I didn't get a lot of formal education growing up. I come from a working class family in a working class neighborhood where I still live. After September 11, I started having health problems that the doctors weren't much good at helping me with. Then one day I got this flier in the mail for these herbs that could heal lungs, even for smokers. So I got some and it helped a lot. Then I started looking into other things like it, what they call alternative medicine. I couldn't work anymore so I started learning things I didn't know, which I like doing now. Turns out I am not so dumb. Looking back, I am not so sure that educated people are so much smarter than working people. Anyway, I digress. I do that sometimes.
The way I figure it, you corn farmers are a lot like me only you maybe never had to look at anything other than what is put in front of you, like I used to be. A lot of you are growing corn for ethanol. It's added to gasoline. Ever since they started using it, I started having breathing troubles again. It took me long to time to figure out what it was. It was my doctor who told me that it was likely from formaldehyde or something called acetaldehyde. It isn't so much from breathing it either, but from when I am not breathing it.
Acetaldehyde is what causes a hangover. I have the worst problems on weekends, especially on Sundays. The problem is the same as when an alcoholic stops drinking, or someone quits smoking or anything addicting. It causes water to build up in my lungs like pneumonia. Then when everyone goes back to work, it would go away. It cause worse problems than just breathing too, like a junkie going off dope,, but probably not as bad.
What they say is that ethanol cuts down on other pollutants. I don't know about that, just that what they are doing now makes me sick and I want it to stop it. But I am not the kind of person who sues in court. So I just get angry and study all I can about it. These are some things that corn farmers might not know about. I hope you don't because if you do, well just read them and see what I mean. These are facts that I have found in places that I trust know what they are talking about.
1) There are two kinds of ethanol fuel. One has almost all the water taken out so it is pure ethanol. The other is like moonshine with 5% water. The ethanol in our gasoline is dry ethanol because gasoline and water don't mix.
2) 10% ethanol is called E10. It's used in most gasoline and can be run in any car. There's another kind called E85, which is 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline. This can only be used in flex-fuel vehicles that have ignition systems that can tell the difference between E85 and straight gasoline, or E10 too. It can adjust for any amounts of ethanol and gasoline. It can also run on ethanol that still has 5% water, which is called wet ethanol, or hydrous ethanol. Dry ethanol is also called anhydrous ethanol.
3) Ethanol causes a third loss of mileage when compared to gasoline without it. So with 85% ethanol, there is nearly a third loss of a tank of gas over plain gasoline. With 10%, there is only supposed to be a 3% loss. But there are a lot of people who say they lose much more, me being one of them. When the price of oil drops so low that ethanol is too expensive to add to gasoline, they stop using it. I can always tell when it happens here because my car starts running the way it used to and I can breath a lot easier. It also always seem to get very cold but I don't know how that works.
4) I found some people on the internet that say they use wet ethanol in their flex fuel engines and get no mileage loss, if they can find it, some even make it themselves,. They also do this in Brazil where they sell either dry ethanol mixed with gasoline or 100% wet ethanol. Everyone in Brazil drives flex fuel vehicles.
5) The ethanol industry is putting pressure on the government to let them put 15% ethanol in our gasoline. A lot of people are objecting, including the makers of our vehicles. They say the engines and exhaust systems can't handle that high of a percent. Also meat producers are saying making it from corn is causing grain prices to rise so meat prices rise too. Last week, a report came out from the presidents cancer panel that says adding more ethanol to gasoline will cause higher emissions of the pollutants that bother my lungs the worst. They however neglected to point out that it already increases those emissions a great deal. Acetaldehyde and formaldehyde are carcinogens, which means they cause cancer. One thing we don't hear a lot about is all the health problems that carcinogens cause other than cancer, like my problems, and I think a lot of other people as well, including our children.
6) Dry ethanol is very expensive to make and dangerous to handle. Wet ethanol is cheap to produce and safe to handle. Recently, Netherlands starting adding wet ethanol to gasoline using new technology that they developed. It is being experimented on in Florida and Louisiana but there is not enough attention being paid to it. This new way does not have bad emission of acetaldehyde and formaldehyde or loss of mileage problems. It's also much easier for transporting because it can go through pipelines mixed with gasoline. Dry ethanol has to be shipped all over the country in trucks because it is too dangerous to put in pipes.
7) A new report has come out saying that the way ethanol is made now is inefficient. They say a better way would be to sell corn for food or animal feed and make cellulosic ethanol from half the left over corn stalks. The say the other half should be left in the field to help the soil. Cellulosic ethanol is made from wood or plants the same way corn ethanol is made. But they have to use special bacteria to do it.
8) There is a way to make ethanol, or even gasoline and diesel fuel, from pretty much anything chemical or biological, even garbage or sewage. It is called plasma gasification. What they do is burn plant matter, or anything else that will burn, in a chamber with no oxygen. The gases and oil that come from this can then be converted to ethanol or other fuels. When done right, there is no emissions from it so you won't have the problems of polluting the towns where distilleries are now. Plasma is also a good way to do it because it keeps the cost of doing it down very low. The important thing is that if this was done with corn stalks, the left over charcoal is one of the best fertilizers there is. It's called biochar. It is carbon locked into a charcoal form that will stay in soil for hundreds of years and keep acting as fertilizer at the same time. So you would also be locking CO2 in the soil so it doesn't go into the atmosphere. So instead of some corn going to fuel and some corn to food, all corn could go to food and half of all corn stalks could go to fuels with this biochar coming back to the fields to lessen or eliminate the need for other kinds of expensive and polluting fertilizers.
9) There are a lot of scientists who say global warming can be put off by 40-50 years by stopping emissions of acetaldehyde and formaldehyde. They say ozone causes warming. Acetaldehyde and formaldehyde lead to ozone. As far as the expense of doing it is concerned, they say we can save more money from not having to pay to treat the people these pollutants make sick. I think too that once we learn how to do it better, we can make a lot of money selling clean technologies around the world. I am not the only one who thinks this. I just thought of it when I was reading how corporations don't want to loose money paying to make the air less polluted. Then I read how people have been telling them this for years, that we should invent cleaner technologies and sell it to the rest of the world. I wish they would just do it too because they are making such a mess of the environment and the economy that the government is moving in to force them to do better. That is a dumb move on everyone's part because governments seems to only make things worse.
I hope corn farmers will read this letter and pass it around to the people they know. We are all on the same team here. If I grew up in the Midwest, I probably would have been a farmer. If you were here in New York, you probably would have been a working man rather than a businessmen who is more worried about money than the people around him. I am not trying to hurt ethanol or farmers. I am trying to help us both. So if a bunch of comments are posted about how everything I am saying is not true or is part of a conspiracy by the oil industry to shut down the ethanol industry, the people who write those kinds of things are the one who you should be looking at the biggest problem for the ethanol industry. They aren't even in the ethanol industry. They are in the government subsidy industry. They are in the destroy America for money industry, tax money they aren't even willing to put in an honest day's work for, money that's taken from hard working Americans that deserve a whole lot more than to be treated like this. So just don't take mine or their word for it. Check out the links I put at the bottom of the letter or look for your own because there are plenty of them out there.
If something doesn't change with how ethanol is handled, sooner or later something big is going to break. It doesn't look like anyone but working people care about anything in this country anymore. When it comes to ethanol, if you don't want to see it hit the fan like everything else, the only ones who would probably do anything to stop it is farmers. So I just thought I would point these things out to you.
Special thanks to my friend Angie in Washington for editing this letter and putting it on the internet. Send it to your congressmen and senators if so inclined.
Sammy (Hoppy) Vatts
Food Vs. Fuel: Growing Grain for Food Is More Energy Efficient
Annual Report for 2008-2009 - Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk, What We Can Do Now
Hydrous Ethanol blended with gasoline in Netherlands
Mark Z. Jacobson - Dept. of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Stanford University, Stanford, California "Effects of ethanol versus gasoline on cancer and mortality in the United States"
Cancer report energizes activists, not policy