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Walter E. Williams
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Big Corn and Ethanol Hoax


One of the many mandates of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 calls for oil companies to increase the amount of ethanol mixed with gasoline. President Bush said, during his 2006 State of the Union address, "America is addicted to oil, which is often imported from unstable parts of the world." Let's look at some of the "wonders" of ethanol as a replacement for gasoline.

Ethanol contains water that distillation cannot remove. As such, it can cause major damage to automobile engines not specifically designed to burn ethanol. The water content of ethanol also risks pipeline corrosion and thus must be shipped by truck, rail car or barge. These shipping methods are far more expensive than pipelines.

Ethanol is 20 to 30 percent less efficient than gasoline, making it more expensive per highway mile. It takes 450 pounds of corn to produce the ethanol to fill one SUV tank. That's enough corn to feed one person for a year. Plus, it takes more than one gallon of fossil fuel — oil and natural gas — to produce one gallon of ethanol. After all, corn must be grown, fertilized, harvested and trucked to ethanol producers — all of which are fuel-using activities. And, it takes 1,700 gallons of water to produce one gallon of ethanol. On top of all this, if our total annual corn output were put to ethanol production, it would reduce gasoline consumption by 10 or 12 percent.

Ethanol is so costly that it wouldn't make it in a free market. That's why Congress has enacted major ethanol subsidies, about $1.05 to $1.38 a gallon, which is no less than a tax on consumers. In fact, there's a double tax — one in the form of ethanol subsidies and another in the form of handouts to corn farmers to the tune of $9.5 billion in 2005 alone.

There's something else wrong with this picture. If Congress and President Bush say we need less reliance on oil and greater use of renewable fuels, then why would Congress impose a stiff tariff, 54 cents a gallon, on ethanol from Brazil? Brazilian ethanol, by the way, is produced from sugar cane and is far more energy efficient, cleaner and cheaper to produce.

Ethanol production has driven up the prices of corn-fed livestock, such as beef, chicken and dairy products, and products made from corn, such as cereals.

As a result of higher demand for corn, other grain prices, such as soybean and wheat, have risen dramatically. The fact that the U.S. is the world's largest grain producer and exporter means that the ethanol-induced higher grain prices will have a worldwide impact on food prices.

It's easy to understand how the public, looking for cheaper gasoline, can be taken in by the call for increased ethanol usage. But politicians, corn farmers and ethanol producers know they are running a cruel hoax on the American consumer. They are in it for the money. The top leader in the ethanol hoax is Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), the country's largest producer of ethanol. Ethanol producers and the farm lobby have pressured farm state congressmen into believing that it would be political suicide if they didn't support subsidized ethanol production. That's the stick. Campaign contributions play the role of the carrot.

The ethanol hoax is a good example of a problem economists refer to as narrow, well-defined benefits versus widely dispersed costs. It pays the ethanol lobby to organize and collect money to grease the palms of politicians willing to do their bidding because there's a large benefit for them — higher wages and profits. The millions of gasoline consumers, who fund the benefits through higher fuel and food prices, as well as taxes, are relatively uninformed and have little clout. After all, who do you think a politician will invite into his congressional or White House office to have a heart-to-heart — you or an Archer Daniels Midlands executive?

Walter E. Williams is a professor of economics at George Mason University. To find out more about Walter E. Williams and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at



5 Comments | Post Comment
There was an excellent response to this by Robert Jackman. Would you please repost his comments? I've not had an opportunity to save the article w/his comment.
Comment: #1
Posted by: liz
Fri Mar 14, 2008 9:13 PM
Did You know that 1% of Corn grown in the U.S. is for human consumption? Another 1% is made into whiskey. 92% is livestock food, with the leftovers from Ethanol distillation included, as Ethanol production only removes some of the sugar and carbs from corn. The balance of the corn pie chart is made into HFCS and other junk food additives. Cattle fed distillation leftovers are healthier since it more closely resembles the browse they ate before they were domesticated. Grass and corn, (which is a grass) are not best for cattle as they have too much sugar and starch in them. Cattle can die from bloat.
Cattle gain weight faster, and convert more on DDGS or wet cake than raw corn and are much healthier, vet bills are less.
The Cruel Big Oil-Big Government Hoax!
While corn is a low Ethanol producer at 320 gallons an acre, making about 30 to 70% more energy than it produces, some crops in North America can yield 800, 1000, up to 2500 gallons of Ethanol per acre and some crops use no commercial fertilizer! Not every farmer is slow to improve his game. In time, the farmers will catch on. The subsidy to Ethanol which is 51 cents a gallon, is actually pocketed by the company who blends Ethanol with Gasoline. That is the Oil companies, not farmers.
Corn may still receive other subsidies, not related to Ethanol. For example, corn was shipped into Mexico, sold one dollar under market price, to bankrupt the small farmer and they come here to work and Huge AG companies here and in Mexico snatch up the land to make huge corporate AG units that we help pay for and of course, they own!
If the 80 million corn acres were all made into Ethanol at an average of 320 gallons per acre, the net would be 25,600,000,000 or 25.6 billion gallons, I get a bit over 17 percent of auto fuel, since we burn about 145 billion gallons per year.
Not to worry, there are ways to make all the Ethanol we need without using any prime cropland used to grow corn and soy. America should be able to make all the Ethanol it needs on 1.5 percent of Ag Land or even waste land like empty gravel pits. Land area less than 6400 acres per County.
Ethanol does not contain any water when sold as E-85. In time, Ethanol will be made everywhere and shipping will be a moot point. It is flat out untrue that a bit of water in Ethanol will hurt any vehicle made after about 1987.
In a way, the 51 cent subsidy is a small price to pay for an alternative to gasoline. John D. Rockefeller, btw, bribed a hard drinking Congress with 4 million dollars to pass Prohibition to kill Ethanol which came from almost every farm, as farmers used to have stills to convert waste crops to Ethanol. Every farm has waste, this was just good business to make your own fuel. Henry Ford made the Model A and farm tractors to run on either Ethanol or Gasoline, the very first flex fuel vehicles.
Modern Ethanol engines can be up to 46% thermal efficient, putting Gasoline engines to shame at 20% thermal efficiency.
The real cost of gasoline is hidden in income taxes for defense and rebates to Big Oil running in the hundreds of billions each year. Gasoline actually costs up towards $15 a gallon. Get a copy of "Alcohol can be a Gas"
Comment: #2
Posted by: Robert Jackman
Sun Mar 16, 2008 10:38 AM
What matters is Thermal Efficiency which is related to Miles per gallon, not BTU measure which Big Oil uses to skew the facts and snow You. The latest Ethanol designed engines can get 22% better mileage than Diesel engines which used to be king in terms of MPG. VW and Mercedes in Brazil make these engines You will one day be able to purchase. Believe it or not, even GM and Ford could build these superior high mileage engines.

The big Oil hoax is a good example of a problem economists refer to as narrow, well-defined benefits versus widely dispersed costs. It pays the Big Oil lobby to organize and collect money to grease the palms of politicians willing to do their bidding because there's a large benefit for them. The true costs are hidden in Your income taxes.

Despite the fact that a gallon of gasoline really costs about $15 dollars when You figure in the until recently hidden EXTRA 2.5 trillion dollars the War on some Terrorists costs us all which we will pay back via INCOME TAXES so Oil companies can deliver Oil and products all over Earth on our Defense dollars.

Let's stop subsidy to all energy companies, freeing up Hundreds of Billions of dollars the average American can use better when under their direct control.

Let's also fire any Professor or hack who knowingly spouts lies once anyone points out facts to them which cannot be disputed by a rational person.

Jail should be also included if any Professor receives any money from Big Oil or any Foundation that funnels Oil money his or her way to shoot down alternatives and hides that fact, since we have people bleeding to death in the middle east to protect what is mis conceived as our only source of energy. Oil money from Foundations like a Heritage, a Cato, or a CEI.

Boy oh Boy! Has Walter bit into a rotten apple of Lies! Nearly every cite he offers is wrong.

Instead of Jail, Williams could read "Alcohol Can Be A Gas" by David Blume

A book the Oil companies tried to kill back in about 1983, along with a ten part TV series that PBS was to air. They did manage to kill the TV special by bribing PBS to lock it up forever. The Book, they could not kill. It survived.

You can hear the other side of the debate from Author David Blume at
Comment: #3
Posted by: Robert Jackman
Sun Mar 16, 2008 10:46 AM
Re: liz

Thank You for your kind words. I have reposted the article in two parts. It was a bit long and I suppose it was pulled for that excuse.
There is more on Ethanol at
All the Best,
Comment: #4
Posted by: Robert Jackman
Sun Mar 16, 2008 12:14 PM
The Professor is not a Chemical Engineer and only knows what he reads or is told. Production of ethanol involves fermentation of "sugars" -- glucose molecules in starch, like corn, or in cellulose, like swithchgrass or wood. This fermentation yields a "beer" of about 10 % ethanol in water. Distillation leads to an azeotrope, a mixture which cannot be further concentrated by distillation. Molecular sieves are used to trap and remove about 4% water to give 100% ethanol. This "grain alcohol" has to be denatured by addition, normally, of gasoline.
Ethanol is blended at 10% with gasoline because the previous "oxygenator" MTBE additive was found to sink down into ground water. That's major reason for these blends showing up all over country. They usually are made at the distribution points for gasoline on its way to service stations by "splashing" the ethanol on top of loads of gasoline.
How convenient that we forget that if one gets water in his gasoline, there is an additive, methanol, which "absorbs" it and makes the fuel burn -- otherwise the water expands and freezes into ice in the venturi of carburetors. Ethanol, as in my Scotch, absorbs all the melting ice -- water is infinitely soluble in ethanol.
Reason ethanol cannot be shipped in existing pipelines (we have two passing through our area) which contain: gasoline - 2 grades, av gas, diesel, kerosene, jet fuel, heating oil, and industrial fuel oil is the method used to separate the different items going through a SINGLE pipeline. The different products are not misicble in water (gas floats on top, remember) so COLORED WATER is used to separate them. As the color enters a sensor, the valving directs the product to the proper tank. If the gasoline contained 10% ethanol, the color would spread into the entire amount of gasoline and this would then mix with whatever is on each end of the gasoline "slug".
Pipelines handling only ethanol or dedicated 10% or dedicated 85% ethanol/gasoline could be built but would take forever to get right-of-ways and to construct. So expect, at current usage, for ethanol to be shipped by road tanker, rail tanker or barges.
Water usage is an issue only if the cooling water, which evaporates to produce cooling, as is done at power plants not situated on river banks, is counted. Over time that plants have been brought on line, advances in handling waste water, process water and even water from drying DDGS (now shipped wet in many cases) have reduced water usage. Ask the local power plant how much water per megawatt of electricity is used! It's not "used" if it's in clouds and returns to earth as rain!
Efficiencies of heat engines are governed by thermodynamics: The Carnot Equation which considers the highest and lowest temperatures available at top of cycle and when gases are condensed. Most efficient heat engine in world would use mercury vapor and liquid mercury because of those differences. One reason that diesels are more efficient is because they operate at highet temperatures required for "auto-ignition" -- no spark plug. Reason also that steam plants operate on superheated steam, it's hotter than "saturated" steam which is at temperature corresponding to the steam pressure. Gas turbines are efficient because they operate at high temperatures, but normally exhaust at ambient conditions.
Dept of Energy has numerous labs conducting research on renewable fuels. Their reports should be read before delving into economics, etc of renewable fuels and energy (wind and solar).

John Lynch
Comment: #5
Posted by: John A. Lynch, Jr
Fri Jun 13, 2008 12:34 PM
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