As EVs Charge Ahead, Farmers Worry about End of Ethanol

April 8, 2021

Detroit Free Press:

General Motors will build an electric version of the Silverado at Factory ZERO in Detroit and Hamtramck.

The Silverado EV will sit on GM’s Ultium battery platform and will offer customers a GM-estimated range of more than 400 miles on a full charge, the automaker said Tuesday.

Both retail and fleet versions will come in a variety of options and GM said it expects there will be high demand for the pickups. GM did not provide a start of production date for the Silverado EV.

GM also is building the GMC Hummer EV pickup and Hummer EV SUV at Factory ZERO.

“The vehicles coming from Factory ZERO will change the world, and how the world views electric vehicles,” GM President Mark Reuss said in a statement. “The GMC Hummer EV SUV joins its stablemate in the realm of true supertrucks, and Chevrolet will take everything Chevy’s loyal truck buyers love about Silverado — and more — and put it into an electric pickup that will delight retail and commercial customers alike.”

In January 2020, GM said it would invest $2.2 billion in Factory ZERO, then called Detroit-Hamtramck assembly, to produce a variety of all-electric trucks and SUVs.

In October 2020, GM renamed the plant Factory ZERO to reflect GM’s vision of a future with zero crashes, zero emissions and zero congestion. 

GM has said all of its light-duty vehicles will be zero emissions by 2035 and the company will be carbon neutral by 2040.

Associated Press:

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — The president and auto industry maintain the nation is on the cusp of a gigantic shift to electric vehicles and away from liquid-fueled cars, but biofuels producers and some of their supporters in Congress aren’t buying it. They argue that now is the time to increase sales of ethanol and biodiesel, not abandon them.

To help address climate change, President Joe Biden has proposed an infrastructure plan that includes billions of dollars to pay for 500,000 electric vehicle charging stations, electrify public vehicles and enhance the nation’s power grid. These moves follow initiatives in California and other states to mandate electric vehicle sales and a goal by General Motors to shift production fully to electric vehicles by 2035.

Yet any shift from liquid-fueled cars to electric would be gradual, given the fleet of 279 million petroleum-powered vehicles now on U.S. roads. And producers of corn-based ethanol and soy-based biodiesel argue that biofuels will be needed for the foreseeable future. 

The government’s promotion of electric vehicles comes as the U.S. works to reduce carbon emissions that worsen climate change and to compete in the increasingly electric global auto market. The transportation sector accounts for the largest share of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, and more than 80% of that comes from cars, pickups and larger trucks, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

LMC Automotive, a consulting firm, predicts more than 1 million electric vehicles will be sold in the U.S. in 2023, rising to over 4 million by 2030 — still less than one-quarter of normal annual new vehicle sales of around 17 million. Electric vehicles now comprise less than 2% of U.S. new-vehicle sales.

Citing a recent study from Harvard and Tuft universities that found ethanol emits 46% less carbon than gasoline, biofuels advocates say it’s imperative for the climate that the nation prioritize increased biofuel production.

Geoff Cooper, who heads the St. Louis-based Renewable Fuels Association, calls ethanol the “low-hanging fruit” for reducing carbon emissions and slowing global warming. He supports an immediate move from gasoline blended with 10% ethanol to a blend of 15%.

“If the goal is to reduce carbon impacts of our transportation sector and we knew we’re going to be using hundreds of billions of gallons of liquid fuels for the next several decades, why not take steps now to reduce the carbon intensity of those liquid fuels?” Cooper said.

Each year, U.S. refineries produce about 15 billion gallons of ethanol — about 10% the volume of gasoline — and 1.5 billion gallons of biodiesel, which is typically blended with petroleum-based diesel for trucks and other heavy vehicles.

Plants around the country produce the fuel, but most are in the Midwest, led by Iowa with 43 ethanol refineries and 11 biodiesel plants. Nearly 40% of the U.S. corn crop is used for ethanol, and 30% of soybeans goes to biodiesel.

Despite the carbon benefits of ethanol, others note the growth of biofuels prompted an expansion of corn acreage, increased use of fertilizers and more pollution of waterways. Biofuels plants also typically use hundreds of millions of gallons of water annually.

Iowa’s two Republican U.S. senators consider the shift toward electric vehicles a threat to farmers. 

Sen. Charles Grassley said last fall that a proposal by Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Rep. Mike Levin of California to end U.S. sales of gas-powered vehicles by 2035 would devastate Iowa.

“This … would absolutely destroy Iowa’s economy because it’s so dependent on agriculture and agriculture is so dependent on biofuels,” Grassley said.

Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst argues that tax credits for buying electric cars typically go to well-to-do people on the East and West coasts and are propping up an industry that hurts demand for biofuels.

“It’s not only the move to all-electric vehicles that should have Iowans concerned; it’s the crazy tax breaks that wealthy coastal elites are getting for their electric vehicles,” Ernst states on her Senate website. “I firmly believe Iowa taxpayers shouldn’t be footing the bill for millionaires to get a discount on luxury cars.”

It is true that many who got the $7,500 federal electric vehicle tax credit since its inception in 2009 could afford a car that cost six figures or more. But since then, new models and higher sales have brought economies of scale and lower prices that appeal to more mainstream buyers. 

The ethanol industry itself was a beneficiary of a 45-cent-per-gallon tax credit that provided about $30 billion to help the industry get established before that expired a decade ago. And farmers who grow commodity crops, such as corn and soybeans, still receive help from the federal government, including subsidized crop insurance costing billions of dollars annually. 

Despite assurances the move to electric will be gradual, many farmers see the shift as a threat to their livelihoods and doubt state and federal officials from urban areas will protect rural economies.

“It’s like you’re almost helpless,” said Ed Wiederstein, a semi-retired livestock and grain farmer near Audubon in western Iowa. “It’s like a snowball that goes downhill.”

Joel Levin, executive director of the nonprofit advocacy group Plug In America, said the market will favor electric cars not only for environmental reasons but also because they’re high performance.

Paul Wohlfarth, LTE in the Blissfield Advance, (Michigan):

Driving thru Riga (Township) the other day I noticed a yard sign that says, “100 percent American, 0 Percent Socialist!”
My mind brought back an article that I read just a few days before stating that in 2020, farm subsidies racked up a record $46.5 billion, triple the usual amount. The article in “Successful Farming” said subsidies supplied a record 39 percent of farm income. My thoughts went back to the sign and wondered if this resident of a farming community realizes this is socialism?

Without a diverse economy bad things happen and will surely happen eventually. Too much commodities chasing too few Byers is unsustainable. Taking farmland out of production will raise prices. When I hear we need to protect our farmland I wonder what it will cost our country. Overproduction has caused the loss of 1 percent of our topsoil every year from soil erosion.

A third of farmland in the corn belt has lost all of its topsoil. To not realize the truth of what farming is today is to realize overproduction serves no one in the end. We need to diversify our farm economy in ways to give the land a rest and supply a farm income that is not dependent on taxpayer subsidies.


9 Responses to “As EVs Charge Ahead, Farmers Worry about End of Ethanol”

  1. Ron Benenati Says:

    Let them grow hemp

  2. Ross Myers Says:

    More electric cars means a greater demand for electricity.

    Growing corn is hard work.

    Letting power companies put up wind turbines on your land and cashing their checks is much easier.

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      I like the idea of growing animals (goats or chickens) or crops under solar arrays, especially in those areas where the sun beats down. I see cattle standing in hot, treeless fields with little cover and wonder they don’t all die of heat stroke.

  3. al mar Says:

    Why is it always an “one or the other” argument with these people? More electric cars doesn’t mean less ethanol used, it means the IC cars remaining can use greater ethanol ratios. “Each year, U.S. refineries produce about 15 billion gallons of ethanol — about 10% the volume of gasoline.” Most gasoline blends are only 10%, a quick ramp-up in production could get us to 15% but after that? We need more of those flex-fuel cars to have access to the 85% blends they say they can use.

    • J4Zonian Says:

      Corn ethanol can’t be produced at anywhere near the current scale without chemical industrial agriculture. Since that’s destructive of soil, air, water, communities, agriculture, ecology, and economy, it can’t continue if we want the US and global civilization to continue. The best thing that can happen with corn ethanol is that it’s rapidly made pointless by the sudden dramatic increase in EV production and even more, public mass transit, and it disappears, along with most industrial use of corn.

      The US and state governments need to make sure there’s a smooth transition to small-scale low-meat organic permaculture, by helping farmers who have variously been forced into industrial ag by economics or stupidity to become permaculturalists. That means diversifying, getting out of annual commodities, and democratizing food and clothing production. It means the beneficiaries of socialism may need to stop the bizarre compartmentalization that allows their ideology, and admit that what’s saving their farms, families, jobs, communities, country, and world is democratic eco-socialism. Because that’s the only form of government that can.

      “To not realize the truth of what farming is today is to [NOT?] realize overproduction serves no one in the end.”

      • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

        When I see “small scale” I think of 20th century farming models. I’d rather see more fluid and adaptive approaches that allow for regular rotation and/or combination crops (like the “three sisters” of corn, beans and squash). Our phones are already smarter than we are, and our cars will soon be. I look forward to programmable agriculture that can monitor and manage crops (using agbots) based on local soil and water conditions.

        Much of the tech is already in development. A lot of the inertia has been in how crops are bankrolled (single-season loans, for instance) and marketed. So much has been dedicated to growing corn, then corn became the base commodity looking for secondary product lines (HFCS, cattle feed, food fillers), so more of the acreage is converted to corn, and the spiral continues.

        • J4Zonian Says:

          Small-scale farms, especially family farms and those run by women, are more productive than large or corporate farms, more resilient, more diverse and ecological, sequester more carbon, are better in pretty much every way. They’re all of that more so when corporations don’t rule the economy.

          There are logistical solutions we must implement immediately to avoid climate cataclysm. To get those done we’ll have to transform the government of the US and other countries. To do that will probably take a peaceful revolution. To make that happen will likely take a transformation of the left. But in the end, whatever happens, if we’re to survive beyond this crisis we’ll have to have a different relationship to ourselves, each other, and the Earth. That will be furthered by clean safe renewable energy, especially local and community- and publicly-owned, by mass transit, worker-owned businesses, the truly democratic government. But the real difference will be in our psychology, in our infancies and childhoods, or there will be no difference. Connection with the land, tending beings, being among living beings, help nurture that psychology. Software and yet another step away from having any idea how food happens hinder it.

          There’s a thing coming up in 6 months that will solidify a lot of what you’re talking about. I look forward to it with revulsion and horror.

          Six Months to Prevent a Hostile Takeover of Food Systems, and 25 Years to Transform Them

          • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

            I’ll take your word for it, but it’s brutally hard work to which few would commit.

          • J4Zonian Says:

            I’m not sure what sounds like it’s too hard but one person’s work is many others’ play. Lots have already committed to every part of it, some happily like me, some out of necessity, some both… In fact, many have spent their whole lives permaculturing, psychologizing, communicating, teaching. activismizing, transitizing…

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