Sunday, May 07, 2006

60 Minutes Over-reaches On E85 Expose

"There are oil fields in Texas, and that is called their black gold. And I think Iowa, that's our green gold." Image Credit: CBS News

I know that CBS News and 60 Minutes think their hearts are in the right place but the piece they just ran on E85 had some very big flaws and the largest one wasn't the swipe they made at the "Big" oil companies.

First, they mentioned that California was somehow a model leading the conversion of gasoline stations to ones that carry E85 FlexFuel. California has ONLY four (4) ethanol capable fuel stations and three of them are for the exclusive use of the U. S. Government.

Second, there is the actual availability of "Corn" based ethanol; It is limited very limited given its current growing production.

Excerpts from CBS News -

The Ethanol Solution
Could Corn-Based Fuel Help End America's Dependence On Imported Oil?
May 7, 2006

60 Minutes traveled to Brazil to see how they made it work. Brazil had two problems: they grew more sugarcane than they could sell and their economy was being strangled by the high price of imported oil.

Making ethanol out of sugarcane solved both problems. In cities like Sao Paulo, with 18 million people, they call ethanol "√°lcool," and it’s sold at every gas station, right alongside gasoline.

Ethanol really took off in Brazil when "flex-fuel" cars went on sale four years ago. These cars gave drivers a choice: they can use gas, or ethanol, or any combination of the two. Because ethanol is cheaper, the law of supply and demand took care of the rest.

There’s already a substantial supply of ethanol here in the U.S., where the fuel is made from corn instead of sugar-cane.

But it's not a simple switch to make. Out of about 170,000 gas stations in the U.S., only 650 sell E85. And, the engines in conventional cars may not perform as well with E85, and could be damaged by it.

In Detroit, they’ve solved the car problem by making small modifications to a standard engine’s fuel-supply and injection systems. That produces the same kind of "flex-fuel" cars they’ve been selling in Brazil, and it doesn’t cost any more than a conventional car.

Flex-fuel autos adjust automatically to whatever's put in the tank – gas, ethanol, or any combination. You can convert a standard car into a flex-fuel vehicle, but you would need a skilled mechanic and some parts to do it.

And ethanol isn’t new to the auto business: the first Model T's ran on it.

Another board member, Polly Granzow, says, "There are oil fields in Texas, and that is called their black gold. And I think Iowa, that’s our green gold."

The folks at the plant showed 60 Minutes how they do it: huge trucks filled with corn come into the plant every day and unload their cargo into what is, in reality, an industrial-sized distillery.

In a maze of pipes and tanks, corn, water and yeast are mixed and fermented into beer. Operators keep track of everything on computers.

"In 48 hours, each fermenter will make about 15 percent volume beer," Plant manager Scott Dorow explains. It's not stuff you want to drink. "It's non-filtered, and, but it's very sweet-smelling. And you can definitely tell it's beer."

Then, under high temperatures, the mixture is distilled in a giant version of an old-fashioned corn-liquor still. What emerges at the end is ethanol, which is nearly pure alcohol. Trucks carry it to a nearby railroad line. For the farmers who own the plant, ethanol is more than just a new way to make money.

"Ethanol has been one of the best-kept secrets that is out there. We know it’s a good product. We know it's good for the economy. We know it’s good for the environment," says Granzow.
And more and more people are seeing it that way. To meet rising demand, the plant will expand to double its capacity by next year. But the farmers who run the place are already thinking beyond that: to a new process of making ethanol from cellulose, instead of corn. This would be much cheaper, because cellulose is found in everything from prairie grass to agricultural waste to wood chips.

Oil industry executives, taking heat from Congress over their multi-billion-dollar record profits, favor a different approach. They want to spend billions find to new sources of oil, which is more expensive to produce, instead of switching over to E85.
"It's my understanding that the petroleum industry in general says "ethanol — fine," but not in favor or E85. Is that true?" Rather asked.

"No, that's not correct," Cavaney replied. "The six largest refiners said that they support the E85 in their facilities as long as the mixture arrives and meets the government specifications for that. But we must understand that the market is exceptionally limited."

"What we don’t wanna do is over-promise to the American public what can be done with these alternative fuels, and then under-deliver," says Cavaney.

But some states, like California, are already moving to deliver E-85 to more gas stations by helping pay the cost of adding the E-85 pumps. Professor Kammen from Berkeley says the process would be a lot less expensive than the oil industry’s estimate of $200,000 per station, and wouldn’t take that long.

"The transition is pretty easy. It looks like its $30,000 to $40,000 per gas station to change over and have ethanol-dedicated pumps," he says.

"Are we talking three years? Five years? 20 years?" Rather asked.
"I think it's less than that, actually." Kammen replied. "I would bet that we will have enough ethanol stations within two to three years' time, at most.

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Cellulose to ethanol conversion have not proven to be economically viable as yet for dedicated production (still a theory), plants are currently dedicated to corn which is in limited supply.

This from MAXINE post linked in preamble comments -

The entire 73.6 million acres of corn harvested in 2004 would supply only 15.5 days of gasoline replacement. There simply is not enough land available to produce enough corn or other crops for ethanol to make a significant dent in gasoline demand. Moreover, current environmental policy encourages taking agricultural land out of production, not expanding production. (ht: Henery Lamb)

MAXINE opines, you decide ... this report over-reaches!

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