In the graph above is contained the folly of America’s biofuel boondoggle, in all its ignominy. The line you see shooting up and then leveling out by 2022 represents the amount of ethanol that refiners in the U.S. are required to blend into gasoline, as set out by the 2007 Renewable Fuel Standard. However, in the years since 2007, Americans have driven fewer miles than anticipated in much higher-mileage vehicles. That’s led to decreased gasoline consumption, which is bad news for ethanol.
Refiners have to contend with a so-called “blend wall”: Older car engines aren’t meant to run on gasoline that is more than 10 percent ethanol by volume. Because of that hard limit, when gas consumption decreases, so must the consumption of ethanol. That’s why the second line, representing America’s projected ethanol consumption according to the 2014 EIA Annual Energy Outlook (h/t Smarter Fuel Future), is so far below the mandated amounts.
That, by itself, is a clear demonstration of a failed policy, but it gets worse. The ethanol we’re producing—primarily derived from corn—fails virtually every metric a biofuel could hope to pass: It doesn’t reduce emissions, it wreaks havoc on landscapes, and it raises global food prices, starving the world’s poor. That our mandates so far exceed our production capabilities are just the cherry on top of this sundae of failure.