In 2012, we released a video answering the question, “Why is there corn in your Coke?” Now, Jared Meyer sat down with Robert Bryce, an energy policy expert at the Manhattan Institute, to answer the question, “Why is there corn in your car?”
The corn in your car—or rather, the corn you put into your car—is ethanol, a biofuel made from corn. There are a lot of promises supporters of ethanol make: it’s cheaper, it’s better for the environment, and it helps decrease U.S. reliance on foreign oil. But do those claims have merit?
According to Bryce, the answer is no.
Claim #1: Ethanol is good for the environment.
“The claim that biofuels reduce greenhouse gas emissions is one of the biggest fibs of the modern age.”
A number of experts and researchers, including the EPA, have shown that ethanol-blended fuels result in more pollution, higher greenhouse gas emissions, and higher health risks than traditional gasoline.
Claim #2: Ethanol is cheaper than gasoline.
“That is true on a volumetric basis, but not on an energy-equivalent basis. And energy equivalence is what matters. Ethanol contains about 76,000 Btu per gallon. Gasoline contains about 114,000 Btu per gallon. Thus, to get the same amount of energy contained in a gallon of conventional gasoline, a motorist would have to purchase about 1.5 gallons of ethanol.”
Not only do you have to purchase more ethanol to get the same amount of energy, ethanol’s costs aren’t taken into account in the cost estimates, either. Ethanol can harm small engines, as it is corrosive and it absorbs water, making maintenance costs for vehicles higher than they would be without ethanol-blended fuels.
Claim #3: Ethanol helps us towards energy independence.
“… in just the last nine years, the oil sector has increased production by six times the total output of every ethanol distillery in America. That increased oil production did not happen because of congressional mandates.”
The total amount of ethanol produced in the U.S. is not nearly enough to reduce dependence on foreign oil, and it’s easily dwarfed by the increase in domestic oil production.
Given all the costs of ethanol, and the dubious benefits, why does the U.S. have ethanol mandates in place to require ethanol-blended fuels? Because the people who benefit from ethanol subsidies (ethanol producers, corn farmers, and more) receive huge, concentrated benefits as a result of the policy, and the American people are only burdened with a relatively small, dispersed cost.
Watch the video below to learn more, and read the full interview with Robert Bryce here.