September 24, 2005
Should Make the Pit Crews a Lot Happier
Posted by scott at September 24, 2005 01:41 PM
Fark linked up news that the Indy Racing League is switching to 100% ethanol fuel over the next two years. Since they currently use methanol, there's not much of an engineering challenge involved. While it's certain to give the alternative-fuels crowd a warm-n'-fuzzy, it still doesn't get around the fact that, without subsidies, ethanol is far more expensive to produce than oil-derived fuels. Well, it was about four years ago, which is the last time I read any studies on it. Now that oil is well over $50 a barrel, this may not be quite as true.
Personally I'd have no trouble with it if they'd repeal the hefty subsidies (in effect, causing us to already pay for ethanol production) and let the market decide. Otherwise it's simply an interesting publicity stunt from a racing series that, until this season, has done little more than turn left very very fast.
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Well, according to Wikipedia (not the best source, but a semi-reliable one), the cost/gallon of ethanol is about $1.10 to produce. However, with subsidies figured in, we're actually looking at $2.464/gallon - and once you were to put gas taxes and profits into that, it's not as economical (yet) as gasoline. That being said, economies of scale would like have a very favorable impact on that.
However, a body of research is coming up that points to ethanol taking 6 'units' of energy to produce 1 'unit' in your auto. Not particularly efficient, that.
That being said, there's a guy in FL that says he's engineered an E. Coli bacteria to produce ethanol at a cost of $1.30/gal. Now, the article doesn't speak to the costs of growing the crops, but it does seem that they'd plan on using normal waste materials to do this. Unfortunately, many of the crops need those waste materials as fertilizers of sorts, so not sure how that'd play out in the long term.
For fun, here's a quickie on a Professor of ecology and agriculture at Cornell talking about input/output ratios for biomass conversion to ethanol.
And another one stating the same thing.
And the the last one that I'll post.
I'm sure there may be articles and studies pointing in the other direction - and I'd be more than happy to look at them, but right now it still doesn't seem efficient enough until we get the necessary economies of scale or the cost of crude goes up enough to get us there. The tar sands in Canada and the shale (I think it's shale) in Montano or Oregon still seem like a better bet in the short term.