Arnold Kling  

Biofuels Sense and Nonsense

What Nick is Reading... Hayekian Linux...

The nonsense comes from Robert Zubrin

The only way to break the monopoly on the vehicle fuel supply currently held by OPEC is through legislation. Congress should require that all future vehicles sold in the United States be flexible-fueled, capable of using mixtures of methanol, ethanol, and gasoline. Within three years of such a mandate, there would be 50 million such FFVs on American roads. This will, in turn, force all automobile manufacturers abroad to switch to FFVs as well, thereby creating a huge global market and infrastructure for alcohol fuels.

The sense comes from MIT Technology Review (thanks to a reader for the pointer).

According to calculations done by Minnesota researchers, 54 percent of the total energy represented by a gallon of ethanol is offset by the energy required to process the fuel; another 24 percent is offset by the energy required to grow the corn. While about 25 percent more energy is squeezed out of the biofuel than is used to produce it, other fuels yield much bigger gains, says Stephen Polasky, a professor of ecological and environmental economics at Minnesota. Making etha­nol is "not a cheap process," he says. "From my perspective, the biggest problem [with corn ethanol] is just the straight-out economics and the costs. The energy input/output is not very good."

If the conversion to biofuels really were nothing but a "chicken and egg" problem, then the private sector would figure out a solution. Tell Robert Zubrin to invest his own money in biofuels--not mine.

Comments and Sharing

COMMENTS (9 to date)
Matt writes:

The legislative agreement is simple. Whatever the global warming damages that are discovered by the judicial system should be adopted by the government for its own property damage.

Morgan writes:

How about you pump your carbon-monoxide into your own lungs not mine. Oh yeah, some Libertarians think its ok to force other people to breathe in their pollution. It's their right based on.....what is the philosophy that allows the state to determine how much pollution a person can force onto a third party?

How about you pump your carbon-monoxide into your own lungs not mine. Oh yeah, some Libertarians think its ok to force other people to breathe in their pollution.
Yes, there probably are poorly-educated Libertarians (OK, let's go for the snark: could this lack be due to the public education system?) out there. But that's not the case for Dr. Kling.

To avoid wasting many pixels re-explaining, I'd encourage you go Google "arnold kling coase theorem", for example. You'll find Dr. Kling mentioning the Coase Theorem, which shows that allocating property rights (surely a Libertarian goal!) will address problems of abuse of resources that are currently held in common.

Laserlight writes:

Morgan, are you aware that burning ethanol will also produce CO? And while we're at it, are you aware that CO does not persist in the atmosphere?

Dick King writes:

Laserlight, I'm guessing that Morgan doesn't know the difference between carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide.


D. F. Linton writes:

You should read his whole book. He does not just beat the drum for ethanol from crops. He puts just as much weight on methanol from coal, waste, etc.

I am several sigmas libertarian, but if the federal government regulating tail-pipe emissions and fuel economy standards, I can't really object to regulating fuel flexibility to break loose from a path dependency problem. Certainly that is better than ethanol tariffs and subsidies.

macquechoux writes:

Hold on here folks. Do you really think the government can “mandate” the solutions to our “addiction” to petroleum? The Soviet Union mandated all kinds of things and that sure wasn’t too successful was it? I suggest you check out Chairman Mao’s mandates, too while we are looking at these sort of things. There are many that see the solution provided by plug in electric cars. Battery technology is improving rapidly and electricity generated by reactors is as clean as you can get. Why not mandate that? Why not mandate all passenger cars be hybrids? Mandate no tariffs on ethanol from Brazil?

Better yet why don’t we let the market and technology sort this out? Something tells me it will get the results that are needed at a better price.

John Fast writes:
Tell Robert Zubrin to invest his own money in biofuels--not mine.

Excellent idea, Arnold! Why don't you explain it to him, by posting a reply -- or better yet an article -- in The New Atlantis?

That magazine is a perfect example of Bryan's thesis (from The Myth of the Rational Voter) in action. It's just sad, really, to see how those otherwise well-educated, well-meaning folks are mostly so /i/g/n/o/r/a/n/t/ misinformed about economics. (As a Christian who is also an Extropian, I also consider them philosophically misguided, but that's my department, not yours.)

Morgan writes:

Oddly enough, I do know the difference between CO and CO2. In fact, I even wrote exactly what I meant. Perhaps I don't care for the carbon monoxide levels that gather in my bedroom during rush hour traffic in my downtown apartment. Perhaps I am unhappy that my newborn son is exposed to poisonous fumes while laying in his own home.

To be fair, I am also referring to NO as well as all the poisons from tailpipes when I generically say CO.
I understand the coase theorem, but I do not see available technology that will overcome the high transaction costs associated with not poisoning my family. Are you suggesting I sue each and every driver who idles beneath my window every day? Even if I could sue them all together as a group, it would still be cost prohibitive.

If we assign property rights consistently, than surely Libertarians should be more interested in protecting the property rights of my home than debating just exactly how much poison is ok to pump into my lungs.

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