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The ethanol picture is changing fast

“Turn more corn into ethanol and we’ll solve our energy problems!” Sound familiar? That was such a politically popular “feel-good fantasy” we heard over the last couple of years. But the NMMA’s president, Thom Dammrich, correctly labeled this knee-jerk policy “the greatest scam in America” as he often referred to potential problems that ethanol has presented for our marine engines.  

Now, corn to ethanol doesn’t look so good, politically or realistically, and we’re about to see a major shift away from a policy of encouraging corn-based ethanol. Why? If the arguments that producing ethanol from corn pollutes more or making ethanol consumes more energy than it produces aren’t enough, the arguments surrounding food products will get everyone’s attention.

It’s a fact that corn starts the majority of our food products from beef to colas. In 2007, a quarter of the corn crop became ethanol, not food. This year, that figure is expected to hit 35 percent and, under the energy bill passed by Congress late last year, will continue on up from there. The price of corn has gone up 240 percent since 2006.

The International Food Policy Research Institute reported that the corn being diverted to ethanol production has accounted for one-third of the rise in U.S. food prices. Also, food riots have been reported in Mexico, Pakistan, Haiti and Ethiopia, among others.  And here’s an irony: A recent Time magazine cover story identified biofuels as creating more greenhouse gasses. A bill has already been introduced  by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison to freeze ethanol levels.

The question is: should we replace corn-based ethanol and how? Answer: Yes. We can start by going after known oil and gas reserves. We have enough oil and gas to meet our needs in the U.S. For example, the recently discovered Bakken Formation in North Dakota is estimated to contain between 200 billion and 500 billion barrels of oil, which would increase our oil reserves by a factor of 10. Put another way, this field is so large it could mean a 30-year supply of oil for the U.S., and would effectively make us independent of the oil cartel.

Employ cost-effective horizontal drilling. Marathon Oil reportedly has drilled 300 new wells in the Bakken Formation at a cost of $.5 billion. Then, there are new low-cost, environmentally friendly technologies for processing the mammoth U.S. and Canadian oil sands reserves. New off-shore exploration along the coast of Brazil and the Caribbean could yield several million barrels of oil a day by 2020. And we could tap into the billions of barrels of oil under ANWR, among others.

Finally, is our concern about ethanol in marine engines now history? Not at all. No one is prepared to say ethanol will disappear. In fact, developing cellulose-based ethanol may effectively combine selected microorganisms with crops that grow on substandard land to provide large quantities of ethanol in the future.


12 comments on “The ethanol picture is changing fast

  1. dave boso

    Alright so there you are “CRAZY TALK” we can do it, we should do it ,we must do it. So how come , it is we are the only ones that know it. Nancy and the gang won’t even bring up for a vote the Presidents proposal to drill ofshore , oil shale, and ANWAR. Guess there must be some political reason Congress want to see the American people suffer, under these high prices and dependecy on other countrys oil. The world laughs at us for being so stupid.
    68% of the Americans polled want more oil production, what happend to majority rules?.
    I get so darn mad I can’t type right. I have my Three Stooges in Congress numbers on my quick dial fax, and fire off hand written letters every time I hear of more of this crap. Let’s all find out who is supposed to represent us in Congress put them on your quick dial fax and shoot them a nasty letter every time we hear of some crime aganist the people.

  2. Page Obenshain

    Ethanol is new to Florida. I would like to find out problems others have experienced with the ehtanol product. At this time my supplier will continue to provide my dock with 100% gasoline, but not for long. I understand the ethanol absorbes any water, seprates and goes to the bottom of the tank when the boat sits. When you start the engine you will pick up the water and ethanol. Is that true?

  3. Bill Lindsey

    I agree that we are stuck with Ethanol-blended gasoline for the forseeable future. Sadly, it menas a long-term degradation of our boating experience. I also agree that using corn to produce ethanol is absurd. Biomass works at least as well and has a significanly lower cost. The University of Florida (Go Gators!) is building a facility that will convert the refuse from sugar production (i.e. sugarcane stalks and such) into ethanol. That will no doubt irk corn farmers who are now plowing the back 40 in Bentleys, but it is good news for the rest of us.

  4. Bob Chew

    Great thoughts and encouraging prospects for the future, but I wonder why I haven’t heard any one of recognizable significance propose that we can have an immediate impact on the problem by reducing the demand. NO, I am not suggesting we reduce recreational activities such as boating, fishing, or RVing, providing we inidvidually apply some restraint in our method of pursuing these activities.

    No, instead I suggest that all Americans do something today that can dramatically effect the demand in a matter of weeks: drive the posted speed limit on all roads starting today.

    In my business travels I experience everywhere I travel in the country that 90% of the drivers are going at least 15-20% faster than the posted speed limit regardless of the nature of the road. This, of course, includes 18-wheeler trucks as well as all types of personal vehicles.

    I have for the past 8 weeks utilized my cruise control to not be teased into keeping up with the general traffic flow which is traveling over the posted limit, and I have imnporved my fuel economy by 15% simply by driving the spped limit.

    Yes, it is challenging to drive 35mph on roads that everyone is driving at 50 mph or higher, but if only the majority of the people drove th speed limit it would easier to continue without upsetting others or feeling like you are doing something wrong as the cars “pile-up” behind you.

    I’m not suggesting (yet) that we reduce the highway speed limit back to 55mph, but just think how that would reduce the US demand for fuel!

    SOme have suggested that it is Law Enfrocements responsibility to make sure everyone is driving the posted speed limit, but that is nothing but a cop out. It all starts with each one of us be willing to make a very small sacrifice on a daily basis. Try it yourself and you’ll be surprised how many times you catch up at the stop light with the cars that blew past you over the past few blocks, and you’ll enjoy going to gas pumps less frequently as well.

    Sorry this was slightly off the topic of ethanol, but it is clearly related to the larger subject.


  5. dave boso

    Let’s take alook at reducing demand; We in the boat business face a lack of demand every day we open the door, in order to stay in business we have to make as much as we can on every boat we sell , same for accories, and every thing else. The auto dealers work on a lot less per unit than we do. Now equate that to the gas business; If oil compans do not sell as much volume they will make up the diffrence in price, what will that do to help?> Lack of demand does not produce one drop of oil, The only way to relive high prices , and dependency is to produce more.
    And by the way the congress in the fall of 06 mandated that all gasoline sold in the US have 10% ethonol in it so wherever you are you have it. They call it E10 some blended gas for those funny cars with the little green leaf have or can use E85 85% ethonol. and that is comming for all of us.
    Our Govener mandated that all state cars be replaced with E85 machines, problem is that thet closest E85 station to Columbus was in Delaware about 30 miles up the road .. so now the drivers of state cars have to drive more just to find the Green fuel; senseless.

  6. Shorty Rodgers

    OK everybody, let’s get a grip on the situation & do what Americans have always done better than the rest of the world – be resourceful. I have not experienced any ethanol related issues to date & even run E85 in my flex fuel GMC Yukon when I can find it. I have heard so many stories about the farming community being in trouble because their crops bring the same money now that they did years past, at least, until now. We need the farmers to get financially healthy, but, maybe there is another way to have it all, even without continuing to make “oil” king of the world. We need to knock the oil companies down to size, let them make a reasonable profit, etc. because we will always need lubricants for everything mechanical. So, here’s a plan: I have read that switchgrass also makes ethanol & that it grows in a wide variety of conditions &, once seeded, continues to reproduce. Driving down the road I am constantly seeing countless tax dollars being spent mowing our roadways. What if we seeded switchgrass along our highways ? Would we not ultimately save millions of dollars by not paying to mow our highways but actually be paid to let an ethanol producer harvest it? That should solve the issue of high corn prices, preserve oil supplies, protect the environment, & save us a ton of tax dollars ! With all of the great engineering minds on tap, we can solve any future issues of using ethanol in our engines. My truck actually runs better on E85 & is cleaner on my engine. The exhaust is less objectionable, but, I do lose some mileage — approx 1-1/2 miles per gallon, but, I feel so good thinking I’m at least keeping the $$ in America & not sending it to the likes of Iran, Venezula, Saudi Arabia, etc, etc,. I won’t rant on, too long already. So any merit to this ???

  7. Larry Holcombe

    Page, You are about to experience the best thing that ever happened to a service and parts departments, ETHANOL! Start stocking fuel water seperator filters and installation kits, engine fuel filters, VST gaskets and other internal engine fuel filters. Find a good fuel tank cleaning company to clean your customers tanks and fuel. Get ready to rebuild a lot of carburetors. I think some service manager somewhere came up with the idea of ethanol in our fuel. Service departments are making a killing repairing all the running issues. Manufacturers are scrambling for answers to keep their customers happy. Believe me when I say that there is plenty of “snake oil” out there. Lots of companies making big promises, but their product doesn’t deliver. Notice that all the car manufacturers lowered their EPA Mileage rating by 10% from 2006-2007. It’s because it doesn’t burn as well, lowers the horsepower and effienciency suffers. Many ask why we don’t have a problem with Ethanol in our cars and trucks. Simply put, the average consumer burns a tank of fuel in a week. The average boat customer burns a tank a month. Ethanol begins to break down in two weeks, do the math! Plus at todays marinas prices, how long has that fuel been in the ground? Ever leave the fuel cap off after pumping gas in your car? The check engine light comes on in minutes. Your car has a sealed system. Your boat fuel is an open air system, vented to the outside. Ethanol is hydroscopic, attracting the moisture in the air and depositing it in your fuel tank. Are you beginning to see the problems with ethanol?

  8. dave boso

    Larry you are right on; I have sold fuel filters this year more than ever. WE have cleaned carbs more than ever,m we have replaced more carbs because the float bowls are pitten from acid damage.Fuel line are rotting and turning to black goo, The inside of fuel lines are seperating and causing fuel restrictions.
    Point is our buddies in congress thought very little or none about us they were in debt to the tree huggers, radical enviromentlist, which has become the new home of the leftist that want to destroy the American way of life
    Now if you think I’m too political for a boating blog too bad. We must stand up to this kind of banditry from our political leaders ( and I use that word with much dispair) because they do very little for us.

  9. Harold L. Baltes

    I think there is a real easy solution to the gas prices.

    How about trading/selling our corn, beans, and wheat for $135 per bushel to those ‘other countries’?

    Tit for tat!

    Harold ;-)

  10. Jeff G

    After the gas crisis of the 1970’s a little thought of country in South America decided they would become oil independent. They did it. That country is Brazil.
    They did it by converting to ethanol but using sugar cane. There is no reason we can’t do it too.
    While I will admit there is a problem with ethanol in some fuel tanks and lines, this is a problem the outboard segment faced years ago, and largely solved by changing some materials.
    Lets face facts. The high cost of oil hence gas is largely an artificially created crisis. From institutional speculation to subsidized gas in other countries, the problem is not truly a supply and demand problem.
    In some ways we are our own worse enemy. We send our jobs, and manufacturing overseas, building up their economies and demand for luxury goods and then when their economies become robust we wonder why they are now competing with us for oil?
    How many of our manufacturing jobs were lost to China in the last 15 years? Who built up the Chinese economy? Now that they own a lions share of US Treasury Bonds and compete with us for oil we blame Congress and not drilling in ANWAR. Come on get real, blame someone else, It can’t be our fault.

  11. Rob Brown

    No matter how much drilling we do eventually the tap will run dry.
    At what point do we go through the pains of changing to a renewable fuel source? We are already partially there now, the more effort we put into producing Ethanol the easier and more cost effective it will become.

    Attached is a link to an article I sent to many of my customers back in February of 2006.
    In our region of the country we experienced a moderate changeover that summer from MTBE laced fuels to E10. By being proactive we have missed out on all the profits that go along with rebuilding carbs and flushing fuel systems. It’s been much to do about nothing.

    I do like the suggestion made that we price our food exports in proportion to the costs the receiving countries price our oil imports.

    Rob Brown

  12. Mike

    Just spent 300.00 today to have my carbs cleaned and new kit installed. Its a 50 yamaha 2 stroke
    still under warranty , but the warranty didn’t cover this. Yes I did let the boat sit for appx 2 months
    I have an 2003 40 yamaha on my pontoon that has no problems, but the apparent reason is usage.
    So, I spoke with the fuel supplier today and they said they do not use ethanol, so why did my 2007 yamaha have rubber gaskets coming apart, the boat is an 2007 G3 , I did make sure to crank it every month. The best bet is to install a fuel/water seperator kit and use fuel conditioner, or better yet, go fishing more often!

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