David Blume is the author of “Alcohol Can Be A Gas!” He started the company American Homegrown Fuel during the energy crisis in the late 70s, then wrote the first version of his book to accompany a documentary in 1983. He recently updated it. We reached him a couple weeks ago, when he was travelling to Sacramento with actor/activist Daryl Hannah to promote alcohol-based fuels.
Address the focus of this trip and why alcohol based fuels are important.
What we’re going to be talking about in Sacramento today is the fact that the EPA is taking an extra six months to study whether or not a raise from 10 percent alcohol to 15 percent alcohol would pose any harm to the environment. The oil companies flat out refuse to buy any more alcohol than is required by the state and federal government to mix with the gasoline, even if it’s cheaper than their own stuff. They’re limiting the alcohol they buy from farmers by hiding behind a 1980’s ruling that was specific approval for 10 percent alcohol. So in Minnesota or Kansas or Oregon these states that we want to put in 20 percent, they won’t do it because the federal law says 10 percent. It’s interesting, because it’s either 10 percent or 85 percent.
It can either be one or the other?
Yes, or less. California only has 5.7 percent, but that’s going to 10 percent at the start of the year. Now the thing about this is to approve E85, the EPA did extensive massive testing because the oil companies fought it tooth and nail, and they proved that E85 is pretty much 80-90 percent less polluting than gasoline. We know that every bit of alcohol we put in cleans up the emissions more. So 20 years later, after all this is figured out, they have to study it all over again, they say.
There’s a sinister side to this. The alcohol fuel industry is on the ropes because of a combination of future speculators in the price of corn to the oil companies’ monopoly on the market for alcohol because the alcohol is almost all sold as a gasoline additive. Because we have only one customer, the oil companies, they tell you what they’re going to pay you. So with the market bottled up like that you have what they call a blend wall, so unless the state can mandate a higher amount of alcohol the oil companies will resist buying it. Alcohol and oil are deadly enemies, and yet alcohol sales are almost exclusively to oil companies. Now that’s changing. E85 is at 2,000 stations now across the country
This upcoming year, all the Ford trucks are going to be E85-compatable. Everything from the half ton, to the three-quarter to the one and a half ton. Now the thing about the ruling that’s so screwy is that several million Americans that right now mix alcohol and gasoline at the pump, because any car out there today, can run fifty percent alcohol without any modifications whatsoever. As people discover that, say you’re in Michigan and you’re at the pump and alcohol is 1.71 a gallon and gas is 2.80, you’re pretty tempted to say, “Hey, lets go ahead and put some of that in my tank and see.”
Why’s alcohol so much cheaper?
Because it’s not a fuel that ever runs out. Oil is a fuel that’s beginning to run out and as it becomes more scarce, it becomes more expensive. Alcohol is based on solar energy, carbon dioxide, water and sunlight making the carbohydrates that we make into alcohol. So as long as we have water and sunlight and soil, we’ll have alcohol.
What about alcohol fuel being mostly made of corn? Are we really getting an energy or pollution advantage the way things are currently done?
The longtime opponent of alcohol fuel David Pimentel sat down with me in a discussion on tape and said straight up that corn grown properly is very energy positive. What that means is we take some of the byproducts from the alcohol fuel production and put them back on the fields and now we don’t need to buy more fertilizer. Even with oil-based fertilizers, alcohol is 67 percent positive on the return of energy for energy put in. The energy put in is also not oil, oil is what we’re running out of. So what goes in at the big alcohol plants is generally coal or natural gas, but that’s changing too. Several plants are using biomass, in other words corncobs, to fire the plants, and that dramatically increases the energy return. Sugar cane or corn with bio mass firing is eight to one in energy return for energy invested, including chemical fertilizer.
Those old studies in the 80’s that say it takes more than you get out are even being repudiated by their authors. We’re looking at a 89 percent reduction in poisons, higher carbons, nitrous oxides, carbon monoxide. This is really important in cities because carbon monoxide is heavier than air and it settles in the artificial canyons of our downtowns. People are actually less able to absorb oxygen when there’s a lot of carbon monoxide in the air. In the Grand Canyon there have been deaths from all the boating and the carbon monoxide being trapped in the bottom of the canyon. Gasoline is not the right stuff to burn.