Ethanol: A Threat to National Security?

In his State of the Union Address this year, the Commander in Chief of the War on Terror asked the newly-elected Democrat-controlled Congress to join him "in pursuing a great goal."

To effect regime change in Iran, thereby delivering "a decisive blow to terrorism," and achieving yet another famous "victory for the security of America and the civilized world"?


Well, how about cutting our losses and getting out of Iraq, incurring as few additional American casualties as possible?

No, not that either.

Bush’s "great goal" is to reduce gasoline usage in the United States by 20 percent within ten years!

What’s so great about achieving that goal?

"When we do that we will have cut our total imports by the equivalent of three-quarters of all the oil we now import from the Middle East."

Aha! Our National Security requires it.

But how are we to reach that goal?

"To reach this goal, we must increase the supply of alternative fuels, by setting a mandatory fuels standard to require 35 billion gallons of renewable and alternative fuels in 2017."

Of course, if Bush goes ahead and does unto Iran what he did to Iraqi, our total imports of oil from the Middle East will be cut for us, by the Iranians, before Bush even leaves office, long before we achieve that goal.

Hence, Bush ought either to forego his impending War of Aggression against Iran, or ask Congress to require the production of 35 billion gallons per year of ethanol (from corn) before he leaves office.

No doubt the 110th Congress will support Bush’s impending attack on the Mullahs (and their non-existent nuclear-weapons program), especially if it means the next President can focus on assisting the "farm lobby" solve the principal remaining "threat" to our National Security (indeed, according to Al Gore, [.pdf] to the "survival of our civilization"): Climate Change.

The CNA Corporation has just issued a report [.pdf] of its Military Advisory Board entitled "National Security and the Threat of Climate Change."

"The nature and pace of climate changes being observed today and the consequences projected by the consensus scientific opinion are grave and pose equally grave implications for our national security."

According to the Board

"Climate change, national security, and energy dependence are a related set of global challenges.

"As President Bush noted in his 2007 State of the Union speech, dependence on foreign oil leaves us more vulnerable to hostile regimes and terrorists, and clean domestic energy alternatives help us confront the serious challenge of global climate change.

"Because the issues are linked, solutions to one affect the other."

The Board adopted the latest assessment of the International Panel on Climate Change.

"Carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide have increased markedly as a result of human activities since 1750 and now far exceed pre-industrial values.

"The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in 2005 [1774 ppm] exceeds by far the natural range of the last 650,000 years (180 to 300 ppm).

"The primary source of the increase in carbon dioxide is fossil fuel use."

So, how does the IPCC come to those conclusions?

And what are "fossil fuels"?

Well, according to Wikipedia, fossil fuels are buried combustible geologic deposits of hydrocarbon materials, formed from decayed plants and animals that have been converted to crude oil, coal, and natural gas by exposure to heat and pressure in the earth’s crust over hundreds of millions of years.

So what distinguishes such organic hydrocarbons from inorganic hydrocarbons?

Recall that isotopes are atoms that have the same chemical properties but have different physical properties. About 1.11 percent [.pdf] of the stable carbon atoms are C-13. The rest are C-12.

Plants take carbon dioxide out of the air and – through the process known as photosynthesis – fixate nitrogen, enabling them to eventually produce the 20 amino acids that both plants and animals need to live.

The reaction goes much faster for the C-12 isotope, so there is a C-13 deficiency in all organisms, plants and animals, living and dead.

Hence, there is a measurable C-13 deficiency in carbon dioxide that has been produced by burning something organic, like a tree, for example.

But on the basis of C-13 deficiency analysis of oil and gas found at considerable depths beneath the earth’s surface, there is reason to believe fossil fuels may not be organic in origin after all.

Nobel Laureate Sir Robert Robinson, who investigated the chemistry of natural petroleum in some detail, noted that the deeper one goes into the earth’s crust to find the oil reservoir, the fewer are the signs of anything biological in the oil one finds.

True, there are signs of organic activity – microbial life – in oil found near the surface. But as the depth from which the oil is obtained is increased – to the depths where microbes aren’t found – the more nearly the C-13 deficit disappears.

Robinson concluded:

"Actually it cannot be too strongly emphasized that petroleum does not present the composition picture expected from modified biogenic products, and all the arguments from the constituents of ancient oils fit equally well, or better, with the conception of a primordial hydrocarbon mixture to which bio-products have been added."

Why does that matter?

Well, the measured C-13/C-12 ratio of CO2 in the atmosphere has decreased over the last 200 years by 1.5 parts per thousand. The IPCC assumes that decrease has resulted from a huge increase in additions of "organic" CO2. Since the IPCC assumes coal, oil and natural gas are "organic" hydrocarbons, the IPCC concludes that mankind is "very likely" [90% certain] to be responsible for that CO2 increase.

But, since the isotopic carbon ratios for natural gas obtained from great depths is indistinguishable from the methane ejected in volcanic eruptions, it follows that the carbon dioxide produced by burning natural gas obtained from deep reservoirs is also indistinguishable from the carbon dioxide ejected in volcanic eruptions.

Similarly, methanol produced from natural gas obtained from great depths will not have an organic C-13/C-12 ratio.

How about ethanol, produced from Iowa corn or Brazilian sugarcane?

Will that ethanol have an organic C-13/C-12 ratio? Will burning 35 billion gallons per year of that stuff contribute – according to IPCC lights – to Climate Change? Will burning all that organic ethanol contribute to our National Security problem?

You bet your sweet bippy.

Author: Gordon Prather

Physicist James Gordon Prather has served as a policy implementing official for national security-related technical matters in the Federal Energy Agency, the Energy Research and Development Administration, the Department of Energy, the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Department of the Army. Dr. Prather also served as legislative assistant for national security affairs to U.S. Sen. Henry Bellmon, R-Okla. -- ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee and member of the Senate Energy Committee and Appropriations Committee. Dr. Prather had earlier worked as a nuclear weapons physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California and Sandia National Laboratory in New Mexico.