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America's Biofuel Boondoggle in One Simple Graph

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.

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  • Bart Hall

    I’m an agronomist who farms for a living. Corn also fails a very important metric — it requires more energy to grow, harvest, transport, and brew the corn for one gallon of ethanol than there is energy in that ethanol. We have known this for the last quarter-century, and chosen to proceed nevertheless. That does not even include the rampant destruction of soil as more and more hilly ground is pushed into producing corn. Nor the million or more acres of native prairies lost to the plow in recent years … all to grow more corn.

  • disqus_GyYBaPW6KE

    Hate that the graph starts at 10 billion gallons. I’m against ethanol, but just about any graph that truncates the bottom quarter is destroying the very scale that is required for an accurate perspective. There’s no denying that the truncation exaggerates in favor of the argument being made and it’s a cheap ploy. Come on, there’s no need for that in this argument. Ethanol is obviously stupid and self-serving policy.

  • Victor Cachat

    Well, it’s not like a lot of thinking was involved.
    It sounded good, they pronounced it good, they walked away.

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