Today we post a guest article by David Chu of LiquidEnergyOasis.com. This is an excerpt from his extensive and well-thought out article on using alcohol as a fuel source in tough times.
What are the Big Myths About Alcohol as a Fuel?
Have you ever heard the one they say that making alcohol in the United States causes the children in Africa to go hungry? More specifically, the accusation is that making alcohol causes the price of corn to go up and hence causes food to be expensive and scarce. Myth Number One is utterly unscientific, but it is good Big Oil propaganda.
First of all, corn is not used as food for human beings in the majority or in the precise sense of the words, “human food.” Approximately 87% of the corn grown in the U.S. is used for animal feed (and in making alcohol fuel or ethanol concurrently—more on this important fact later). Only about 1% all the corn grown is used for actual human consumption as in corn flakes for breakfast cereals, corn chips, canned and frozen corn, etc. Another 1% is used to make whiskey which you may or may not consider to be human food. The rest of the corn grown is used for things like high-fructose corn syrup, modified food starch, and other corn-based products that are not exactly fit for human consumption.
Corn and Cows: Food Production
You could make a half-convincing argument that the corn used for the cows that are then eaten by human beings is human food. So, letʼs tackle this argument head on, shall we? It takes about 10 pounds (or 10 kg) of corn to grow 1 pound (or 1 kg) of beef in the U.S. Why? Because cows are not designed by Mother Nature to digest starch. Cows are meant to graze on woody brushes (and grasses). Forcing them to eat corn, i.e., all that starch which make up 70% of the corn kernel, is animal cruelty and causes all sorts of problems including bloating and digestive diseases.
Inefficient digestion equates to inefficient meat production. Were that 10 pounds (or 10 kg) of corn be turned into alcohol first by fermentation, we would get alcohol as a fuel and about 3.3 pounds (or 3.3 kg) of mash—the leftover solids from the fermentation process, full of proteins, fats, nutrients, vitamins, etc. Feeding cows this mash, also called distillerʼs dried grains or DDG, actually produces 17% more meat 13% faster! So instead of feeding cows 10 pounds (or 10 kg) of corn to only get 1 pound (or 1 kg) of beef, we could feed them the 3.3 pounds (or 3.3 kg) of the mash instead—after turning corn into alcohol fuel first—and still get 1.17 pounds (or 1.17 kg) of beef! Less animal feed, more beef, and healthier cows. What a concept!
During Prohibition, the revenuers, i.e., the alcohol police enforcers, would go to the county fairs to discover who the “moonshiners” are, i.e., those farmers illegally making alcohol by the light of the moon. How? They would look for the fattest cows and fattest pigs, because those farmers were feeding their prized animals with the leftover mash they got from their illegal moonshine stills. Talk about a historical precedence.
So, making alcohol as a fuel can provide both fuel for human beings and food for animals at the same time. It makes cows happier. And it makes more beef.
Myth Number Two goes along this track: There is not enough land to grow crops for making alcohol as a fuel and to grow crops for human food at the same time.
What this argument leaves out is the assumption that they are using corn as the onlybfeedstock to make alcohol fuel. Corn is one of the worst feedstocks to make alcohol from. Letʼs use this corn feedstock as our example to demolish Myth Number Two.
Typically, growing corn can produce up to 250 gallons of alcohol fuel per acre per year (about 2,300 liters per hectare per year). In Brazil, they use sugarcane as their main feedstock. Sugarcane can produce up to 900 gallons of alcohol per acre per year (about 8,400 liters per hectare per year), or almost 4 times what corn can yield.
To supply ALL the gasoline and diesel fuel needs of the U.S. (yes, alcohol can run diesel engines too!), we need about 200 billion gallons of alcohol fuel per year. At 250 gallons of alcohol produced per acre of corn per year, we need about 800 million acres of farmland to grow this amount of corn. There are about 1.373 billion acres of farmland and cropland in the U.S. So, we need about 58.3% of the entire farmable land9 to grow the amount of corn necessary to supply all the fuel needs for the U.S. That is if we are really stupid and want to use corn which is one of the worst feedstocks for making alcohol.
We could use fodder beets (~1,000 gallons per acre per year, the 58.3% mentioned above goes down to 14.6%), sweet sorghum (~1,500 gallons per acre per year, the 58.3% now goes down to 9.7%), or mesquite pods (~340 gallons per acre per year) which donʼt even requireany farmland, farm work. or irrigation water because they already grow in the deserts ofArizona! All that is necessary to do is to harvest the pods. Imagine that.
And we can use many other non-agricultural plants and crops like sea kelp (marine algae) that produce sugars and/or starches. In fact, feedstocks for making alcohol fuel can bealmost anything that contains sugars and/or starch.
Think: waste wine, waste fruits, waste breads, waste donuts, waste candies, etc. And we havenʼt even talked about making alcohol from cellulose (maybe a future article on this topic perhaps). A cost-effective, cellulosic alcohol process that is open-sourced is about 1 to 2 years away and it will change the entire alcohol fuel business for the better. Think: lawn grass clippings, newspapers, papers, all sorts of biomass, etc.
Myth Number Three says that using alcohol fuel will damage our car engines.
Their assumption is that you are driving a car or truck older than 1983. Why? Because some cars made prior to 1983 use certain materials that are not compatible with alcohol. Alcohol could degrade these materials over time. Guess what? If you have a car or truck that old (more than 28 years old), maybe itʼs time to replace a few hoses so that you can run your car on clean alcohol?
In many states in the U.S. like California, gasoline supplied at fuel stations already contains up to 10% alcohol to clean up fuel emissions. So, the argument that alcohol damages cars is almost totally bogus, if not 99.99% bogus.
In fact, running your car on alcohol actually makes the engine last longer. You could probably get two to three times the engine life if you run your car on alcohol instead of gasoline. This is because running the internal combustion engine on alcohol produces no carbon soot which is one of the major causes of engine wear and tear. Studies have shown that cars and trucks in Brazil and the U.K. that used only alcohol lasted almost three times as long as their gasoline and diesel counterparts.
The other major cause of short engine life is high engine temperature. Cars and motorcycles running on alcohol actually run cooler. Alcohol exhausts the engine at around 1,000 degree Fahrenheit (or 540 degree Celsius) whereas gasoline comes out at around 1,400 degrees Fahrenheit (or 760 degree Celsius). You can put your hand on the tailpipe of a motorcycle without burning your hand—that is if it is running on alcohol and not gasoline.
You may lose up to 12% miles per gallon (or 12% less km per liter) when you use 100% alcohol in your fuel tank. Thatʼs because the modern internal combustion engine has been co-opted by Big Oil to run on this toxic junk called “gasoline” which has a range of burning points, not a single burning point like alcohol. When the IC engine is re-redesigned back to run on alcohol alone, as has been done in Brazil since the early 1980s, they will get up to 22% more miles per gallon (or 22% more km per liter.
David Chu is an author and professional engineer who has worked throughout the United States for over 20 years. Since late 2008, he has devoted his career and engineering knowhow to help people everywhere to learn about and to implement the small scale alcohol production system described in this article. Mr. Chu has appeared on many radio shows on diverse topics, and he is available for radio interviews. Please contact him via email at David@LiquidEnergyOasis.com