Sadly misinformed NASCAR commentator blames ethanol for loss of excitement

(A response to an article by Ryan O’Hara, published July 31, 2011, titled “Fuel Mileage Races Healthy For The Sport? What Needs To Be Changed?”  

<quotes>I have been receiving a lot of angry letters from fans all over about the extremity of fuel mileage races especially this season. [Editor’s note: “Fuel Mileage Races” is a term that means racers are not simply gunning their vehicles at top speed for the whole race but are employing a strategy that involves conserving fuel over the course of the race]

Now, why do you think that is?

I have an answer for you and it’s going to make every single corn farmer involved in this deal angry and it is ethanol. Now, what is ethanol? It is corn. This corn is turned into fuel through industrial fermentation, chemical processing, and distillation and is the main feedstock used for producing ethanol fuel in the United States, but it is mostly used as an oxygenate in the form of low-level blends because a full blend of this corn ethanol wouldn’t work.

Using ethanol to fuel these race cars is only making food prices skyrocket. Kenny Wallace doesn’t seem to understand that, but I can sympathize with him because American Ethanol is his sponsor and he is trying his absolute best to promote a complete waste of money. For those of you who have studied economics this is simple supply and demand. It is quite a simple concept. If you have low supply but a high demand, then prices go up. There is a low supply of corn because the federal government is converting it to fuel that is why prices are so darn high.

Ethanol also doesn’t get as much mileage as gas along with the incredible amount of corn needed to produce 1 gallon of fuel. Did you know that each gallon of ethanol needs over 1,700 gallons of water? That is mostly for growing the corn! This also leads to soil erosion and produces about 6 to 12 gallons of noxious organic effluent. Yeah. Not good.

The state of Minnesota found out how unreliable it was the hard way. In January of 2008, Minnesota forced all of their public school buses to use full blown ethanol. There was no blend. Well these geniuses back in Minnesota didn’t do enough research to realize this stuff turns into a gel when it freezes. Hello!! This is Minnesota in January!! The buses couldn’t start and many young kids were treated for hypothermia all across the state. And I forgot to mention over 26 pounds of corn is needed to produce 1 gallon of this crap…<end quotes>

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Our Take:
When it comes to baseball, some people like grand slam fests and other people like pitching battles.

We don’t know if E15 makes fueling strategy more important than the previous fuel used in the racing series, or if this really translates into racing that is less exciting somehow. We are confident, however, that engineers will tweak NASCAR vehicles and the advantage of fuel strategy will disappear in favor of flat-out high speed.

We also know that change is difficult. But sometimes, we think everyone will agree, change can be worth it. America now makes more ethanol than we import oil from Saudi Arabia. The closer we get to energy independence, the better. There’s nothing wasteful about that kind of change.

We are concerned that Mr. O’Hara has bought into a lot of superficial criticisms of ethanol without delving into the truths when it comes to food and energy. We are also concerned that nearly every fact and figure he marshals in his argument is wrong.

O’Hara bemoans the price of food. USDA estimates food costs for Americans will rise between three and four percent in 2011. The Consumer Price Index–the composite of the prices for everything a consumer buys–for the 12 months ended in June was 3.6 percent inflation. Yes, we all wish a Coke still cost a quarter, and wouldn’t it be great if you could buy a steak for a buck, but how realistic is it to want food prices to remain the same while the cost of everything else is rising?

We know Mr. O’Hara places the importance of NASCAR before all else, but does he really believe the fuel consumed in all the NASCAR races in the course of a year–is it even a million gallons? Could that drop in the bucket of the US transportation fuel market (140 billion gallons plus annually) cause even a ripple in the price of anything? Thinking about the supply of food and energy, you have to remember that the ethanol industry is producing nearly 15 billion gallons per year. Corn farmers bring in 365 million tons of grain each fall harvest. Trust us, the E15 used in NASCAR events doesn’t make a dent in anything.

O’Hara says a “full blend of ethanol wouldn’t work anyway.” He needs to get out and visit with the Indy 500 racers–they have been running on E100 for several years now.

The writer says it takes 1700 gallons of water to make a gallon of ethanol. Across much of the Corn Belt, farmers depend on rain to grow their crops–so there is zero groundwater input when growing the corn. A Minnesota ethanol plant uses an average of four gallons of water to produce a gallon of fuel.

“Six to 12 gallons of noxious organic effluent” — not sure what he means here. The wastewater released by ethanol plants contains nothing noxious–the US EPA and state pollution control agencies require very strict permits for all releases. We’re not sure if it will become the trend, because ethanol wastewater is not noxious, but in California, where vigilance in environmental causes is unparalleled–there is a zero wastewater-emissions ethanol plant.

Farmers take their performance as seriously each crop season as NASCAR drivers take theirs. Conservation of soil and other resources is a point of pride for many farmers and the record confirms it–soil erosion per acre is dropping due to the diligence of farmer stewardship.

We hope Mr. O’Hara is a lot more accurate in his reporting on NASCAR events than he is in recounting the starting difficulties of a few Minnesota school buses in the winter of 2008. First, those buses were not running 100 percent ethanol. They were running B2 biodiesel — that’s 98 percent fossil-source diesel and two percent biodiesel oil made from soybeans.  Secondly, and perhaps most important, subsequent investigation found that the fuel was gelling in the fuel lines not because of the biodiesel component, but because of a problem with the regular diesel component of the fuel. The situation was resolved quickly and all diesel fuel sold in the state of Minnesota continues to include two percent biodiesel, and runs the commercial vehicles that depend on it without difficulty, every season of the year.

We are happy that Kenny Wallace has become a very visible spokesman for ethanol, publicizing the partnership between NASCAR and American ethanol–it joins two great American products–farm-based energy and performance car racing. We hope misinformed sour grapes, who seem to want to blame ethanol for bad judging in some racing events, don’t taint the views of race fans who can see for themselves that ethanol is a high performance fuel.


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