Post image for Ethanol: Bad Deal for Consumers Gets Worse

Responding to the anti-Renewable Fuel Standard Hill briefing discussed on this blog yesterday, Tom Buis, CEO of ethanol trade group Growth Energy, asserted that “homegrown American renewable energy provides consumers with a choice and savings” (Greenwire, subscription required). Rubbish. Under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), ethanol consumption is a mandate, not a choice. 

Buis’s claim that ethanol relieves pain at the pump sounds plausible because a gallon of ethanol is cheaper than a gallon of gasoline. However, ethanol has about one-third less energy than gasoline and does not make up the difference in price. Consequently, the higher the ethanol blend, the worse mileage your car gets, and the more money you spend to drive a given distance.

FuelEconomy.Gov, a Web site jointly administered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Energy (DOE) calculates how much a typical motorist would spend in a year to fill up a flex-fuel vehicle with either E85 (motor fuel made with 85% ethanol) or regular gasoline. The exact bottom line changes as gasoline and ethanol prices change. The big picture, though, is always the same: Ethanol is a net money loser for the consumer.

For example, at prices prevailing in late November 2012, it cost $500 more per year to drive on E85. When I checked FuelEconomy.Gov last week, E85 cost the average motorist an additional $600 per year.

A bad deal just got worse. At today’s prices, it would cost an extra $700-$900 a year to switch from regular gasoline to E85. Some savings! Small wonder that our ‘choice’ to buy ethanol must be mandated.

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Post image for EIA: Not Bullish on Biofuel

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) is not bullish on biofuel. That’s what I infer from “Biofuels in the United States: Context and Outlook,” a Power Point presentation given by the agency at a biofuels workshop in Washington, D.C. last week. I suspect many in attendance were not pleased. 

Three slides in particular are noteworthy.

Slide no. 19 projects that even in 2040, the quantity of biofuel in the U.S. motor fuel market will be about 10 billion gallons lower than the 36 billion gallons per year required by the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) by 2022.

Slides 8 and 9 may explain why. Simply put, although a gallon of ethanol is cheaper than a gallon of petroleum-based fuel, gasoline and diesel deliver more bang for buck than their ‘renewable’ counterparts. It is cheaper to drive one mile on gasoline or diesel than on ethanol or biodiesel fuel.

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