ethanol illoThe writing life can be a rocky one. You slog it out in the trenches daily, trying to make a living and a difference. Progress can be slow, or nonexistent. And then you get an honor! And your dim worldview brightens.

Such was my delight yesterday, when news came via Twitter and the Corn Corps blog (“Where the kernel is in charge”) that Grist had made The Ethanol Monitor’s “top 10 enemies of ethanol.” My first reaction was to channel Sally Field’s acceptance speech at the 1985 Oscars. “They hate me … they really hate me,” I gushed, tears of joy streaming down my cheeks.

A montage of text played out in my head. I thought of my very first big project for Grist, co-editing and writing much of a huge special series on biofuels (including a brief history of ethanol as a parable of crony capitalism). I thought of a 2006 pair of columns expressing solidarity with the Midwest’s farmers, but suggesting that they shift to growing much more food for people to eat, and fewer industrial feedstocks for a trash fuel designed to power a dead-end technology (the internal-combustion engine). I thought of my work raising hard questions — never answered — about whether corn-based ethanol really is a bridge to an an eco-friendly cellulosic future; and asking whether cellulosic ethanol will forever glide into the future, tantalizingly out of grasp.

I thought of my work on distillers’ grains, the mush left over after corn is transformed into liquid alcohol. By even the most generous accounting, corn-based ethanol consumes more energy than it delivers as fuel unless distillers grains are a viable animal feed. But it turns out that they’re full of antibiotic and industrial-chemical residues — and they appear to raise incidence of E. coli 1057 in cows and sicken pigs.

There’s more; but this trip down memory lane is making me too emotional.

So, I’d like to thank the folks over at The Ethanol Monitor for this honor. I hope next year we can do better than No. 9!