Friends Don’t Let Friends Use Ethanol

May 1, 2014 | By | Comments (10)
Bad, Bad Ethanol

Photo: Mr. Thomas

This is strange Mr. Thomas. Mr. Thomas may look like a terrorist, but he’s really a nice guy. Only his lawn mower, leaf blower, string trimmer, or anything else powered by small gas engine will think he’s a terrorist if he pours the new E85 gasohol blend in the tank. Because that extra ethanol will kill the engine faster than a Predator drone.

“If that’s true,” you ask, “why hasn’t our gas mower kicked the bucket already? We use the same gas for it that we use for our car and that has ethanol in it.”

Correctamundo. But gas at the pump currently contains only 10% ethanol. Most gas engines can handle that. But now there’s a push to increase the amount of ethanol in gasohol to 15%. Not only will that decrease MPG in your newer car or truck, but it will kill the engines of motor vehicles made prior to 2001. Accorning to, E-85 will also torch the engines of boats and motorcycles, as well as those of the aforementioned lawn and garden equipment.

Whose Stupid Idea Was Turning Corn Into Fuel Anyway?
Today, nearly 40% of America’s corn crop goes not to feed people or livestock (why would we want to do that?), but rather to feed cars by being turned into ethanol that’s blended with gasoline. Whenever the government mandates something so incredibly stupid, there has to be a reason other than what they’re telling you. And it’s exactly what you think. The Midwest corn lobby pushed through this debacle by lining the pockets of Congress with campaign money. What they wanted was to guarantee that every acre of corn a farmer planted for making ethanol would be bought at a good price. As a result, food prices for people went up and tens of thousands of acres of marginal farmlands were converted into corn fuel factories that require gross amounts of water, fertilizer, and herbicides to stay productive.

Moreover, lots of plants produce ethanol more efficiently than corn. Switchgrass, for one. It’s native, resists drought, resists insects and disease, reduces erosion, doesn’t need a lot of nitrogen fertilizer (made from natural gas), and is perennial. Why aren’t thousands of acres in the Midwest being converted to switchgrass farms? Because corn farmers wanna grow corn. It’s just like Cyndi Lauper sang:

Boys just wanna grow coooo-oooorn
Oh, boys just wanna grow corn!

But Won’t Using More Ethanol Reduce Climate Change?
No. No way. As Radar O’Reilly used to say on M*A*S*H, no way in h-e-double hockey sticks.

Bad, Bad Ethanol

Radar doesn’t like ethanol either and he’s from Iowa! Photo: Joseph Scott

See, using ethanol does almost nothing to reduce the carbon emissions thought to contribute to global warming. Making ethanol from corn takes almost as much energy as burning ethanol produces. And because ethanol cannot be pumped through pipelines like gas (it corrodes them), it must be transported by train and truck. What do you think powers all those trains and trucks? Hint — it ain’t the sun.

An Alternative to Ethanol
So how will you maintain your manicured lawn if 10% ethanol is replaced by the 15% ethanol that your mower can’t use? Here’s one idea.

Bad, Bad Ethanol

Meet your new lawn service! Photo:

Sheep. Hey, they’re nice, they’re friendly, they’re natural, and they recycle. Nothing baaaaaaaaad about that.


  1. Steve Bender

    I am not a GMO fan, but what you say has not been scientifically proven anywhere.

    May 6, 2014 at 12:52 pm
  2. Linda Morgan

    Well at least we’re not eating that Corn ,because all Corn is Genectically Modified and not good for people or animals.

    May 2, 2014 at 10:15 am
  3. Liz

    I’m using an electric mower until I have the time to rip out all of the lawn.

    May 1, 2014 at 3:43 pm
  4. Saxon Holt

    Well don’t be so grumpy about getting rid of lawn. 😉 You guys in the South get rain (Too much recently I am sorry to hear). Gardeners in the West drool over all those pretty pictures of lawns and moss gardens in wetter climates, and end up thinking a lawn is the easiest way to cover the yard. I have had numerous conversations with East Coast members of The Lawn Reform Coalition (where I shared your post) who remind us that lawn, indeed, is quite low maintenance and responsible if maintained the way you do. Unfortunately not everyone “gets” the connection and I hope this madness of making fuel from corn might help folks look more closely at the big picture.
    Keep up the good work

    May 1, 2014 at 2:59 pm
  5. Steve Bender

    Congrats, Saxon! I knew it wouldn’t take long for somebody to suggest that everybody just get rid of their lawns (even if my rant was really about the idiotic ethanol mandate). The problem is that lots and lots of people are not going to do that (including me), because I like my grass and maintain it in an environmentally responsible way (use mulching mower, didn’t water once last year, use organic fertilizer). Incidentally, my shady back yard has a moss lawn that takes no maintenance at all. The only trouble with moss is that it won’t take the wear that grass will.

    May 1, 2014 at 2:29 pm
  6. Saxon Holt

    “So how will you maintain your manicured lawn” you ask ? Didn’t you just tell us to plant veggies in our yard ? Heck, I say take out the lawn altogether. No mowing no blowing no corn growing for gas

    May 1, 2014 at 1:55 pm
  7. Steve Bender

    Never said switchgrass was a silver bullet. But growing corn to make ethanol isn’t one either. It does very little to decrease demand for oil. It isn’t the panacea the government would have you believe. And as you note, corn production has increased, but not to grow food. Instead, marginal lands that would have remained fallow are now being planted with deleterious environmental effects. As for ethanol-free gas, I’ve never pulled into a gas station yet that gave me that choice. I can live with the E10 gas, but E15 is a totally different matter. Agree with you that the government should stay out of this. Let the market decide whether ethanol is a good idea.

    May 1, 2014 at 1:50 pm
  8. Rob

    And you can buy ethanol free gas at certain gasoline station for a $.20-$.30/gal premium to E10 for your lawn mower. Vote with your dollars.

    May 1, 2014 at 12:29 pm
  9. Rob

    Well there are 2 sides to each story. I’m not a proponent to ethanol, but here’s more to the story.
    – ethanol is an oxygenate which fuel blenders are required to use to reduce emissions by the clean air act. The previous oxygenate MTBE is a carcinogen and was polluting ground water when gags pumps leaked. Ethanol as a leaking fuel source will just get the fish drunk.
    – not sure we need 10 % blend of oxygenate for EPA purposes, but our govt in 2005 with passing the Renewable Fuel Standard wanted to grow our consumption of home grown biofuels, this the 10% increase in demand. Think they were trying to reduce our use of foriegn oil.
    – why not just use Natural gas in your car? No stations, few vehicles converted to burn bat gas. I’d bet that’s from the auto and oil lobby. Probably stronger than the farm lobby.
    – as for feed be fuel, we grow more corn today than 2005 not just from more acres, but from better production yields per acre through technology which has improved by 13% since 2000 with a 16% increase in acres. So a piece of corn going to fuel is due to greater production, this not stealing from food. High fuel prices are increasing your food, so maybe without renewable home grown fuels out food would r higher yet.
    – as for switchgrass, it is not a commercially proven process on industrial scales. Given grass grows 6 months a year you’d have to store a very bulky product for 6 mo/ year minimum and not much nutrients in grass, so takes more of it to get comparable yields to converting stach to sugar and sugar to alcohol. Grain is storable, transportable and convertible.
    – nice rant on your part, but there is no silver bullet. We want fuel, need environmental policies, need the market to function in an efficient manner, and would be best if the govt stayed out of everything.
    – how bout if we Americans quit pointing the finger, get off the couch to make a difference, elect honest people that will serve the people for the sake of service, quit talking about what’s wrong and talk about what’s right, and better yet do what’s right and encourage others to do the same.
    That’s all I have to say about that. Just keep running.

    May 1, 2014 at 12:26 pm
  10. NC Gardener

    …not to mention the sheep will leave behind big warm piles of um, er, organic fertilizer.

    Switchgrass sounds kind of dangerous. Does it have sharp blades that are easy to conceal?

    May 1, 2014 at 12:23 pm

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