Transporting Corn Ethanol to Your Gas Tank: No Walk in the Park

Michael Milli

Transporting ethanol is risky business

This is the fifth blogpost in the series, “Corn-Fed Cars: On the Road with Ethanol.”

Discussions about the environmental impacts of corn ethanol often come around to the inputs and outputs associated with growing the corn and processing it into a fuel.  In fact, in this series’ third post, “Does Ethanol Pollute the Environment… Or Does Corn?,” we tackled this topic.

Understanding the environmental impact of growing the corn and producing the ethanol fuel is obviously very important—but it is not the only critical piece of an exceedingly complex puzzle.  Another important component of the ethanol supply chain is the so-called distribution infrastructure.  In other words: What happens after the corn is grown, transported to the production facility and processed into ethanol? How does it get from the plant to your gas tank, and what are the possible environmental and health concerns along the way? Read More >

An Ethanol Timeline: How We Got Here

Model Ts were “flex-fuel” and some could run on ethanol.

This second blogpost in the series, “Corn-Fed Cars: On the Road with Ethanol,” continues the conversation about ethanol and explores the forces that converged to get us to this critical—and contentious—moment in biofuels history.

Since 1826, when it was first used to power internal combustion engines (ethanol timeline), ethanol has been of interest to entrepreneurs and agriculturists as a possible alternate fuel. As early as 1862, it was heavily taxed to pay for the Civil War. In 1908, Henry Ford produced the flex-fuel Model T, although by then cheap oil took over the powering of the nation and ethanol languished.

Fast-forward to 1974, when Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), the main producer of high fructose corn syrup, found itself in a quandary. The wet milling process used to manufacture corn syrup from corn grain created, in excess, a by-product known as ethanol, and ADM launched a shrewd search to find or create a market for it. (See this paper on the “Ethanol Swindle.”) Capitalizing on the “Project Independence” initiative started by the Nixon administration to reach total independence from foreign energy sources, ADM began a political campaign promoting ethanol as an additive to gasoline—and the current ethanol industry was born. (Read this paper for more on the history.) Read More >