Thursday, March 06, 2008

As I was Saying
I've used this picture before, and I've ranted about fuel prices before; and look how much good it's done me. In any event, things have not improved and, if anything, are worse and getting more so. Now, I've said that this is not and will never be a place for politics, and I do not plan to change that. Science, on the other hand, is always fair grist for this mill. With that in mind, let's chat about the science of ethanol.

For those of you who have lived in isolation for the past decade, ethanol is (as are most words in chemistry that end in -ol) an alcohol. It is made from grains, mainly corn, and is slowly being introduced into our automotive fuel to, supposedly, improve pollution. What we have here is a case of incredibly bad science and politics (I use the P word for compositional purposes only).

1. Ethanol is made from corn and, since recent laws governing its use have been passed, the price of corn has done nothing but go up.

2. One effect of #1 is an increased cost to raise cattle. Right now, farmers are reducing the size of their herds and, when that has been done, we can expect the price of meat to soar.

3. As it turns out, ethanol is, at best, not the greatest thing to burn in your engine.

4. Because of the processing and transportation involved, ethanol apparently ends up increasing pollution.

5. As the price of gasoline goes up, it is harder for some of us to do trips or drive to Madison to a net loss.

So, why are we having ethanol foisted upon us? Well, as I've always told my daughters...when something doesn't make sense, the answer is money. Someone somewhere is spreading an awful lot of it around to make this misdirected effort happen. Who? Well, if I discussed that I would be talking politics, and I don't do that.

Paddle safe...


Ben said...

Ethanol has been added, sometimes 5%, usually 10% by volume, to our gasoline fuel supply for ~20 years- it's near- (if not completely) impossible to buy 100% gasoline, and has been for some time. While increased production is good for the corn farmers, it is having the side affect to livestock farmers, which rolls down the line as you pointed out. Probably wouldn't hurt us to start growing more sugar cane, as Brazil does, for use in ethanol production. (I smell opportunity...)
As far as "not being the greatest thing to burn" though, I wonder what you're referring to. The main downside to ethanol (as is many 'alternative fuels') is it has a lower energy density compared with gasoline, so if used in place of gasoline in an engine designed for gasoline, that engine's output will be lower. However, ethanol has a much higher octance rating (a measure of a fuel's resistance to self-ignition, nothing to do directly with "power" as is widely belived), meaning that an engines' compression ratio can be increased to compensate for this.
There is a problem with energy used to exctract/energy extracted. The same problem holds true for other "gasoline solutions" as well. However, I shudder to think of what the efficiency of early oil refining was like. (before we had a use for gasoline, it was just dumped out!)

Silbs said...

Thanks, Ben. You clearly know more about this than do I. It will be interesting to see where it all ends up.

Stan Mac Kenzie said...

In good old NFLD we're paying $1.25 per litre. 1 liter = 0.264172052 US gallons. I guess about $4.73 per gallon. Probably tripping close to home this year. All the more reason to kayak.

Silbs said...

There you go, Stan. That's the bottom line.

JohnB said...

At $3.00/gallon the 180 mile roundtrip to Madison and back uses $30.00 of gas, not to mention the other expenses/wear and tear etc.

If the price goes to $4.00/gallon this summer (as is currently predicted) the roundtrip will use $40.00 of gas.

Bottom-line for me is the pleasure I get from teaching is priceless, but it no longer supports my "habit". So I've cut back on the teaching time in Madison, but not eliminated it. A choice that I had to make, and then move on. There's not much I can do about the price of gas, but I can drive less, buy a more fuel efficient vehicle, and car-pool when possible.

So, more time on Lake Michigan less on Nemahbin and places further. Full day classes, or multi-day classes when traveling greater distances, and car-pooling when possible. (And, more hours EMTing to feed my "habit".)

And, a paddling vacation this summer where not only will we be car-pooling, but also linking 2 symposiums with a short paddling trip between, all in the same direction.

Now, for that trip to Georgia--perhaps I should get a trailer hitch put on my car and load up with 3 others and our gear. Of course I have to explain this one to my wife . . . oh, well she's great and will understand ;))

derrick said...

Ethanol production also comes at the cost of food production. There's all sorts of roads you can go down there as well. . . . (well, if you have the gas. . .)

eurion said...

$4.73 a gallon . . .!!!
We are currently paying about $8.20 a gallon in the UK.

I gather that in Ireland they have been doing secret research for years in the production of ethanol.
They call it potcheen.

Burn it be damned, they drink it!

Silbs said...

JB and Derrick, I shall discuss this with you tomorrow...over Irish Whiskey. Speaking of which: Eurion, they are probably burning whiskey!

Ron said...

We're currently selling 100LL aviation fuel for $4.79 gal. I'd be curious what it sells for in the UK.
It has no alchohal added.

JohnB said...

Having lived in London back in the mid to late 70's, I recall the prices we paid for petrol (2 to 3 times higher than in US). And, then in California during the gas crisis right after that (we actually could only purchase gas on odd or even days depending on the last digit of our plate), I perhaps look at the price of gas a bit differently than some. The price is the price, I can either pay it and drive when and where, or I can use other forms of transportation, or stay home.

But, I don't obsess about it and get my knickers all in a twist. The price of coffee has gone up too, but I'm not going to stop drinking it, I simply enjoy it too much. I'm paying $2.00 more for a 6-pack of beer than I did this time last year, like the coffee I enjoy it too much to stop drinking it, or drink stuff that I don't like. I'm paying $1.00 more for a gallon of milk than I did a year ago too. And, now I've grown fond of good Irish and Scotch whiskys.

And, to compensate I get an annual pay increase of 3%. Oh well, I've got a job (though it was preceeded by 2 years of unemployment)--actually I've got several jobs now.

Bigger "interests" than me control these things. My voice is my vote . . . and Silbs said something about not getting into politics, but we digress ;))

Silbs said...

r us all up :) Exactly when was the moment I lost control of all this?

JohnB said...

Silbs asks when he lost control of this? To lose control, you had to have it to begin with . . . I won't digress further.

We can discuss over whisky tomorrow and Saturday :))