A corn ethanol refinery- The ethanol industry is asking the EPA to raise the legal limit of ethanol that can be added to regular gasoline from 10 to 15%. (Photo by Grant Hellman, Courtesy of US Department of Agriculture)
In the 1970s, the government limited the amount of ethanol that can be blended with gasoline at 10 percent. Now, a trade group called Growth Energy has asked the U-S EPA to raise the limit to 15 percent:
In the 1970s, the government limited the amount of ethanol that can be blended with gasoline at 10 percent.
Now, a trade group called Growth Energy has asked the U-S EPA to raise the limit to 15 percent.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has already said that 12 or 13 percent ethanol is possible soon.
But, an environmental groups says, “slow down.”
Jeremy Martin is with the Union of Concerned Scientists. He says, first, the government should make sure that a higher-ethanol blend doesn’t damage pollution controls on vehicle engines.
“We don’t want to quickly make a change and then find out that we’ve caused a lot of damage to lots of vehicles on the road or caused a lot of air quality impacts.”
Supporters of the increased ethanol blend say it would help US corn farmers and reduce the demand for foreign oil. But opponents say ethanol made from corn does more harm to the environment than good.
Ethanol often is made from corn, and one of the by-products, distillers grains, can be eaten by cows (Photo by Scott Bauer, courtesy of the USDA Agricultural Research Service)
From cows come dairy products and beef, the by-products of the cow - manure - can be anaerobically "digested," and the by-products of that process can be used to carbonate soft drinks. It might seem like an environmental and economic dream, but some are not supportive of this idea. (Photo by Bram Dejonckheere)
It’s rare when a factory and a mega-farm can help reduce pollution. But a project planned in the Midwest promises just that. The project would produce a fuel additive that is thought to reduce air pollution; provide a market for farm goods; create scores of jobs… all while not harming the environment. The Ohio project is getting millions of dollars of help from the state and federal governments. But some people doubt the project will accomplish all it promises. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Tamara Keith
It’s rare when a factory and a mega-farm can help reduce pollution. But a project planned in the Midwest promises just that. The project would produce a fuel additive that is thought to reduces air pollution, provide a market for farm goods, create scores of jobs – all while not harming the environment. The Ohio project is getting millions of dollars of help from the state and federal governments. But some people doubt the project will accomplish all it promises. Tamara Keith reports:
The project is called Harrison Ethanol. It will include an ethanol factory, using millions of bushels of corn to produce the gasoline additive. At the same location, thousands of dairy and beef cattle will live in fully enclosed barns. And then there’s the small power plant, which will be fueled by manure produced by the cattle. Wendel Dreve is the project’s director.
“I think the nicest way of describing our project is it’s a vertically-integrated, agriculturally-based industrial development.”
Dreve began working on the project nearly 4 years ago. He’s retired from the oil and gas industry and built a home in eastern Ohio farm country. His neighbors approached him about starting up a corn-powered ethanol factory – something that has not existed in Ohio in a decade.
“I told them that I didn’t think we could build a ethanol plant in Ohio because there are no state subsidies, so we had to figure out a way to raise the revenue streams internally and the only way we could figure out to do that was to employ animals.”
The 12-thousand cattle housed on site, will eat the main byproduct of ethanol production, a corn mush called distillers grains. The cattle will generate money too, from sales of milk and meat. But the cattle will create manure… lots of manure… about 50 million gallons of it a year. Dreve has a solution for that, too: a power-generating anaerobic digester.
“It eliminates nearly all of the odor, it processes all of the wastes from the entire facility. So it’s like an industrial waste treatment plant on site.”
60 times a day, manure will be flushed out of the animal barns and into the digester. A large, cement structure, where the manure is broken down by microbes.
“And at the other end, you get water and methane and carbon dioxide and some solids.”
The methane will run power generators, creating “green energy,” which can be sold at a premium. The carbon dioxide from the manure will be sold to make carbonated sodas. This would be the first anaerobic digester powered by cattle manure in Ohio, and one of only a handful nationwide. Dreve says his digester will be much better for the environment than open-air manure lagoons, the cheaper method most commonly used by farmers.
But not everyone agrees. Bill Weida is an economist and director of the Grace Factory Farm Project which opposes large concentrated animal farms. Weida says most anaerobic digesters are paid for with some kind of government assistance. Harrison Ethanol is no exception. The project received a 500-thousand-dollar grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help pay for the digester.
“No one in their right mind who is looking for an economic investment would build a digester. The only reason you’d build one is if you had some sort of a government subsidy that would help pay for it.”
Harrison Ethanol also is receiving seventy-million dollars in financing assistance from the state of Ohio. In fact, the company indicates it got some very good legal and accounting help, to find the perfect location for the project to take advantage of state and federal tax credits. Add to that federal ethanol subsidies and federal subsidies for corn production, and Harrison Ethanol is getting plenty of help from taxpayers.
Ken Cook is executive director of the Environmental Working Group. He says ethanol might reduce air pollution and reliance on foreign oil, but it is not economically viable without those huge taxpayer subsidies.
“The worry is that what we’re really doing is bailing out failed agriculture policy with heavily subsidized energy policy. We’re going into the corn industry with another set of subsidies to basically turn corn, that would have been exported at a loss, into corn that is used to make fuel at a loss to taxpayers.”
That’s not how state officials see it. Bill Teets is a spokesman for the Department of Development which has been working to bring several ethanol plants to Ohio.
“We think that this is a great project because you help farmers, you create manufacturing, you have something that helps benefit the environment and it seems to be a good type of project that we can really benefit from.”
And if everything goes as planned, Wendel Dreve will build 2 more ethanol and cattle operations in Ohio. He’s already secured tax dollars from state and federal sources for those plants.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Tamara Keith.
Hydrogen fuel cells may be the energy of the future, but so far the hydrogen to power them has only been made from fossil fuels. Now, researchers at the University of Minnesota have come up with a way to make hydrogen from a renewable fuel – ethanol, made from corn. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Stephanie Hemphill reports:
Hydrogen fuel cells may be the energy of the future, but so far the hydrogen to power them has
only been made from fossil fuels. Now, researchers at the University of Minnesota have come up
with a way to make hydrogen from a renewable fuel – ethanol, made from corn. The Great Lakes
Radio Consortium’s Stephanie Hemphill reports:
Researchers published their findings in a recent issue of Science magazine.
Lanny Schmidt is a chemical engineer at the University of Minnesota. He says his team has
created a simple system. A fuel injector forces ethanol through a catalyst. The catalyst then
converts the ethanol into hydrogen and carbon dioxide.
Schmidt says because ethanol is made from corn, it doesn’t contribute to the greenhouse effect.
“We’re now just using that ethanol as a gasoline additive. What we’re proposing here is to use
this ethanol as a transportable liquid fuel to use in fuel cells, which have two or three times the
efficiency of simple combustion.”
Schmidt says early applications could include producing electricity at remote locations like
He’s applied for a patent, and hopes a private company will commercialize the technology.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Stephanie Hemphill.
A new report shows Ethanol is worse for the environment than gasoline that doesn’t contain the corn-based fuel. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Jonathan Ahl reports:
A new report shows Ethanol is worse for the environment
than gasoline that doesn’t contain the corn-based fuel.
The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Jonathan Ahl reports:
The study from the University of California at Berkley
concludes ethanol does more harm than good for the
environment when all factors are taken into account. The
report considers the amount of energy it takes to produce
the fuel, and the environmental cost of the soil and
water use needed to grow the corn to make the fuel.
The study also says ethanol does not produce less
pollution. The researchers say ethanol spills can
contaminate groundwater, and fertilizers and pesticides
used to grow the corn create additional strain on the
environment. The report’s author says when all factors
are included, ethanol is 65 percent less efficient to
produce and use than regular gasoline.
Ethanol advocates say the fuel reduces emissions and
is a safer additive than any other currently available.
They also say the production of ethanol is constantly
improving. For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m
A company in the Great Lakes region wants to convert trash into fuel. You might have heard of plants that burn garbage to create energy. But this plant is different. This plant would convert organic trash into ethanol. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Julie Grant reports:
A company in the Great Lakes region wants to convert trash into fuel. You might have
heard of plants that burn garbage to create energy. But this plant is different. This plant
would convert organic trash into ethanol. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Julie
The walls of Genahol, Inc., are covered with pictures of Donald Bogner’s wife and
children. Bogner is a ruddy-looking man with a friendly attitude. He’s the kind of guy
who likes to get things done. He started Genahol seven years ago, with the idea that he
could turn paper, leaves, and grass clippings into fuel.
“The green waste is such a problem, because, what do you do with it? Well, you chop it
up, you mix manure with it, you package it, and sooner or later you finally say, hey, I
can’t sell this stuff.”
Bogner says Genahol can make fuel out nearly any plant material. A lot of green waste
winds up in landfills. But Bogner patented a new kind of process. It converts green and
paper waste to sugar, distills the sugar into alcohol and transforms the alcohol into
ethanol. Until now, ethanol has usually been made from corn or other grains. Bogner
says they’ve been surprised by how many products they can re-use to make ethanol.
Anything from stale beer, to old perfume, or factory-rejected candy…
“You just can’t imagine the volume when you start talking about Christmas candy canes.
And a bad batch of candy canes may be three million candy canes that a producer has to
destroy because they came out wrong in a batch or whatever. So, you know, three
million candy canes (laughs).”
If a Genahol facility is built, Bogner says it could convert anywhere from one hundred to
one-thousand tons of waste per day and make up to three million gallons of ethanol a
year. As long as the selling price of ethanol remains over a dollar a gallon, Bogner says
Genahol can make money. But he needs a deal. He needs a city that’s willing to let him
sort through the trash. It should be an easy sell, he says, because cities could save landfill
space and get a cut of the profits from ethanol sales.
“The hardest sell right now is that we cannot right now take them to a facility and show
them ethanol coming out of a spigot.”
And that’s the problem not only with Genahol, but with other companies that want to
convert waste to ethanol. Their ideas are theoretical. But Bogner says things are about to
change for Genahol. He’s negotiating a contract with the Solid Waste Authority of
Central Ohio, known as SWACO. It is in charge of trash in Columbus and owns one of
the largest public landfills in the country. Executive Director Mike Long is interested in
“We are always looking for new methods, cost effective methods to reduce, reuse and
recycle the waste stream to reduce reliance on landfills. That is our primary purpose at
SWACO, to reduce reliance on landfills.”
SWACO already diverts yard wastes and paper from the trash stream, but there hasn’t
been much of a market for those products. That’s why Long says contracting with
Genahol makes sense.
“It’s being approached on, I think, a very conservative point of view, small scale pilot
project. Trying to minimize the risk to SWACO and the public from a financial point of
It might be a bit of a risk. SWACO and other trash managers got burned in the mid-
1990s by waste-to-energy facilities. Some plants were forced to close because they
emitted too much pollution. Genahol’s Don Bogner says the only emissions from his
plant will be carbon dioxide, which he plans to capture and sell for industrial use.
Bogner and SWACO are negotiating one of the first deals in the nation for a trash-to-
ethanol plant. Many entrepreneurs trying to sell similar ideas are having a tough time
making a deal. Monte Shaw, an ethanol industry spokesperson, says these companies
should hang on a little longer.
“It’s always harder to be first. It’s always harder to convince investors, and banks, and
government agencies, that this is going to work. ”
The government is considering tax breaks and financial assistance to encourage new
ethanol plants. One reason the government is interested is to cut dependence on foreign
oil. Another reason, is ethanol is a good replacement for MTBE in gasoline. MTBE has
been used to reduce ozone pollution, but the chemical has contaminated water supplies
and the government wants to phase it out. Don Bogner expects the move from MTBE to
increase demand for ethanol. He’s wondering if that means Genahol will be able to turn a
“That’s what my wife asks me, are we going to make money this year?”
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Julie Grant in Kent.
A company in the Great Lakes region wants to convert trash into fuel. This could be one of the first plants in the nation to convert organic trash into ethanol. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Julie Grant reports:
A company in the Great Lakes region wants to convert trash into fuel. This could be one
of the first plants in the nation to convert organic trash into ethanol. The Great Lakes
Radio Consortium’s Julie Grant reports:
The president of Genahol, Inc., says his facilities can make fuel out of nearly any plant
material. A lot of paper, leaves, and grass clippings wind up in landfills. But Donald
Bogner patented a new kind of process. It converts green waste to sugar, distills the
sugar into alcohol and transforms the alcohol into ethanol. Ethanol is usually made from
corn or other grains. Bogner says Genahol reuses other people’s trash.
“Genahol actually receives payment for its materials. Rather than going out and having
to pay a dollar fifty to two fifty a bushel for corn or something, we actually get paid on a
tonnage basis. So it can be very, very profitable.”
No Genahol facility has yet been built. Bogner and the Solid Waste Authority of Central
Ohio are negotiating one of the first deals in the nation for a trash-to-ethanol plant.
the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Julie Grant in Kent.