrophe decimating over 60% of our annual corn crop. It would be devastating to food supplies. Also realize that corn is used for far more than a tasty side dish. We cannot afford to lose more than half of our corn crop.

This does not even consider the fact that it would take years to simply build the production and distribution infrastructure to deliver that fuel to the consumer.

So we have to ask ourselves why the President is hailing the praises of Ethanol, and why the IndyCar series is aligning themselves with them, when it clearly doesn't make any sense? I wonder if it has anything to do with the huge lobbying budgets of the farming industry? I wonder if it has to do with the Bush family association with the oil trade, and his all time low approval rating? It is not entirely unheard of for a politician to tell people what they want to hear.

So please forgive me when I get a little bit charged up over the Ethanol media and PR campaign, especially in the context of our sport.

In the context of all of the merger buzz, I highly doubt that Champ Car would ever head down the Ethanol road. After all, Mr. Forsythe's business is in natural gas, which is currently a primary source of methanol. So I imagine the ethanol people would need to find another place to go with their bogus campaign.

We are a gullible society. We will eat whatever we are told is good to eat. We are told that NASCAR drivers are the top of the racing profession, and we accept it as the truth. The very same marketing blitz that built and drives NASCAR today is one that will drive the Ethanol myth as well.

Feedback can be sent to feedback@autoracing1.com

Go to our forums to discuss this article


Copyright 1999-2014  AutoRacing1 is an independent internet online publication and is not affiliated with, sponsored by, or endorsed by the IRL., NASCAR, FIA,  Sprint, or any other series sponsor. This material may not be published, broadcast, or redistributed without permission.