Ethanol policy is not all politics


In the run-up to the Nov. 7 election, any candidate worth a baby-kissing pucker instantly, enthusiastically and repeatedly took the ethanol pledge.
“If elected, I, (insert your name as it appears on ballot here), do solemnly swear to preserve, protect and defend $2 gasoline, $3 corn and $4 ethanol so help me E-85.” Or something like that.
Gas addiction. Few candidates, however, either knew enough or spoke candidly enough to admit that ethanol – in fact, all biofuels combined – are the longest of shots to ever put more than a dent in America’s 140-billion-gallons-a-year gasoline addiction or $360-billion-a-year-imported-oil tab.
Unlike the polls, Tad Patzek, a chemical engineer at the University of California, Berkeley, has no political ambitions or inhibitions. His view on ethanol is scathing and his take on politicians promoting it hovers between contemptuous and beneath contempt.
Patzek isn’t a Berkeley bomb thrower. He was born, raised and educated in Poland, or about as far right of the Left Coast as one can get. Nor is he an ivory tower egghead.
Before arriving at Cal, Patzek was an engineer with Shell Oil in Houston. As an oil industry refugee, Patzek knows the energy sector like you know your fields. That background and his current research at Cal has led him to several inconvenient truths about ethanol.
Truths. Truths like:


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Alan Guebert was raised on an 800-acre, 100-cow southern Illinois dairy farm. After graduation from the University of Illinois in 1980, he served as a writer and editor at Professional Farmers of America, Successful Farming magazine and Farm Journal magazine. His syndicated agricultural column, The Farm and Food File, began in June, 1993, and now appears weekly in more than 70 publications throughout the U.S. and Canada. He and spouse Catherine, a social worker, have two adult children.