Free Markets, Free People

Ethanol: MIT study reminds us “correlation is not causation”

We’ve heard the claims about how corn ethanol has lowered the price of gasoline and made us more energy independent. Don’t believe them.

Economics professors at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology report ethanol mandates do not lower the price of gasoline, despite claims by the ethanol industry.

A recently published MIT study debunks the oft-repeated claim that ethanol usage reduces the price of gasoline at the pump.

The MIT study, “Ethanol Production and Gasoline Prices: A Spurious Correlation,” analyzes and refutes claims by the ethanol industry that ethanol reduced gasoline prices by nearly a dollar per gallon in 2010 and more than a dollar per gallon in 2011.

You see, as we’ve mentioned here, ethanol doesn’t provide the power that pure gasoline does, so it takes more of the ethanol mixed gasoline to provide the same distances that pure gasoline gives us.

The MIT study points out the largest variable for the price of gasoline is the cost of crude oil. Wholesale gasoline prices go up when the price of a barrel of oil goes up. Ethanol, by contrast, has a minimal impact on the cost of crude oil, the study notes.

The study further explains that ethanol has 33.3 percent less energy than gasoline, so engines need more of it to power a vehicle for the same distance.

As to the claims of lower prices because of ethanol?

“The fact is ethanol, because it only contains about 60 percent of the energy provided by gasoline, does not have the same value, making direct price comparisons meaningless.

And, given that the largest variable for the price of gasolineis the cost of crude oil, what about the 2010 and 2011 claims:

“Put simply, the empirical results merely reflect the fact that ethanol production increased during the sample period whereas the ratio of gasoline [prices] to crude oil prices decreased,” the study explained.

“The claim that ethanol reduces gasoline prices is just silly and is based on the fallacy that correlation equals causation,” said Tom Tanton, president of energy economics consultants T2 & Associates.


He added, “As I testified to Congress in early July, corn-based ethanol may provide some energy security from some geopolitical risks associated with the petroleum market, but it creates a serious weather-related risk. With 25 percent of our corn crop used to make ethanol, and most corn grown only with natural rainfall, our fuel supply has only traded one type of risk for another.

“We’d be more secure if we produced our own vast reserves of petroleum and brought in Canadian, and enjoy lower prices to boot,” Tanton said.



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8 Responses to Ethanol: MIT study reminds us “correlation is not causation”

  • “We’d be more secure if we produced our own vast reserves of petroleum and brought in Canadian, and enjoy lower prices to boot,” Tanton said.

    Oh, ICK…!!!   Nasty black stuff!  I’m holding out for pond-scum.  Sweet, sweet green pond-scum.  The power of tomorrow.  Well, some tomorrow.  Maybe.  If…

  • My 12-year-old car has a built-in, running MPG measurement. When it became impossible a few years back to get anything but ethanol blended gas, the MPG gradually sank about .6 miles per gallon from the no-ethanol gas I had been using.

    Recently, a station popped up only a mile away that sells only no-ethanol gas. I started using it six weeks ago. So far, the MPG rating is back up .3 miles per gallon.

  • I was just reading today that 40% of the U.S. corn crop is used for ethanol, but some of the waste products after starch removal are returned for animal feed.  Thus, “only” 16% of the corn crop is “really” used for ethanol production.

  • All this and engine damage too! Where do I sign up?

  • Ethanol! Crucifying America on a cross of corn!

    • Subsidizing that which we don’t need, raising prices on meat (via feed), pretending it will replace oil, it’s a miracle I tells ya, I miracle!
      We can keep people from driving, and achieve our vegan fantasy at the same time!