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Forced to buy imaginary fuel

A circuit court vacated the EPA’s cellulosic ethanol mandate that required firms to blend cellulosic ethanol with gasoline or face fines. The problem with this mandate was that zero cellulosic ethanol was produced and firms could not blend it. They were being fined for not doing what could not be done. Even Kafka would be surprised at the brazenness.

The rule originated in a 2007 law that elevate hope over reality. They wanted a fuel that could be produced inexpensively from a waste product. Who wouldn't.

So they figured that they could mandate into existence by government fiat and ruled that refiners MUST blend cellulosic ethanol into gasoline. They created a market for an unavailable product in the belief that they could call it into existence, more or less in the manner of creating wine from water.

This miracle failed to happen. Lots of people talk about cellulosic ethanol, but nobody has been able to make it in any quantity. Or maybe, put another way, it makes much more sense to blend in Jack Daniels or Jim Beam and burn that in our cars and trucks. At least those products are available.

Cellulosic ethanol has been a big disappointment. It should work. It is such a good idea and it would solve so many of our problems. It is a magical solution to our energy needs. The problem with magic is that there is no such thing.

As a tree farmer, cellulosic ethanol could be a big deal for me and I have studied the cellulosic ethanol equation in significant depth. I don't believe it can EVER work, even if a technology is developed that easily converts wood wastes to ethanol. The problem is physical bulk. Raw materials such as forestry waste and corn husks are bulky and they are spread all over the place. Simply gathering it together is a challenge. The problem is moving them to a plant where they could be converted to ethanol and storing them.

If you want to make energy out of wastes such as this, the solution is to burn them directly. Dominion Power is converting some of their coal burning power stations to accept wood chips. This makes sense and I plan to sell chips. It is not as exciting because it is old tech, but it will always be better to convert to energy with fewer steps.

The problem with government experiments is that they cannot easily admit that the experiment has shown it cannot be done. Ethanol from cellulose was a nice idea that was proven impractical by experiment and experience. Give up and move along. There are things we just cannot have, not matter how much we all agree that it should be possible.


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