Thursday, September 07, 2006

Ethanol Debate

Robert Rapier, co-author of The Oil Drum, recently wrote a scathing post on Vinod Khosla's stance on ethanol. For those who don't know, Vinod Khosla is one of Sun Microsystem's four founders and currently runs a prominent VC fund in the Valley, Khosla Ventures, which he started after leaving his post as general partner at Kleiner Perkins. Rapier co-authors the fairly prominent blog and proclaims environmentally friendly aspirations despite working for an oil company. (The two don't seem as much at odds after reading his post.)

To summarize, Khosla has been pushing ethanol as an alternative energy source for a while now, claiming many benefits. As stated above, Rapier blasts Khosla's stance with solid economic and technical arguments. VentureBeat has a great summary of the debate here.

I'll throw my lot in with Matt Marshall and VentureBeat - I think Rapier makes better points and generally wins debate as Khosla needs to fall back on moral arguments to have a case. From what I know about ethanol from a scientific perspective (granted, not much), it doesn't seem to be The Answer to the energy debate. The economics just don't add up, but read the debate all the same.

Cool side note (as told to me by Rahmin, who has been previously mentioned in this blog and is co-founder of Involver): Ethanol is only around because of socialist policies our government put into place in the 1970s. Basically, laws were created to protected domestic corn producers, offering subsidies to help support the declining demand for their crops. Over the years, this led to an overabundance of corn until some brilliant scientist discovered it could be used to produce ethanol. It'd be interesting to see what would have happened had the government let the Invisible Hand do its thing.

(To be clear, the above paragraph is most certainly NOT meant to be complimentary towards the government. Because they didn't have the guts to make the farmers find new crops, we're stuck with a mediocre un-solution to the energy problem thats draining manpower and resources. I'm very much against the governmental aid for ethanol for which Khosla is lobbying.)


  1. While I don't believe that ethanol will be the end all be all solution it will definitely help. Ethanol is not significantly cheaper than gas. Emissions are better but nothing like electric cars or fuel cells. However, we can't really run out of ethanol since we will always be able to produce corn where as we will run out of oil. Most importantly, ethanol would completely take our dependency away from the middle east which would help make us a more independent nation. We wouldn't have to go to war over oil rights.

    The main problem with ethanol right now is that there aren't enough ethanol stations. Most cars built after 2000 are equipped to use ethanol 85, there just aren't enough fueling stations. However, Walmart is considering an initiative which would place an ethanol fueling station at every Walmart store. If this were to happen, we would definitely see a rise in ethanol usage.

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  3. in the long run, corn would be much better spent feeding people than gassing our cars. ethanol dependence is economically impossible and in the grand scheme of themes, equally morally indefensible.

  4. At 2/3 times the detonation of 100% gas e-85 must be one third cheaper than gas to equate economically.

    Now if you factor in supporting terrorists in the mid east and global warming and energy independence potentials,and the service men and women who would not be killed chasing oil . well then. we're closer to break- even point than we think .

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