Put Rocket Fuel, Not Corn in Your Tank

As the ethanol industry sees its prospects flounder, it has sought the help of an actual general to stem the public backlash against its uneconomic, environmentally harmful product. Reports Fortune:

Reporting for duty in ethanol’s counterattack: Wesley Clark, the retired four-star general and former NATO commander, who signed on in February as co-chairman of an upstart ethanol trade group called Growth Energy. Clark, 64, has fully embraced the private sector since ending his run for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004. In addition to co-chairing Growth Energy, Clark is on the board of Dutch wind-turbine maker Juhl Wind and serves as chairman of the New York investment bank Rodman & Renshaw (RODM). At Growth Energy, Clark has lobbied against efforts in California to hold ethanol accountable for deforestation in Brazil, he’s pushed back against claims that diverting corn to ethanol drives up food prices, and he’s spoken out in favor of a Growth Energy proposal to increase the maximum allowable ethanol blend in conventional gasoline to 15% from 10%.

Without support for corn ethanol now, Clark says, the industry won’t be able to fund advances in second-generation cellulosic ethanol made from nonfood inputs such as switchgrass. [Emphasis added]

Such brazenness in rent seeking should not be surprising in an industry that’s running out of arguments for why it should receive public subsidies.

But try as they will, ethanol’s champions don’t seem to be doing a very good job of convincing the public, as some consumers’ reaction to the availability of ethanol-free gas attests. Reports Florida Today:

Gasoline without ethanol has become a hot commodity for the only two vendors who sell it in Brevard County.

“We just recently started bringing it in because there’s been such a hue and cry for it from the marinas,” Ken Marshall, vice president of Glover Oil in Melbourne, said Thursday.

Favored by boaters and motorcyclists, the fuel — known as recreational gasoline — was put on sale to the public last month by Glover Oil.

“It’s a more rare product,” Marshall said. “A year ago, everything started going to ethanol.”

There’s good reason to avoid ethanol.

Ethanol absorbs water and can degrade rubber seals and gaskets. Boat engines, weed trimmers, lawn blowers, generators, motorcycles and older auto engines are most affected. Ethanol contains one-third less energy than gasoline. And many makers of lawn care machinery, marine engines, motorcycles and high-performance autos recommend avoiding gasoline with ethanol.

However, by 2011 all gasoline sold in Florida must contain ethanol, with the exception of fuel sold for boats, collector cars and small engines. Federal law requires that 36 billion gallons of ethanol a year be blended with U.S. gasoline by 2022.

“You don’t get as much gas mileage with the ethanol in it and it clogs up your catalytic converter in your car and it ruins your boats,” James Blizzard, 75, of Cape Canaveral said as he filled up his SUV at Neil’s Riverside BP station in Melbourne, the other public source of non-ethanol gasoline in Brevard. “I get two or three miles per gallon more out of the ethanol-free gasoline.”

Considering that Brevard County is near Cape Canaveral (the region known as the Space Coast), consumers of the ethanol-free should start calling it “rocket fuel.” (Thanks to Margaret Griffis for the Florida Today link.)

For more on ethanol, see here.