Guest view of Mark J. Perry: Production of corn ethanol as an automotive fuel source should cease By Bernie Eng


January 16, 2013

The following guest view was written by UM-Flint economics professor Mark J. Perry.

Among all the problems that have surfaced as a result of using ethanol as an alternative to gasoline, one is especially troubling. It can damage automobile engines and fuel systems.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) case for E15, a fuel blend consisting of 15 percent ethanol and 85 percent gasoline, has completely fallen apart, as evidenced by the recent report from the American Automobile Association (AAA) that E15 can cause accelerated engine wear and failure, resulting in costly repairs for unsuspecting consumers.

The AAA’s report has again raised the question of whether Congress should roll back the mandate requiring escalating production of ethanol, mainly from corn. The answer is, increasingly, yes.

The Renewable Fuel Standard, which Congress enacted in 2005, originally projected that by 2010 the advanced biofuels industry would have taken off. But that has not happened due to many economic and technological barriers that severely limited ethanol’s effectiveness as a fuel.

Cellulosic ethanol made from wood chips, switchgrass, and other sources is still not viable. Consequently, corn ethanol is the only domestically produced biofuel that is available in large quantities to meet the mandates.

Corn ethanol is clearly inferior to gasoline as a fuel source for automobiles. Despite a 51-cent-per-gallon tax credit to companies that blend ethanol into gasoline, ethanol costs about 70 cents a gallon more than gasoline on an energy-equivalent basis. Instead of helping consumers, ethanol provides 27% lower fuel economy than gasoline.

Realistically, you have to burn a lot more ethanol-based fuel to create the same amount of energy to power your car, which has unnecessarily driven up the cost of operating a vehicle.

And there are serious long-term adverse environmental implications from using corn ethanol. Growing corn to make fuel requires significant amounts of fertilizer and pesticides that pollute the soil, underground aquifers and waterways. The National Research Council has determined that corn ethanol uses significantly more water in its production cycle than gasoline.

Over the years, the ethanol lobby has claimed that ethanol would help America achieve energy independence. But the reality is that ethanol has played almost no role yet in reducing U.S. dependence on foreign oil.

So far, neither the Administration nor Congress has confronted the fact that 40% of the U.S. corn crop is used to produce ethanol, which has increased retail food prices and strained family budgets in their never-ending struggle to put food on the table.

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