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I've read, the energy gain is pretty marginal as well.

This controversial with some studies more favorable than others. But even if you are converting one form of energy (mostly natural gas for fertilizer and processing the ethanol) to another, that ethanol displaces oil that would otherwise have to be imported. It is a net positive effect.

Removal of subsidies and the tariff on imported ethanol (just last month) will pose some challenges for the ethanol industry, but we shall see in the next year or so how this shakes out.

Corn has always gone to market in a variety of ways. The Whiskey Rebellion of 1785 tells you ethanol was already being done way back then. In the days of costly transportation, ethanol was easier to transport than corn and it could often be sold to innkeepers who served it to travelers.
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