Ethanol: Why Al Gore is STILL wrong!

The recent news that Al Gore has recently admitted that supporting first generation ethanol technology was a mistake.  The key term is first generation.  He has finally agreed that turning food into fuel is a mistake.  The obvious reason is that doing this increases food costs without any benefit to energy.  I have mocked the efficiency of ethanol before.  I have also pointed out that it causes more actual pollution than gasoline.  Clearly, everyone is still missing the point, besides Al Gore I mean.

Normal gasoline is a blend of heptane and iso-octane (specifically 2,2,4-trimethylpentane).  The octane is a ratio of the two hydrocarbons.  The 2-2-4 burns much smoother and prevent engine knocking.  So the more of that the higher the octane.  100 octane would bee 100% 2-2-4.  There is no oxygen in gasoline.  When gasoline burns in the engine it is preferable to have only the proper amount of oxygen present.  When that happens the oxygen is converted to CO2 and all is good.

The Inconvenient Skeptic

The two hydrocarbons of gasoline

Ethanol has much less carbon.  It also has oxygen attached already.  That is why there is so much less energy associated with ethanol.  There is simply much less carbon to burn.  The really bad thing is the oxygen.  The added oxygen causes ozone to be formed during combustion.  The addition of ethanol to gasoline has increased ozone pollution everywhere it is in use.  In places where smog is an issue (Los Angeles, Denver and so forth) ethanol should be banned due to the increased levels of ozone that are produced.


So even if ethanol didn’t increase food prices and could be produced for free.  It is still bad for the environment.  Especially in places where pollution is a problem.

Al Gore is basically saying that once the 2nd generation ethanol production is available, emitting more ozone pollution is the right thing to do.  So even though it is less fuel efficient, causes more carbon emissions and causes hazardous pollution, it is the right thing to do.  I am curious as to his basis for that.

There is a renewable resource out there that would be much better than ethanol.  One that is rapidly being developed.  That is to start using vegetable oils or biodiesel.  That is a hydrocarbon that is much more similar to fuel.  Only diesel engines can run on it so it can’t replace gasoline engines (although a gasoline blend might work), but it doesn’t have the carbon/oxygen ratio that ethanol does.  An overview of biodiesel chemistry is hereResearch is ongoing do develop a fuel that is similar to biodiesel that can be made from algae.  That would be a real advance in renewable energy.  I will be doing more on the algae biofuel in the future.

Ethanol will always be bad for the environment as a fuel.  That can never be changed.  That Al Gore is still supporting it makes him STILL wrong about ethanol.

Posted in Cap & Trade by inconvenientskeptic on December 1st, 2010 at 7:51 pm.


This post has 7 comments

  1. John, please answer both of these questions:

    1.) NASA employs SO many brilliant scientists. If their data ( ) is incorrect as you claim don’t you think that at least some of them would come forward to try to correct it?

    2.) If your data is correct and NASA’s is not then why haven’t you tried to contact them to get them to fix their data?

  2. inconvenientskeptic Dec 1st 2010


    Please stay on topic. I have properly answered your questions. This topic is about the ozone pollution caused by using ethanol as fuel. If you have anything to add to it feel free. Off topic badgering of the same questions will not be approved in the future.

    **Update: Boo gave an invalid email and has continued to stay off topic. I try to approve sincere comments, but I think boo is not meeting that criteria.

  3. GregO Dec 2nd 2010

    Inconvenient Skeptic,

    Interesting to note from a policy perspective that recent EPA directives are pointed at reducing ozone levels – but to what advantage and at what cost. Refer to the link:

    So, EPA is aiming at restricting ozone from industrialization, while our government policy simultaneously (and perhaps even unintentionally) increases overall ozone levels through a mandate for ethanol use.

    This makes no sense.

  4. inconvenientskeptic Dec 2nd 2010


    I am working on another article that has more detail from published article about the increase in ozone pollution from ethanol mixed gasoline. I will take a look at your link before I finish, but the more I look into ethanol the worse it is for the environment and the economy. Thanks for the info.

  5. davidc Dec 8th 2010

    There doesn’t appear anything obvious in the chemistry to indicate that ozone must be formed. The O in ethanol could end up in CO2. Also, an additive might inhibit the ozone pathway. (I’m not supporting ethanol in fuel, I think it’s stupid)

  6. inconvenientskeptic Dec 9th 2010

    The precise mechanism is the higher percentage of aldehydes that form during combustion. These then result in the formation of ozone.

    While ethanol always results in more ozone, different conditions can result in less or more of a difference. I am putting together a more comprehensive piece on this.

    Rio De Janeiro has a different pollution mix than other cities because of the high ethanol content in the gas their.

    The aldehyde intermediate is the primary reason that ethanol will always result in higher final ozone levels.

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