Undercurrents: beneath the obvious

December 17, 2006

Does ethanol reduce air pollution? Doesn’t look like it

Filed under: Ethanol — nemo @ 9:44 am

The Cultural Economist, in a post titled What is the real cost of ethanol?, explores whether ethanol use will reduce air pollution and result in cleaner air (emphasis is mine):

When most cars had a carburetor, a two percent mix of ethanol supposedly tricked the fuel system into delivering a leaner mixture to the engine. Since proponents tended to ignore the loss of fuel economy, it was assumed that all vehicles running on a 2 to 5 % mix would cause less air pollution. But that was 20 years ago. Today’s fuel injected engines self-adjust to a fixed mixture regardless of fuel composition. In addition, the Department of Energy has reported that E85 can reduce carbon monoxide by four percent and NOx by 59 percent, but it raises total hydrocarbon output, – including acetaldehyde (CH3CHO) – by 43 percent.

And we should consider this concept. Do we release far more pollution into the environment during the production and processing of corn into ethanol than we save in act of consuming ethanol as a motor fuel? Corn is monoculture cultivation on a massive scale, requiring copious quantities of oil and natural gas for herbicides, pesticides, fertilizers, and fuels, which then deposits as a waste in our rivers and – eventually – our oceans.

So. Does adding ethanol to fuel mix do anything to help in our quest for cleaner air? Cleaner water?

It appears not. Here’s a recap of my prior posts on ethanol:

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