Biofuels worse for the environment?

Biofuels Deemed a Greenhouse Threat

Almost all biofuels used today cause more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional fuels if the full emissions costs of producing these –green” fuels are taken into account, two studies being published Thursday have concluded.

You don’t say.

Via Instapundit, who writes

It doesn’t seem to address ethanol or methanol from waste biomass, though. Those should have a considerably more benign profile. Also, there are advantages to weakening OPEC even if there’s no environmental benefit from doing so.

I support alternative fuel and energy sources, but not primarily for environmental reasons. Weakening OPEC is a good reason, cutting money going to our enemies is a better reason, and being self-sufficient is the best reason.

I’d sure like to see some non-corn ethanol and more nuclear power.

A few months ago we tried a tank of E85 in our minivan. The mileage dropped from about 22 to less than 17, and it took several tanks for the mileage to get back up in the neighborhood where it had been previously. Not a good experience. We’ve used the 10% ethanol fuels offered in several states on our travels with no noticeable difference, though.


  1. Burning pure ethanol might not be much worse for your mileage than the 85/15 mixture is. Ethanol has a very high octane rating which allows you to run a higher compression ratio and more spark timing advance. The problem is, we’d probably have to completely change over to take complete advantage of these properties.

  2. Probably not, Dfens. We’ve got gas stations with tanks of regular gas, high octane gas, diesel, and even lpg. It would not be difficult to simply add another tank for pure ethanol. That said, ethanol will always give lower mileage, simply because there is not as much energy available for combustion in a molecule of ethanol. Ethanol – 11,500 BTU/lb Gasoline – ~19,000 BTU/lb 85/15 – 12,600 BTU/lb There’s really no escaping those numbers with a more efficient engine.

  3. Kevin’s exactly right. Physics says you get worse mileage with Ethanol/ethanol blends. The big draw for it is to A) reduce dependence on foreign oil/leverage America’s agriculture capability B) reduce the per-mile cost of car travel, even if you have to fill up more often. What Dfens said does have a spark of truth; a higher octane rating (105 or so for E85, I believe) allows for playing with spark angle and using a higher compression ratio which makes the engine closer to the maximum thermodynamic efficiency. In other words: the higher the compression the greater the fraction of available energy you extract.

  4. To be clear, I don’t have a problem with (and was fully expecting) lower mileage with the E85. To Alex’s point of ‘reduc[ing] the per-mile cost of car travel, even if you have to fill up more often’, I don’t know about elsewhere, but here in western Michigan ethanol is about the same price as regular unleaded gasoline. If gas goes up, E85 is a dime cheaper. If gas goes down a bit, E85 is more expensive than gas. So my experience (on only one tank, though) was that E85 was over 20% less productive for about 2% less cost. If you drive a lot, that’s expensive.

  5. To Murdoc’s point of ‘cutting money goin to our enemies,’ wouldn’t it be nice to give this ass the finger?

    President Hugo Chavez on Sunday threatened to cut off oil sales to the United States in an ‘economic war’ if Exxon Mobil Corp. wins court judgments to seize billions of dollars in Venezuelan assets. Exxon Mobil has gone after the assets of state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela SA in U.S., British and Dutch courts as it challenges the nationalization of a multibillion dollar oil project by Chavez’s government. A British court has issued an injunction ‘freezing’ as much as $12 billion in assets. ‘If you end up freezing (Venezuelan assets) and it harms us, we’re going to harm you,’ Chavez said during his weekly radio and television program, ‘Hello, President.’ ‘Do you know how? We aren’t going to send oil to the United States. Take note, Mr. Bush, Mr. Danger.’ – Breitbart

    How it can be defined as ‘conservative’ to buy an SUV so you can send as much money as possible to nuts like Chavez is absolutely beyond me.

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  7. Just thought I would point out one problem with corn ethenol. It uses up animal feed stocks. This makes feeding animals more expensive, which makes meat and milk (cows eat corn) more expensive. It also makes corn more expensive to purchase for direct consumption. Why not switch over to a ‘bio diesel’ type system? Diesel engines can be tuned to burn just about anything, and waste oil, properly processed (both petrol based and plant matter based) in a properly tuned diesel type engine burns cleaner and more efficiantly. Hell, why not switch over to a diesel electric system like trains use? Just the opinion of a thinking man.