Skip to main content

More Than One Way to Skin the Ethanol Cat

August 27, 2012 - Did you know that a large number of ethanol refineries in this country are owned by corn farmers?  I wonder if the owners are family farmers or agribusiness farmers; there's a big part of me that suspects the latter.  Perhaps you've heard that the President has been asked to order reduced corn ethanol production, as a result of the drought.  The corn is needed for, of all things, food.  More than 150 members of Congress asked the EPA  to relax government rules regarding the percentage of corn used in ethanol manufacture.  This idea surfaced weeks ago, and has still not been acted upon.  Refineries have produced about ten percent less ethanol this year, due to a scarcity of corn coupled with a higher price.  (The Bush II-era law mandates an increased percentage of ethanol in our gasoline every year.)

That hungry people should have to compete with ill-advised government programs runs counter to every basic survival instinct we have.  The Bush program, concocted to help Bush's oil drilling buddies, in that it forestalls Peak Oil to a very small degree, needs rethinking, if not tabling.  Hungry people come first; up until very recently they always had.  Last year, ethanol production used 40 percent of the US corn crop.  How wrong can anything be?  Ethanol needs to be made from non-food substances.  Duh.

Research is taking place in order to address this conundrum, and with substantive results.  In fact, a North Carolina company by the name of Chemtex International has begun construction of an ethanol plant near Cllinton, N.C.  Instead of manufacturing ethanol from corn, however, Chemtex will rely upon other high-energy grass varieties.  They intend to begin production of 20 million gallons a year in 2014.  In so doing, 65 full-time employees will be needed, along with another 250 people needed to grow and deliver the grass, maintain equipment, and other related activities.  According to the USDA, the non-food-based ethanol will help reduce dependence on foreign oil, increase farm income, and create rural jobs.

Hog farmers will, in fact, grow these grasses on up to 30,000 acres of "hog spray fields."  These fields have already been designated to receive hog manure which is mixed with water, resulting in a sprayable slurry.  Now these same fields will produce a new cash crop, especially for use by Chemtex.  Farmers have, up until now, grown coastal bermuda grass.  They will need to switch to miscanthus and switchgrass, if it is to be processed into ethanol.  The USDA has approved $4 million for payment to farmers in 11 southeastern counties, which will be used to defray the cost of switching to the high-energy grasses.

The Chemtex refinery is the ninth to have won USDA support.  This is part of the Obama administration's policy to encourage the manufacture of ethanol with plants other than corn.  The other eight plants, located in Michigan, Oregon, Florida, Nevada, Iowa and New Mexico, base their production on wheat straw, low-value trees, municipal solid waste, and algae.  (Unfortunately, more than 95 percent of ethanol plants in the US currently use corn starch.)  One driver of ethanol demand is the military's continuing efforts to use environmentally- friendly fuels.  The Navy, USDA, and US Energy Dept. are jointly investing $500 million into the production of fuels that can power the country's warships and planes.  While the military's need for fuel is a sad fact, their creation of a stable market for cutting-edge alternatives to gas and oil is a tremendous help in establishing their place in the New Economy.


Popular posts from this blog

Scott Pruitt is a Bad Man

March 13, 2017 - Raise your hand if winter weather where you live has been abnormal. Here in the Pacific Northwest we have had record-setting amounts of rain. 2017 has been one of the fastest starting years on record in terms of the tornado count, which currently stands at 301 confirmed tornadoes. There is an historic blizzard taking place in the northeastern US as I write.

When you see words like "record setting" and "historic," think climate change. Otherwise, there is no change; events fall within an average range, established over decades or centuries. The events and patterns just described fall outside that range; they are therefore symptomatic of climate change. Every passing year gets warmer - and worse, by which I mean the damage done by storms measured in dollars, and the number of injuries or deaths caused by storms.

The warmer temperatures occur at night, by the way. Yes, daytime temperatures may also be hellishly hot, but they aren't at the cutting…


March 20, 2017 - Happy Spring, everybody. Today's post will be brief: the ten-year average for number of wildfires during January through mid-March is 8,687 fires that burned 216,894 acres per year in the United States. This year there have been 10,829 fires during that period, burning 2,062,012 acres. You read that right.