Food For Fuel
Ron Hanisco, Kingston, NH: This is in response to Jeff K.'s little blurb in the Readers' Pages. "Loved the E85 article in the Feb. '07 issue. One hundred and six octane, and a chance to stick it to OPEC; what's not to love! Keep it up. I may subscribe."
Dude, wake up. As soon as E85 investors and manufacturers realize the potential of the fuel, the price will go through the roof, while draining America of its corn supply. Is it worth it to you to pay four or five times the price for every food item containing corn just to spend thousands more on performance parts to make your hot rod E85-compatible for the 106 octane? Don't be stupid. You'll be spending just as much for E85 as petroleum and much, much more for food products containing corn, let alone meat products from animals that consume corn (beef and chicken)! Look past the hot rod and look at the big picture.
Sure, it looks good now on paper, but mark my words, in 10 years you'll be cursing the day E85 was ever invented. Watch what happens to the price as soon as the general public starts consuming the bulk of the fuel and corn supply.
PS: I use a ton of petroleum products to run my race vehicle, but I feel that E85 is just a bad idea for America. We don't have the corn surplus to provide a nation with this fuel and feed us at the same time. I also like to eat-cheaply, if possible.
Jeff Smith: While this isn't really a tech question, I felt that this is a big enough concern, with very little accurate data used to support it, that it would be good to dispel some myths. Foremost among Mr. Hanisco's misgivings is the concept of E85 fuel use as an either/or situation. In other words, people who are opposed to E85 immediately assume that this ethanol-based fuel will totally replace gasoline. Nothing could be further from the truth. The reality is that 2006-based data from U.S. corn production shows that only 18.5 percent of all corn grown in this country is used to produce ethanol, while 50.3 percent is used to feed cattle and other animals. What you may not know is that once ethanol has been distilled from corn, the mash that is left over retains most if not all of its nutrient value. Feedlots then use this mash, called distiller's grain, to feed their animals. This has been going on for years, long before E85 became popular. So when you hear the beef retailers complain that they are forced to raise prices because of the demand for corn to make E85, a small kernel of that statement may be valid, but it doesn't ring largely true. What you may want to consider is the contention that these companies are using increased corn demand for E85 as an excuse to raise prices.
I found a research paper titled "The Impact of Ethanol Production on Food, Feed, and Fuel" written as part of the Ethanol Across America education campaign produced in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. One of the most interesting points in this presentation was a cornflakes example. A 14-ounce box of cornflakes costs between $2.97 and $3.50. When corn was $2.00 per bushel, the box contained 2.2 cents worth of corn. When corn prices recently doubled to $4.00 per bushel, the price content of the cornflakes increased to 4.4 cents per box. Yes, that's a 100 percent increase in the cost of the foodstuff, but the price of the corn represents only 1.4 percent of the total cost of the product. A better question might be why the product costs $2.95 when the food you're buying only represents 1.4 percent of the total cost. Either it costs an enormous amount of money to make cornflakes, or there is a mountain of profit built into every box of cornflakes. But that's more of an economics-class discussion we'll leave for another time.