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Lawmakers Out To Kill the Corn-Based Ethanol Mandate

Soulskill posted about 4 months ago | from the i'm-all-ears dept.

Earth 314

mdsolar tips this report: "Teams of lawmakers are working hard on bills to cut corn-based ethanol out of the country's biofuel mandate entirely, according to National Journal. It's the latest twist in America's fraught relationship with biofuels, which started in 2005 when Congress first mandated that a certain amount of biofuel be mixed into the country's fuel supply. The Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) was then expanded in 2007, with separate requirements for standard biofuel on the one hand and cellulosic and advanced biofuels on the other. The latter are produced from non-food products like cornstalks, agricultural waste, and timber industry cuttings. The RFS originally called for 100 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol in 2010, 250 million in 2011, and 500 million in 2012. Instead, the cellulosic industry failed to get off the ground. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was forced to revise the mandate down to 6.5 million in 2010, and all the way down to zero in 2012. The cellulosic mandate has started to slowly creep back up, and 2014 may be the year when domestic production of cellulosic ethanol finally takes off. But then last month EPA did something else for the first time: it cut down the 2014 mandate for standard biofuel, produced mainly from corn. And now Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA) and Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) have teamed up on legislation that would eliminate the standard biofuel mandate entirely."

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314 comments

Maybe this corn can be used for food again? (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45717873)

Maybe this corn used for ethanol can be used for food again?

Or, at the least animal feed, so the price at the grocery store isn't as bad, and farmers/ranchers are not as pinched as before.

Re:Maybe this corn can be used for food again? (4, Interesting)

jellomizer (103300) | about 4 months ago | (#45717931)

I applaud them for trying. I also applaud them louder for realizing it didn't work and ending it.

The problem in this stupid political landscape, You can't go back and say, It seemed like a good idea at the time, however I stopped it after we found out it didn't meet expectations. Which is really stupid, because it creates bad policies that just keep going on and on creating more harm, and making political leaders afraid to try something new.

Re:Maybe this corn can be used for food again? (0, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45718047)

Al Gore [politicsdaily.com] knew it was a mistake when it was first put into place. He put it in to get more votes from corn farmers.

Its not "switching your position because you learned it was wrong". Its corruption from the get go thanks to Al Gore. How much did this raise food prices and cause people to go hungry? How many engines for cars of poor people were ruined by the extra water in the fuel?

No one will care because a mistake from the DNC is to be forgotten and anyone who points it out is making up a "fake controversy".

Re:Maybe this corn can be used for food again? (1)

the eric conspiracy (20178) | about 4 months ago | (#45718165)

He put it in?

Please explain to me how a Vice President passes legislation.

Re:Maybe this corn can be used for food again? (1)

Ralph Wiggam (22354) | about 4 months ago | (#45718341)

Please explain how Al Gore was Vice President in 2005?

Re:Maybe this corn can be used for food again? (1)

thaylin (555395) | about 4 months ago | (#45718427)

Please explain how that was relevant.

Re:Maybe this corn can be used for food again? (1)

Bill, Shooter of Bul (629286) | about 4 months ago | (#45718551)

All curent Vice Presidents serve as President of the Senate and cast tie breaking votes in that body. So they certainly can influence the passage of legislation ... while they are in office. When they are not in office, they only have their media and political contacts to try and persuade policy. Its much less effective. So yeah, being a current Vice president in 2005 would be relivant.

Re:Maybe this corn can be used for food again? (1)

pepty (1976012) | about 4 months ago | (#45718589)

Vice presidents vote in tie-breakers in the senate, but I think what's relevant to Corn is that they're also pretty influential when gearing up for a run at the presidency.

Feeding Troll on purpose. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45718253)

Nice link - no really, I like that. I like to hear ALL sides of an argument. Because ...

It gives me more ammunition to strike back at all sides for their stupidity and shortsightedness...

Dear sir,

It wasn't "Thanks to Al Gore". I wish there was a single person to blame and to crucify - but there isn't.

It is a flaw in our agricultural subsidies program.

When ANYTHING become political, it gets corrupted.

Farmers are encouraged to grow more to get more subsidies that ends up lowering the price of their crops - then they MUST grow more to cover their expenses to get more subsidies to get more money to cover the lower revenues from the lower prices of their crops and then get more subsidies to get more money that pushes down ever more .. and on and on and on ...

And yet, the grain people get richer.

All these government subsidies for corn and whatever end up in the pockets of Monsanto and Cargill and a few others.

Farm subsides and their "green" fuel subsidies are corrupt and help no one but the connected billionaires.

Re:Maybe this corn can be used for food again? (-1)

stewsters (1406737) | about 4 months ago | (#45718679)

How much did this raise food prices and cause people to go hungry?
Only the people who eat corn stalks. You don't make the fuel from the ear of corn.

Re:Maybe this corn can be used for food again? (3, Interesting)

dpilot (134227) | about 4 months ago | (#45718077)

Blasted flip-flopper!

(Sarcasm alert)

In "Earth" David Brin tried to come up with 3 culturally neutral definitions for sanity. One was the ability to be satiated - to say you have enough of something, and stop. Another was the ability to evaluate how things are going, and change your plans and actions based upon events and results. I forget the third. I once went back and located it again, trying to remember it. I forgot it, again.

Re:Maybe this corn can be used for food again? (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45718207)

Lifted from [peterkaminski.com]
Sanity, he suggests, is "when a person is adaptable and satiable, capable of realistic planning and empathizing with his fellow beings." In the book, he expands on these traits:
flexibility -- to be able to change your opinion or course of action, if shown clear evidence you were wrong.
satiability -- the ability to feel satisfaction if you actually get what you said you wanted, and to transfer your strivings to other goals.
extrapolation -- an ability to realistically assess the possible consequences of your actions and to empathize, or guess how another person might think or feel.

Re:Maybe this corn can be used for food again? (4, Interesting)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | about 4 months ago | (#45718591)

Lifted from [peterkaminski.com]
Sanity, he suggests, is "when a person is adaptable and satiable, capable of realistic planning and empathizing with his fellow beings." In the book, he expands on these traits:
flexibility -- to be able to change your opinion or course of action, if shown clear evidence you were wrong.
satiability -- the ability to feel satisfaction if you actually get what you said you wanted, and to transfer your strivings to other goals.
extrapolation -- an ability to realistically assess the possible consequences of your actions and to empathize, or guess how another person might think or feel.

Huh.. so I live in a world populated mainly by insane people...

That explains a lot, actually.

Re:Maybe this corn can be used for food again? (5, Insightful)

icebike (68054) | about 4 months ago | (#45718159)

Well, I applaud them for trying to end it, but it was never wise to turn over the best food growing land to fuel production.
It was known from the beginning that it took more energy than it produced.

Cellulose is the only way to go. One of the most promising sources is switch grass [ornl.gov], which can be grown on much more marginal land, and pretty much re-plants itself (due to deep roots).

Had an equal amount of money been put into cellulosic ethanol we wouldn't be stuck with a corn industry that is driving up food prices, and depleting prime agricultural soils. Nor would be have a bunch of corn processing facilities that will require significant work to convert to anything else.

This has been an expensive failed experiment, about what you would expect when you rush something into production rather than letting the science and the industry develop. The problem was they didn't set it up to allow competition between sources. They went full funding and full legislative mandate for a single solution before they even did much research.

Re:Maybe this corn can be used for food again? (2)

eliphalet (1222732) | about 4 months ago | (#45718397)

It's not just the corn; it's the ethanol. Ethanol is a poor excuse for a bio-fuel: low energy and not well-suited for pipelines because it is corrosive and absorbs water.

Re:Maybe this corn can be used for food again? (2, Interesting)

icebike (68054) | about 4 months ago | (#45718785)

It's not just the corn; it's the ethanol.

Ethanol is a poor excuse for a bio-fuel: low energy and not well-suited for pipelines because it is corrosive and absorbs water.

True, but the energy density of ethanol [wikipedia.org] is low hanging fruit. You can get there relativity easily. And for the standard automobile, E10 can be burned with minimal detrimental effects, zero changes in equipment, and minimal-to-zero engine re-tuning.

Changing out the physical engines in a country's entire automotive fleet is cost prohibitive, so what ever is synthesized as a fuel stretcher must be easy to manufacture and not require extensive or expensive engine changes.

Re:Maybe this corn can be used for food again? (4, Interesting)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | about 4 months ago | (#45718613)

Cellulose is the only way to go. One of the most promising sources is switch grass [ornl.gov], which can be grown on much more marginal land, and pretty much re-plants itself (due to deep roots).

I've heard similar things about hemp, with the added benefit of hemp being useful for more than 1 thing.

Re:Maybe this corn can be used for food again? (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45718781)

you mean like making rope and nice comfy shirts?

Re:Maybe this corn can be used for food again? (4, Funny)

hubie (108345) | about 4 months ago | (#45718907)

When I was in college I was always impressed with how concerned the dredlock crowd was about the rope industry. Usually those guys got tagged with an anti-business label, but in reality they were really looking out for the small rope manufacturer.

Re:Maybe this corn can be used for food again? (4, Insightful)

bigpat (158134) | about 4 months ago | (#45718337)

There really should be sunset provisions on all laws. If it is a good idea, then it can be renewed.

Re:Maybe this corn can be used for food again? (2)

thaylin (555395) | about 4 months ago | (#45718461)

Or not renewed because the other side does not want to support something the first side implemented...

Re:Maybe this corn can be used for food again? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45718523)

Ok. So maybe there shouldn't be heavy handed laws that most people can't agree on in that case? Maybe government regulations, especially at the federal level, should require an overwhelming degree of confidence? That's just a thought. Maybe laws and regulations that can be easily slanted and biased have no business on the books in the first place? That's what I'm thinking.

Re:Maybe this corn can be used for food again? (3, Insightful)

mutube (981006) | about 4 months ago | (#45718517)

Er, no. Sunset clauses are a terrible waste of government time. Just think about it - if every law you pass gets a sunset clause, that means cumulatively over time you're spending a bigger and bigger portion of your time renewing previous laws to make them still active. You end up with situations like the US "fiscal cliff" - which miraculously every other mature democracy on Earth manages to avoid.

Any good law will be a good law for a long period of time. If it becomes not a good law, repeal it. If you're not sure it's a good enough law to last, don't pass it.

Re:Maybe this corn can be used for food again? (3, Insightful)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | about 4 months ago | (#45718693)

Er, no. Sunset clauses are a terrible waste of government time. Just think about it - if every law you pass gets a sunset clause, that means cumulatively over time you're spending a bigger and bigger portion of your time renewing previous laws to make them still active.

Huh? That makes no sense.

So, basically, you're saying that it takes more time to buy (or not buy) a car someone built than it would take for you to engineer and build a car yourself. That's nuts, yo.

No, sunset clauses are easy to deal with; it goes down like this:

Senator Bob: Hey, this law is in sunset phase. Was it a good idea, and do we want to keep it, yea or nay?

As opposed to months of 'closed doors' meetings, secret deals with lobbyists, writes and re-writes and re-re-writes, etc.

You end up with situations like the US "fiscal cliff"

That had nothing to do with sunsetting laws, and everything to do with the fact that our Congress is made up of, essentially, narcissistic 5th graders.

Re:Maybe this corn can be used for food again? (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45718757)

> which miraculously every other mature democracy on Earth manages to avoid.

It's a little off topic to bring this up, but your assertion isn't remotely true. The fiscal cliff is a metaphor for a specific set of economic conditions. I'm not even sure you understand what you're talking about, so I'm going into a little pedantry here. Democracy is a soft term at best so if you can be more specific, you can narrow the large list of examples...but let's take the ones that I specifically remember and you can easily reference. For the purposes of historical perspective and for the general term "democracy", Greece is a democracy, Japan is a democracy, Mexico is a democracy. Each of these countries (as well as others) suffered well documented fiscal cliffs, which their respective governments "went over". Mexico in the 70's, Japan in the 80's, Greece in this decade.

Democracies all tend to fail because of inevitable corruption which starts at the financial sectors. While inflation is not always the result, it's the most common consequence. There have always been and will probably always be democracies passing financial cliffs. Convenient list: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hyperinflation [wikipedia.org]

Re:Maybe this corn can be used for food again? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45718541)

Which would enable a minority party to block it in order to meet their demands.

Re:Maybe this corn can be used for food again? (5, Insightful)

93 Escort Wagon (326346) | about 4 months ago | (#45718525)

I applaud them for trying. I also applaud them louder for realizing it didn't work and ending it.

I'm not against government mandates per se - the clean air / clean water acts were hugely necessary. I'm all for minimum fuel efficiency standards. I also believe government has a necessary role in funding stuff which requires a long-enough term investment that the private sector is unlikely to find it worthwhile to get involved.

BUT I don't like it when the government says "here's how you're going to accomplish this goal", because they just about ALWAYS screw that up.

This is a perfect case in point. They certainly identified the problem correctly... but then they had to meddle because there was just too much political hay to be made. Even when this corn ethanol program started, it was already pretty well established that corn was the wrong source material to use for fuel. As I recall, there was already a near consensus among researchers that switchgrass was probably the way to go. But they let some powerful legislators from the midwest shape the program in a manner designed NOT to be good for the country's long-term interests, but good for their short-term political gain. And, predictably, now many people see the whole idea in a negative light - it raised the price of food, it raised the price of fuel, and in the end it didn't work.

If the government is going to do this sort of thing, they should stick to setting broadly-stated targets. If they want to say "XX% of your energy/fuel must come from renewable sources by 2030", that's fine with me. But don't dictate that it has to be ethanol, or wind, or solar, or geothermal, or whatever. Let the private sector figure out how best to get to the goal - but don't relax the standards for them when they whine!

Re:Maybe this corn can be used for food again? (5, Insightful)

mrchaotica (681592) | about 4 months ago | (#45718625)

In principle, I agree with the sentiment that trying something out, realizing that it doesn't work and stopping it is good.

However, the underlying problem is that they set themselves up for failure because they didn't just say "we want ethanol fuel, and we'll let industry figure out the most efficient way to produce it," they said "we want ethanol, and we're going to subsidize a stupid way of producing it."

Now the question is, will they understand that they failed at regulation, or will they (mistakenly) think biofuels failed as a solution?

Re:Maybe this corn can be used for food again? (2)

Dorianny (1847922) | about 4 months ago | (#45718873)

It comes down to a fundamental problem with the representative democracy system itself. While ethanol from corn provides little benefits to the nation and it costs quite a bit, it has been quite a boon for the Midwest Corn Belt which encompasses a good chunk of the nation. The elected representatives have the very difficult job of trying to strike a balance between the best interests of the nation as a whole and the best interest of the people they were elected to represent. When a program grows to a size where it affects a great number of people, making changes to it becomes extremely difficult because it risks pissing off a great number of voters who could ultimately elect representatives they feel would weigh heavier on their side of the scale.

Re:Maybe this corn can be used for food again? (1)

jedidiah (1196) | about 4 months ago | (#45718087)

> Maybe this corn used for ethanol can be used for food again?

Most of the corn grown in this country is already unsuitable for use as food. Rolling back the ethanol mandates won't really change that.

Might make soda marginally cheaper, or not. Corn is already heavily subsidized anyways.

Re:Maybe this corn can be used for food again? (4, Insightful)

GameMaster (148118) | about 4 months ago | (#45718151)

Uh, no. You're taking a half-remembered fact and mangling it. Almost all of the corn raised in this country is usable for food. However, the fact you are mis-remembering is that most of the corn isn't edible by humans straight off the stalk. Just because you can't eat it without processing doesn't mean it isn't still food. Even discounting corn syrup (which is still food) there is hominy, corn meal, etc. Even the stuff used as animal feed is still part of the food chain and increasing it's price still increases the cost of human food.

Re:Maybe this corn can be used for food again? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45718527)

corn syrup ought to be classified as poison..

Re:Maybe this corn can be used for food again? (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45718725)

No it shouldn't. "Bad for you" does not automatically mean "poison".

Re:Maybe this corn can be used for food again? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45718769)

I do remember reading something that US lawmakers forced farmers to grow corn over other food. And now that idea, since most things are corn based, has backfired, there is no real deep research as of yet, but corn syrup is far worse for human consumption then sugar. And the corn based animal feed is doing more harm to the animals, then the old standard diets they had, that has switched into human food as well, and research is suggesting (keyword suggesting) these corn based products are adding to poor health.

Just because the powers at be list it under food doesn't mean it should be.

Re:Maybe this corn can be used for food again? (2)

TheColorTwelve (2881827) | about 4 months ago | (#45718823)

Uh, no. You're taking a half-remembered fact and mangling it. Almost all of the corn raised in this country is usable for food. However, the fact you are mis-remembering is that most of the corn isn't edible by humans straight off the stalk. Just because you can't eat it without processing doesn't mean it isn't still food. Even discounting corn syrup (which is still food) there is hominy, corn meal, etc. Even the stuff used as animal feed is still part of the food chain and increasing it's price still increases the cost of human food.

So we grow more sweet corn instead of field corn. Done. Edible right off the stalk. Literally.

Re:Maybe this corn can be used for food again? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45718209)

they won't use the corn for food, they'll use the __land__ to grow something more useful (like, sweet corn, the stuff people eat).

Re:Maybe this corn can be used for food again? (1)

eliphalet (1222732) | about 4 months ago | (#45718445)

I would think that sweet corn has a whole different infrastructure for farming, storage and distribution than feed corn.

Re:Maybe this corn can be used for food again? (1)

LandDolphin (1202876) | about 4 months ago | (#45718845)

Or, at the least animal feed, so the price at the grocery store isn't as bad, and farmers/ranchers are not as pinched as before.

That's why you see "Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA) and Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK)" working on gettign rid of the corn/ethanol requirement. The requirement is raising the cost of corn so much that it is becoming cost prohibitive for ranchers to use corn to feed their cattle.

Feinstein doing anything (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45717877)

Follow the money.

All kinds of implications (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45717915)

Aside from the obvious food price implication, you have land price implications. This would be deflationary for any corn-based food product. At the grocery store the Congress giveth, and the Fed taketh away? Then you've got all the knock-on effects in any company that deals with corn as either a purchaser or supplier.

Minimal ghg impact (1)

noh8rz10 (2716597) | about 4 months ago | (#45717929)

There's little ghg impact to eliminating corn ethanol. It's so energy intensive to produce and there are big impacts from indirect land use change. The climate change champion in me says yawn. Cellulosic is much more exciting.

Re:Minimal ghg impact (1)

afidel (530433) | about 4 months ago | (#45718101)

The only problem is that the investors getting burned by the reduction in corn ethanol production are extremely unlikely to invest in cellosic plants if they feel it's likely the government will pull the indirect and direct subsidies on a whim like they are planning to with corn ethanol. These are capital intensive efforts and if halfway into your payback period the government pulls the rug out from under you you're unlikely to invest in a similar setup.

Re:Minimal ghg impact (3, Interesting)

borcharc (56372) | about 4 months ago | (#45718343)

I looked at several ethanol proposals back in the 2000's, every single one I took a pass on investing in because it was obvious that I would loose my shirt the second the government pulled the rug. These things, just like wind, have never been or never could be profitable without the subsidy. Anyone who was dumb enough to invest in these things deserves to lose their shirt. I completely gave up on renewable energy in 2008 when it was clear to me that no one wanted real solutions, just government handouts. I saw several technologies and processes never built because they were profitable on their own and everyone wanted something with a government handout attached.

Another major issue is with renewable power generation that isn't wind or solar. I can list off 10 projects that the utilities conspired to kill because they would be able to drive down the price of electricity in an area forcing them to shut down their legacy generation due to oversupply. The wind/solar mandate is the culprit in many of these cases as they have no choice but to buy X amount of wind/solar and they have to buy at the public market (electricity is traded electricity on a market based system in regional markets) so anything other than what they have and the feds require is a major threat for them.

Re:Minimal ghg impact (1)

bluefoxlucid (723572) | about 4 months ago | (#45718425)

Um, no, actually this doesn't hurt venture capital that much. The stock market will pull away from it, but that's not money going to the business; it's just trading paper and pink slips.

Re:Minimal ghg impact (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45718451)

Having spoken to a midwestern farmer who was part of a group that 'owned' an ethanol plant and sold it when reality set in, I am aware that the investors of which you speak are from many walks of life. There were the bankers from Wall Street, the farmers from Main Street and the individuals from any street. The bankers made their money on the front end and were gone, the farmers benefit from incresed demand for corn, and there were many many individuals who were there to manufacture, build, maintain and operate the ethanol plants, themselves.

The 'farmer' I knew dropped all pretense of environmentalism and explained that the reason they sold their interest in the plant they built was purely economic and short term, the same considerations that led them to invest initiallly. At first, corn futures prices were bolstered and the guaranteed price of ethanol supported an additional profit stream. With the downturn in gas consumption, after Wall Street faile itself and everyone else, there wasn't sufficient demand for mandated ethanol. Fortunately his group had read the tea leaves and sold to someone else. Hopefully these 'investors' could utilize the tax loss.

My acquaintance made it clear that everyone in the corn growing states viewed the Bush era ethanol mandate as a political pay-off, and the farmers were happy to take the money and run to Brazil where he claims most midwestern farmers are investing in land because it's cheaper to own and operate farms there. Heaven only knows what the world will do with all the ill-advised distilleris built throughout the corn belt, but there's always the possibility that they will be able to service the newly emerging craft market in boutique liquor and spirits. That way if they're losing money, at least they can drown their spirits in cheap booze while the rest of us look for better sources of alternative and/or efficient energy.

You're Kidding! (2)

bill_mcgonigle (4333) | about 4 months ago | (#45717947)

Congress mandated technology that doesn't exist and it didn't magically materialize?

Full disclosure: I know people who own a large, politically-connected cellulosic ethanol company and am roughly familiar with the challenges of scaling the technology. It's coming, some day; these things are hard.

Re:You're Kidding! (1)

cold fjord (826450) | about 4 months ago | (#45718089)

Well, to be fair, it isn't just Congress, the regulatory agencies like EPA get involved in the act too.

Will we get it by magic? No! By regulation!

Never happen. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45717961)

It makes sense.

It stops the dicksucking of the corn industry.

Two things the govt wants no part of.
Altho its a debate which they like more... Sucking the corn growers dick. Or doing things for nonsense reasons...

Re:Never happen. (1)

luther349 (645380) | about 4 months ago | (#45718005)

you must have never worked in the corn industry the subsides make it not even worth growing. many corn fields sit abandon due to farmers going broke.

reasons for it (1)

luther349 (645380) | about 4 months ago | (#45717987)

the fuel mix we have been using is crap it turned out ethanol mixed with gas is actually worse then pure gas it also causes rust in metal gas tanks if not kept full.

Re:reasons for it (3, Informative)

mhajicek (1582795) | about 4 months ago | (#45718075)

It also damages two-stroke engines.

Re:reasons for it (1, Informative)

Ralph Wiggam (22354) | about 4 months ago | (#45718385)

Good. The fact that two stroke engines are still allowed to be sold is a disgrace. Running a weed whacker for an hour causes a lot more pollution than driving a Hummer for an hour.

Probably a good thing (5, Informative)

cold fjord (826450) | about 4 months ago | (#45718019)

Probably a good thing. Using corn or other edible crops has been linked to rising food prices that have been painful in the third world, the US, and Europe.

Record Food Prices Linked to Biofuels [technologyreview.com]
How biofuels contribute to the food crisis [washingtonpost.com]
Biofuel rule puts turkey farmers in fret over corn costs [washingtontimes.com]
EU votes on crucial cap on biofuels made from food crops [theguardian.com]

There are other ways to do it.

'Biofuel from non-food crops within 15 years' [telegraph.co.uk]
U.S. to Pay Farmers for Non-Food Crops for Biofuels, Vilsack Says [bloomberg.com]
Quest for cheap, nonfood biofuel starts with a brewery [eenews.net]

Of course it may not be popular is some states.

Re:Probably a good thing (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45718147)

But how am I supposed to give billions in subsidies to corn farmers then?

Re:Probably a good thing (0, Flamebait)

Rockoon (1252108) | about 4 months ago | (#45718263)

But how am I supposed to give billions in subsidies to corn farmers then?

I'm sure that the Democrats will find another way to give them billions.

Re:Probably a good thing (4, Insightful)

DocSavage64109 (799754) | about 4 months ago | (#45718495)

But how am I supposed to give billions in subsidies to corn farmers then?

I'm sure that the Democrats will find another way to give them billions.

If it was the Democrats giving billions to the farmers, then how come they all vote Republican?

Re:Probably a good thing (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45718269)

But how am I supposed to give billions in subsidies to corn farmers then?

1) Get some FDA testing to conclude that corn-fed beef is just as healthy as grass-fed beef (repeat for other critters, substituting 'grass' with whatever their natural diet would include).
2) Cite FDA testing to propose a law to 'educate' ranchers about corn.
3) Cite FDA testing to enact one of those stupid 'the more you know' style ad-doctrination campaigns about the benefits of corn.
4) Contract the food network to focus on the joys of corn and soy for a month (corn-soy-soy is the dominant rotation for corn fields)
5) Propose legislation to subsidize corn and soy purchases so that they can enter the food market more cheaply.

You know, the old way of doing it. With those medically-suspect food pyramids and things.

Re:Probably a good thing (3, Interesting)

Em Adespoton (792954) | about 4 months ago | (#45718429)

But how am I supposed to give billions in subsidies to corn farmers then?

By converting their cornfields to switchgrass. They'll need to re-tool, which isn't cheap (which is where the grants and subsidies come in), but in the end, they'll end up with a much cheaper crop that doesn't need the same rotation and fertilizers you require with corn. So even if the subsidies are less, after the initial investment, the profit margin for farmers will be increased.

Re:Probably a good thing (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45718309)

I am actually for raising food prices in third world countries. The problem with too low food prices is that local farmers in poor countries can't compete with First World Food producers. What happens is what little wealth is available in the country gets exported to first world countries. The farms ether go for single exportable crops like bannas, coffee, etc. or disappear.

Re:Probably a good thing (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45718317)

The corn used in biofuels is not suitable for human consumption.

Re:Probably a good thing (3, Insightful)

rollingcalf (605357) | about 4 months ago | (#45718361)

But the land used for that corn is often suitable for growing other crops for human consumption.

Re:Probably a good thing (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45718455)

Stupid city folk just don't get it.

The infrastructure doesn't exist to produce non-food biofuel in any meaningful way.

Even so, producing non-fuel biofuel would take resources away from food production more than corn would. If not in land, then in investments in equipment in labor.

Corn may not be the most effective biofuel, but we can produce a lot of it easily with a small additional. Some years we produce far more corn than we can consume or store just by accident. Corn will just sit in open piles and rot. (And of you city-twits who will say "grow less corn", STFU. You don't clearly don't understand the uncontrollable variables of farming.)

The whole idea that ethanol-based corn is competing with food use is insane. We can easily produce more than we need for food.

Re:Probably a good thing (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45718861)

Cant remember but I think Venezuela is just about a completely independent country. They've used sugar cane crops for bio fuels... Far different then corn based, but people in this country and including /. editors forget that moonshine was used as a fuel in there vehicles. And again the process in which it is made for a mass fuel is flawed, and the low compression on gas engines == terrible fuel.

For those that old 2 valve per cylinder heads, even 4 valves, can bump up the compression to at least 10:1-12:1 you would see a major improvement instantly. I'm tired of reading and hearing this bio fuel has failed... Instead oil companies won, however would it be that bad if the weaker ones were weeded out? Or even some of the greedy ones!!

Diesel is a better solution (2)

EmagGeek (574360) | about 4 months ago | (#45718107)

Diesel engines are twice as efficient at extracting energy from fuel as are gas engines. The US should do what Europe has done and basically fully embrace diesel fueled vehicles for their efficiency.

No, you won't be breaking any 0-60 records, which might make it difficult for the MURKA! FUCK YEAH! crowd to accept, but when you can drive from Bakersfield to Baltimore on 100 gallons of diesel, it's worthy of serious consideration.

I am dismayed that this administration is so openly hostile towards diesel technology when it would seem to be a very simple, very clean, very cheap, and very easy solution both in the short and long term. You can buy a Jetta TDI cheap and get 55mpg on the highway. That beats the snot out of any Hybrid in overall cost.

Wasn't it kind of tied to our recently dirty fuel? (1)

swb (14022) | about 4 months ago | (#45718225)

I think in the last few years they mandated that all diesel fuel (at least for on-road vehicles) be of the low sulfur variety. Prior to that we had high sulfur diesel which wasn't much good for the newfangled diesel engines that you see now becoming available in Audis and BMWs, but existed in Europe.

I'd like to see a Chevy Volt with a diesel instead of the gas engine.

Re:Wasn't it kind of tied to our recently dirty fu (2)

0racle (667029) | about 4 months ago | (#45718399)

Change the Volt to a Hybrid VW TDI and I would run down to the dealership right now screaming "TAKE MY MONEY!"

Re:Wasn't it kind of tied to our recently dirty fu (1)

timeOday (582209) | about 4 months ago | (#45718467)

Technically diesel would be a great match with how the Volt engine is operated (steady at the optimal RPM). But given diesel prices nowadays, is it still a win over gasoline in miles per dollar?

Re:Diesel is a better solution (1)

borcharc (56372) | about 4 months ago | (#45718231)

People need to stop projecting their values and worldview on valueless lying politicians whose worldview is you could never imagine. Many smart and decent people assume that politicians (usually the ones on the team they support) are also smart, decent, and share their values. Where in fact they may be smart, they are not decent and care nothing for the greater good, only their own good disguised as the greater good, open your eyes.

Re:Diesel is a better solution (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45718365)

why do people have to support a team? why cant we support individual platforms that would better represent the constituency that said politicians represent?

that's how democracy is SUPPOSED to work..

Re:Diesel is a better solution (2)

LordLimecat (1103839) | about 4 months ago | (#45718619)

I know someone in my church who is a state delegate, and is a member of the opposite party. Doesnt change the fact that hes generally smart, decent, and shares a lot of my values.

Your comment is waaaay too overbroad. I would wager that you do not personally know even a significant number of politicians.

Re:Diesel is a better solution (1)

GrahamCox (741991) | about 4 months ago | (#45718279)

No, you won't be breaking any 0-60 records

I recently hired a car and it was a Diesel, the first I've ever driven (VW Golf 2.0 Tdi bluemotion). I was amazed at the performance, it had excellent acceleration, more than enough speed for general use and at the end of two weeks of moderately hard driving turned in a fuel consumption of under 4.8 litres/100km (that's about 50miles per US Gallon)

Cars like that would work perfectly well in the USA, and be a lot easier to park as well. I have no idea why you lot are so wedded to the concept of car-as-behemoth with ridiculously outdated and inefficient V8 OHV iron lumps as power. (Though it's not just you, the Aussies are fond of that formula as well). No wonder GM and Ford are dying.

Re:Diesel is a better solution (1)

phantomfive (622387) | about 4 months ago | (#45718439)

I recently hired a car and it was a Diesel, the first I've ever driven (VW Golf 2.0 Tdi bluemotion). I was amazed at the performance, it had excellent acceleration,

I think you might be getting models confused, but it looks like a typical VW Golf diesel does 0-60 in about 10 seconds [zeroto60times.com], which isn't amazing, but it's not horrible, either.

Cars like that would work perfectly well in the USA, and be a lot easier to park as well.

'Parking difficulty' is really only a concern (in the USA) in the middle of an extremely crowded urban area. People who live in those places do tend to buy smaller cars, if they have them at all.

No wonder GM and Ford are dying.

They aren't, Ford has been profitable since 2009 at least

Re:Diesel is a better solution (1)

GrahamCox (741991) | about 4 months ago | (#45718671)

According to the very same page you linked, the model I hired (or closest to it on that chart; it was the 2013 model) does 0-60 in 7.9 seconds.

But I think what impressed the most was how torquey it felt - very flexible and would pull strongly from very low revs. It was a manual transmission of course, another thing I vastly prefer to the typical US or Aussie monster.

Re:Diesel is a better solution (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45718291)

It isn't the administration but it is California. Like textbooks and Texas, California leads the way on automobiles. They don't like diesel because the carbon emissions are higher (on both a mileage basis and gallon basis) as well as some other forms of pollution being higher so they make the standards incredibly high.

Re:Diesel is a better solution (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45718373)

I'm sorry, but Diesel is not a panacea.

I'm sick of hearing people say Diesel is clean. It's not.

For a Diesel engine to run at proper efficency, it has to be warm. In colder climates this means Diesel engines idling for absurd amounts of time while they "warm up", or to prevent them from cooling down too much. During the "Warm-up", they are terrible polluters, spewing noxious fumes and particulates like crazy. This is due to the ineffencies caused by the cold engine. Catalyic converters and such help some, but they have to heat up too, and that takes time.

If you think I'm wrong, I invite you to stand next to a cold Diesel in -40c weather (Heck, even drive behind one!). Breathe the fumes for 10 to 15 minutes while your eyes water and your lungs burn... you'll change your mind about "Clean" Diesel.

I'm not just talking Pickup trucks either. Your Jetta TDI is just as bad. (I know, my boss used to drive one.) They're fine in the summer, but just as noxious in the Winter.

Re:Diesel is a better solution (3, Interesting)

mlts (1038732) | about 4 months ago | (#45718381)

You won't be breaking 0-60 records anywhere near a metro area anyway.

Believe it or not, diesels are getting embraced in the US. The Mercedes Sprinter van is a hit, and both Ford and Fiat (er, Chrysler) are both trying to get some type of decent diesel engine in a van that can compete. This is important because of fleet use of these vehicles.

The "grocery getter" (i.e. half-ton) pickups are getting diesels as well, starting with the Chrysler RAM 1500.

As for hybrids or electric vehicles, I've wondered about just having a pure EV drivetrain, then using a generator from Onan or Kohler mounted onboard with a fuel tank. This would require less time to design around, because the generators are already pre-made, and could be easily replaced if a part fails. Most motorhomes have an onboard genset, usually mounted underneath the rig, and if mounted properly with shock mounts and an exhaust resonator, are not loud.

Re:Diesel is a better solution (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45718743)

... and has been for a long time. So what's the problem? Is it just the millions (billions) of dollars over decades that the oil refineries have made on gasoline over diesel (even the more highly refined stuff required under current environmental regs) ? Yeah, no doubt that's part of it. But there are also the idiocracies in place at every global auto company, even those who are now pushing diesel, who have "fueled" the continuation of gasoline's monopoly. Guess too many of those guys had oil company stock in their personal portfolios. To be honest, during the late 70's - early 80's I was one of those who uncritically accepted the whole ethanol from corn solution. Ironically it was one of the few things that a lot of urban liberals and rural conservatives agreed on, although for entirely different reasons. The liberals thought they were saving the planet while the conservatives thought they were saving the farm. Both lost, as far as I can see. Old farmer Brown doesn't make a dime off ethanol nowadays, in fact he sold out to big agribusiness decades ago and retired to Florida while his son went bankrupt because he couldn't pay his petroleum-based fertilizer debt. At the same time urban liberals are driving around in imported hybrids that are around a year away from needing a staggeringly expensive traction battery replacement. If just one European-owned American passenger van manufacturer (hint, hint Fiat/Chrysler) would offer a diesel option it could spark a turnaround. But expecting them to have that kind of vision is just crazy talk.

End the Biofuel Mandate Entirely (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45718175)

All with all other agribusiness subsidies.

It's not a proper function of government, and not a federal government power enumerated in the Constitution.

We shouldn't waste our topsoil and water for cars. (1)

attemptedgoalie (634133) | about 4 months ago | (#45718211)

Every dime "invested" in ethanol from corn/soy should be redirected into battery technology.

If we could put a minor hybrid assist in every car that provides say 5 miles on electric, it would improve efficiency for at least all the idle time at stoplights and such.

Get a decent transmission/battery for school buses, mail trucks, and other constantly running vehicles and knock off an additional chunk of wasted fuel.

Good for my motorsports! (1)

ladydi89 (1159055) | about 4 months ago | (#45718261)

That ethanol laced fuel fouled more plugs and plugged my carb than I can count on my dirt bikes. I will be glad to see it go.

Thanks, Obama! (1, Informative)

Overzeetop (214511) | about 4 months ago | (#45718285)

This just seemed like a good place for this meme.

Re:Thanks, Obama! (1)

mrclisdue (1321513) | about 4 months ago | (#45718441)

Ya, but it was Bush who signed a paper somewhere at some point in time hence, you're wrong, um...so there.

Re:Thanks, Obama! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45718869)

Bush might be signing some papers somewhere in the future, but it doesn't have much to do with this. Any paper that has much to do with politics will be kept far away from him, he had his chance.

About Time guys.... (5, Insightful)

bobbied (2522392) | about 4 months ago | (#45718327)

This NEVER made sense environmentally, economically or technically.

Technically, we hit the "blend wall" at about 10%. Above that amount, gasoline engines start to have issues with Ethanol. Rubber seals, hoses and plastic parts in fuel systems start having reduced lifespan. Above 10% some engines start having other internal issues. Gas mileage is reduced because Ethanol has a lower energy density. Ethanol is a water magnet, it mixes with water easily and is hard to keep "dry" so rusting and corrosion becomes more common in fuel systems.

Environmentally, the production of ethanol doesn't really reduce emissions of C02 when you count the whole process of growing, harvesting, storing, transporting, processing into ethanol, transporting, blending and transporting the product again. It was at best a wash. Then when you consider how much more fertilizer, pesticides and tilling add to the environmental impact it clearly becomes a negative.

Economically, the case is even worse. The whole process of producing ethanol is both labor and capital expensive. It is obviously more expensive as a motor fuel. Then when you consider what has happened to food prices as corn (a base part of much of what we eat as well as feed for animals we use for food) prices have gone up.

But what about or dependance on foreign Oil imports? It helped, but was it worth it? T Boon Pickens has the answer to that. He thinks that we are stupid to convert food into fuel when we could be using abundant Natural Gas for a motor fuel. Converting gasoline engines to use natural gas is not that hard (albeit harder than 10% Ethanol) it works great with reduced range due to energy density. Refueling times can be comparable to gasoline and a large distribution network already exists in much of the nation.

It's time. Do away with this mistake.

Re:About Time guys.... (4, Informative)

couchslug (175151) | about 4 months ago | (#45718643)

NG engines are easy to do and well understood, but the infrastructure issue means it's a fleet-use only item.

Folks who work with NG generators report very long life and low wear. If I had a convenient source of CNG I'd convert at least one of my trucks to bi-fuel as "gas and gasoline" systems can co-exist. Ford is going to offer a CNG option on the extremely successful F-150. (That would make a great option for a work truck since CNG can be used to run cutting torches, generators, and so forth. Standard hardware could easily connect them.)

http://www.forbes.com/sites/joannmuller/2013/07/31/ford-f-150-to-get-natural-gas-engine-option/ [forbes.com]

Re:About Time guys.... (1)

swillden (191260) | about 4 months ago | (#45718789)

NG engines are easy to do and well understood, but the infrastructure issue means it's a fleet-use only item.

An inexpensive home CNG compressor could fix that. A very large percentage of the US has CNG piped to the home; if that could be leveraged for safe and convenient in-home refueling, then the infrastructure problem is mostly solved.

Note that I have no idea how difficult it is to build a small, safe, inexpensive CNG compressor. It doesn't seem like it should be too difficult, though.

Re:About Time guys.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45718893)

It doesn't seem like it should be too difficult, though.

Whenever you make a statement like this, it is nearly certain to be wrong; however, look on the bright side, you have a budding career as a clueless manager awaiting you!

Performance (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45718783)

The only good use case I know of was that E85 was a high octane fuel for racers. You still had to upgrade pumps, injectors, fuel lines and adjust the tune significantly but you could run a lot of timing which helped make horsepower.

Re:About Time guys.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45718849)

It was meant to give farmers a way to use the waste. I remember driving by the piles as a kid. *GIANT* piles of rotting corn. Some years you over produce as getting the weather/growth rate is pretty good but not an exact science. In those years you could sell the corn and make fuel. Instead it turned into a gov mandate. It went downhill from there.

Guess we are going back to giant piles of rotting corn.

not the end of ethanol (1)

BradMajors (995624) | about 4 months ago | (#45718503)

AFAIK, this bill would only end the mandate. It would not end subsidies for corn ethanol production. Lots of ethanol would still be used for fuel because with subsidies ethanol is often competitive.

Lester Brown thinks this is a good idea (3, Informative)

mdsolar (1045926) | about 4 months ago | (#45718675)

In his new book "Full Planet, Empty Plates: The New Geopolitics of Food Scarcity" Lester Brown writes: "Between 2005 and 2011, the grain used to produce fuel for cars climbed from 41 million to 127 million tons—nearly a third of the U.S. grain harvest. (See Figure 4–1.) The United States is trying to replace oil fields with corn fields to meet part of its automotive fuel needs. The massive diversion of grain to fuel cars has helped drive up food prices, leaving low-income consumers everywhere to suffer some of the most severe food price inflation in history. As of mid-2012, world wheat, corn, and soybean prices were roughly double their historical levels."

He is pessimistic about cellulosic ethanol: "The unfortunate reality is that the road to this ambitious cellulosic biofuel goal is littered with bankrupt firms that tried and failed to develop a process that would produce an economically viable fuel. Despite having the advantage of not being directly part of the food supply, cellulosic ethanol has strong intrinsic characteristics that put it at a basic disadvantage compared with grain ethanol, so it may never become economically viable." http://www.earthpolicy.org/books/fpep/fpepch4 [earthpolicy.org]

Bad idea (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45718689)

Much better to spend government resources finding a way to convert my grass clippings to ethanol.

It simply isn't fair to create any additional linkages outside unavoidable energy cost of producing food to the energy markets.

Why can't we get ethanol right? (1)

mdsolar (1045926) | about 4 months ago | (#45718813)

First we mangle the Constitution with prohibition, grow an organized crime culture then repeal it. Now we lay down a mandate and then back peddle. It's like we are getting thrown across the shoulders of a gin-soaked barroom queen all the time.

Complexities (1)

jklovanc (1603149) | about 4 months ago | (#45718831)

Biofuel from food crops (food crops being things like corn, sugar beets, etc);
Bad idea as it takes up arable land and the food produced is not going into the food supply causing food price increases.

Biofuel from non-food crops (non-food crops being things like hay, trees, etc that are planted and harvested)
If this uses land that could produce food then it is no better than using food crops as less food enters the food chain.
If it uses land that is unsuitable for growing food than it is very good. Care must be taken to limit the amount of upkeep such as watering and fertilizing. A good example of this is a bamboo [bambooki.com] farm in rocky ground. One could even fertilize it with sewage plant waste for an additional boost.

Buifuels from waste;
This is the best option as in many cases,such as corn stalks and cobs (corn removed), energy has been spent to creating it and it is good to get it back. It also does not divert resources from feeding people. The issue is that most waste is cellulose and we haven't cracked that problem yet. Maybe if we de-emphasize food crop biofuels some of the research money going into optimizing that process will go into cellulose biofuels research.

Good... alternatives are better (5, Interesting)

BenJeremy (181303) | about 4 months ago | (#45718865)

Switchgrass, Sugar Cane, and Hemp all provide more sustainable, easier-to-convert alternatives to creating ethanol, which, even with the subsidy, was more expensive per mile to operate vehicles with when made using corn.

These alternatives cost about 30% less to convert and are easier to grow.

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