I attended Solfest 2008 and took these notes during a session given by David Blume, author of Alcohol Can be a Gas and an advocate for alcohol fuel for vehicles.
Producing Alcohol can be done far in better ways than how it's done in the mega-sized plants using corn based production. There are other methodologies, other crop sources, other treatment systems, etc, which are more efficient and produce a better overall result.
Very interesting and packed full of information. The guy has a deep background and knowledge around agriculture, growing stuff, has trained over 500 permaculturists, etc. He has researched alcohol for fuel for a long long time.
History - the 'Botany of Desire'
The Model T Ford could run on either alcohol or gasoline and there was a switch on the dash to swap tanks and adjust timing and carbeurator settings. Todays Flex Fuel vehicles have a sensor that automagically adjusts for the fuel. It's quite possible to make gasoline cars that easily run ethanol and it's good for the engine life if you do so.
The root of the problem is oil and greed. Rockefeller & Ford competed over which fuel should be standard. Rockefeller funded the Womens Christian Temperence Union, and the WCTU went on a political campaign against the evils of alcohol. They ended up completely outlawing alcohol for all uses from drinking to vehicles. Think of how in the world did anybody think a bunch of boozers like congressmen would vote to outlaw alcohol, but they did, due to political manipulation supposedly by Rockefeller funding the WTCU. All so that gasoline would be the standard fuel for cars, not Alhohol.
He claimed in those years there weren't gasoline stations at all. In the country lots of farmers made alcohol on their farms and sold it to those who needed fuel. But in the cities gasoline was available. Then if someone were to take a trip out of town they might run low on gasoline and they simply stop at a farm and buy some alcohol. That's why the cars had controls on the dash that let the driver switch fuels.
There's a meme today that "Alcohol is diverting food & driving up food prices". Sure enough there have been food riots all over the world and those food riots have been blamed on alcohol & biofuels. I have some articles on 7gen.com about this problem. However he claimed this was propoganda which cost the oil industry $1 billion to foist upon us. And they were very successful because we all know this meme.
The proof? There is a huge food SURPLUS. In 2007 there was a whole lotta corn which went unsold. Economics 101 says that if supply is more than demand that the price ought to drop. Right? Given that there's a huge surplus then why did prices go up. Oh, another factoid is that in Mexico (one place where food riots happened) the peasants use a different corn for their tortillas than the corn used in the U.S. to make alcohol.
Anyway the cause he claimed for food prices to go up was market manipulation by the oil companies. They would buy corn futures then not take delivery of the corn they bought and instead sell the contracts, at a large loss, to food producers. This made the price go up artificially.
Further, making alcohol from corn doesn't have to divert food. If it's done properly.
The proper method is to make alcohol from corn. This removes the starch from the corn, leaving behind "Dried Distillers Grain". This stuff is an extremely good cattle feed and is a farming practice that goes back eons. The issue is that cattle's stomachs don't do a good job digesting corn, due to the starch. But the dried distillers grain doesn't have starch and the cattle can readily digest it. Further cattle fed dried distillers grain don't fart as much, reducing the effect cow methane has on global warming.
10# of corn --> 1# of beef
3# of dried distillers grain --> 1.17# of beef
That means that putting corn into a system that first produces ethanol and second is used as a cattle feed, the food supply would actually INCREASE. As opposed to a system where some corn is used for ethanol and other corn is used for cattle and neither are used efficiently.
Ethanol is extremely low emissions. This is due to it burning almost completely. There are no NoX emissions etc, plus burning ethanol can incinerate existing pollution in the air making the air cleaner as it exits the engine. He has a lot of experience using alcohol in engines and has seen how the innards stay shiny and last a very very very very long time.
A factoid that's tossed around is alcohol has a lower BTU than gasoline so therefore it would take more alcohol fuel to accomplish the same result as if you burned gasoline. But there's a fallacy. You have to consider the percentage of fuel converted to work. Gasoline doesn't burn efficiently and thus has a low percentage of fuel converted to work. Alcohol burns completely and has a high percentage of fuel converted to work. If you take this into consideration then alcohol is more thermally efficient.