Monday, December 26, 2005

Pawlenty, the maverick

I read this in yesterday's Star Tribune.

Since being elected, McClung said, Pawlenty has taken on "Big Pharma," through his relentless push for importation of cheaper Canadian drugs; "Big Oil," through his biodiesel and ethanol initiatives, and "Big Tobacco," by boosting cigarette prices to a level that lowers smoking rates.

"Most governors would be reluctant to take on one of those cartels, let alone all three," McClung said. "He's a maverick. This is a governor who doesn't shy away from a big battle with powerful opponents when he's doing something he thinks is right." (Source: Star Tribune, Dec. 25, 2005)


At 4:37 AM, Blogger American Lung Association of Minnesota said...

Glad the Gov cited the oft-overlooked fact that raising the cost of tobacco products reduces smoking rates, especially for young Minnesota.

At 6:21 PM, Blogger Gary Dikkers said...

Give Governor Pawlenty credit for taking on Big Oil and Big Pharma, but what about also tackling Big Corn and Big Ethanol?

The sad truth is that Big Corn and Big Ethanol are little more than cousins to Big Oil and cast from the same mold.

One of their biggest talking points is to call corn ethanol "renewable," but I'm not even sure they know what renewable means. Corn ethanol meets no standard of being renewable.

The simple truth is that corn ethanol is not a renewable fuel.

At every step of its production process, corn ethanol consumes fossil fuels:

1. Natural gas to make the nitrogen fertilizers corn farmers must have.

2. Diesel fuel for corn farmers to cultivate, plant, harvest, and transport their crops.

3. Diesel fuel to transport fertilizers, seed corn, and finished ethanol.

4. More natural gas on the farm to dry corn; more at the ethanol plant to mill and distill corn into ethanol; and still more to dry the waste distiller’s grains after fermentation.

The fundamental fact is that making corn ethanol is not presently possible without burning irreplaceable, unrenewable fossil fuels.

Until corn farmers and ethanol plants show they can use some of the ethanol they make as their energy source for growing more corn and turning it into ethanol, it is incorrect to call corn ethanol a “renewable” fuel.

At 4:57 AM, Blogger American Lung Association of Minnesota said...

Hey, you gonna listen to that Chedarhead Dikkers or your old friend Bob? (smile)

Honestly folks, take a look at both sides of the ethanol debate and decide for yourself. Most of you are smart enough to know that:

1) Only 15-20% of MN's corn crop is going to ethanol plants. This corn was already in the field, we are not planting more acres to produce ethanol. So there is no increase in nitrogen fertilizer use/production because of ethanol.

2) No, it's B2 biodiesel, or at least it will be once the current problems are worked out.

3) See item #2.

4) At last a valid point. Consider this, though, natural gas is the least polluting of fossil fuels, several MN ethanol plants are exploring alternative energy sources for their plant's needs.

The Big Question for Mr. Dikkers: what alternative do you suggest?

At 8:05 PM, Blogger Gary Dikkers said...


First I want to say I have nothing against your work to improve air quality. I have asthma, and I am all for good air. My opinion about ethanol is not anti-ALAM.

You make a good point about the corn already being there that I have to think about. I've recently seen images of corn mountains sitting in the snow in Iowa. If we really have to grow all that corn, perhaps making ethanol is a better use than making high-fructose corn syrup or feeding it to pigs to make pork chops. The real question I suppose is whether we should be subsidizing all those farmers to grow all that corn, whether we need it or not?

You say that natural gas is the least polluting of fossil fuels. That is correct, but you gloss over the fact that almost all of the nitrogen fertilizers our corn farmers must have to grow those fantastic yields is now made overseas from foreign natural gas and imported into the U.S. Do we really want to trade our ill-advised dependence on foreign oil for an equally ill-advised dependence on foreign natural gas?

If we really want to import natural gas, a better use would be to turn that gas directly into liquid ethanol. That is a fairly straight forward chemical process that is much more efficient than turning natural gas into fertilizer, using the fertilizer to grow corn, and then using more natural gas to turn the corn into ethanol. From a thermodynamic perspective that would make more sense, but then I don't know what all those corn farmers would do. (grin)

I do know that if we didn't already have this huge corn infrastructure (Big Corn and Big Ag if you will) and were starting with a blank sheet of paper to solve our energy crisis, we wouldn't say, "Hey, let's burn a lot of fossil fuels growing corn and then we can turn the corn into fuel.")

You ask what alternative I suggest.

My suggestion is we change our lifestyle. I live three miles from where I work and walk every day. During the last year I walked 1500 miles commuting to and from work. I am close to 60 years old, and if I can do it, there are plenty of others who could also. If you live further than three miles from work, ride a bike. I lived in Germany and once commuted by bike nine miles each direction.

I do own a compact pickup truck, but last year put less than 3,000 miles on that. Our other car is a turbo-charged diesel that gets 50 mpg. We heat our house with natural gas, but keep the temperature at 62 degrees. My family consumes far less than our share of the fossil fuels the average American family burns.

Why couldn't we live more like they do in Europe? I lived in Germany for 11 years. The average German uses about three times less energy per year than the average American. You'd think that using that much less energy their lifestyle would be lower than ours wouldn't you? It's not. In fact, I think the average German, Swede, Dutchman, or Dane (name a Western European of your choice) has a quality of life higher than ours.

They do drive smaller cars that get better mileage, and they do walk to the bakery or market instead of jumping in a car, but those aren't necessarily signs of a lesser quality of life. (I wish I had a bakery on the corner in Madison like the one I on the corner in the last German village I lived in.)

Best Regards,

Gary Dikkers

At 6:25 AM, Blogger American Lung Association of Minnesota said...

Gary: You made some points on the energy conservations aspects at the end, which we echo.

The ethanol industry will get to the point where subsidies are no longer needed, sooner than most might have expected. Until then, it needs our help to stand and take it's baby steps.

PS: I, too, miss German bakeries. I miss having a warm slice of lieberkase mit ei for breakfast.

At 8:54 PM, Blogger Gary Dikkers said...

Bob said, "The ethanol industry will get to the point where subsidies are no longer needed, sooner than most might have expected."

Sorry Bob, I have to disagree with that, at least with respect to ethanol made with corn. (There may be hope for ethanol made with sugar cane, but Big Ag in the U.S. is already making plans to stop imports of Brazilian sugar ethanol.)

Growing corn and making ethanol from it is unsustainable without burning fossil fuels. Take away fossil fuels, and corn farming and ethanol plants would soon fizzle to a stop.

I drove by an ethanol plant in Northern Illinois this morning. That plant literally could not operate without burning natural gas. They power their entire plant with a huge natural gas powered generating turbine. The corn ethanol industry even knows (and admits) they must have natural gas. Three years ago a company from La Crosse planned to build an ethanol plant in Jefferson County, WI. They changed their plans and canceled the plant when they learned they could not get natural gas piped to the site. (Their case study always lead me to ask the big question: If ethanol returns more energy than its production consumes, why did they need natural gas for that plant? Why couldn't they have used a fraction of the ethanol they produced as the source of thermal energy to operate the plant?)

The hard truth is from farm to ethanol plant making corn ethanol is unsustainable without fossil fuels - and for Big Ag and corn ethanol lobbyists to continue to insist corn ethanol is renewable is disingenuous at best.

Until corn farmers and the ethanol industry show they can make ethanol by using only the ethanol they make instead of needing to burn irreplaceable and unrenewable fossil fuels, it is absolutely incorrect to say corn ethanol is a renewable fuel.

Using ethanol to make mor ethanol is the real test of a renewable fuel, and the ethanol cartel is nowhere near passing that test.

Happy New Year Bob, Tim too.

Gary Dikkers


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