Skip to comments.Dark sides to ethanol boom
Posted on 07/27/2007 5:24:36 PM PDT by Coleus
IN SOME CIRCLES, ethanol made from corn has become a golden nectar in the fight against global warming. It comes from a benign, wholesome, home-grown plant, and it produces no nasty greenhouse gases that cause climate change. But a backlash to corn ethanol is emerging. Environmentalists, economists and poverty activists all are raising questions. Making ethanol from corn may be "much less efficient" than producing gasoline from oil, reports The Associated Press:
"Just growing corn requires expending energy plowing, planting, fertilizing, and harvesting all require machinery that burns fossil fuel. Modern agriculture relies on large amounts of fertilizer and pesticides, both of which are produced by methods that consume fossil fuels. "Then there's the cost of transporting the corn to an ethanol plant, where the fermentation and distillation processes consume yet more energy. Finally, there's the cost of transporting the fuel to filling stations. And because ethanol is more corrosive than gasoline, it can't be pumped through relatively efficient pipelines, but must be transported by rail or tanker truck."
Other environmental problems exist as well, according to a report cited in a recent article in the online magazine NewScientist.com. Among the report's conclusions, repeating:
"Intensive harvesting erodes soil; massive use of fertilizers contributes to the eutrophication of rivers and lakes and the reduction of fish and aquatic life habitat; widespread use of pesticides contaminates water and soil; and extensive irrigation for corn monoculture depletes water resources."
Another downside to corn ethanol, according to a BBC report, is that land that until recently was growing crops for food is now growing crops for fuel:
"The United Nations says a third of the total U.S. maize [corn] crop went for ethanol last year. The International Monetary Fund says there's no question that demand for biofuels is driving up food prices and that it will go on doing so."
U.N. officials are cautious about such predictions, but they do acknowledge the problem, reports Reuters. According to U.N. Environment Program Executive Director Achim Steiner:
"There is significant potential and risk for competition between food production and production for a global biofuels market.... We have to be aware that there are risks, and for some countries those risks may not be worth taking."
In the United States, the push for corn ethanol already has boosted food prices everything from a dinner entree to the popcorn families munch at the latest "Harry Potter" movie. "Higher corn prices have boosted the cost of producing beef, poultry and thousands of processed products," writes columnist John Wasik of Bloomberg.com:
"Food prices have climbed an average of $47 per person due to the ethanol surge since last July, according to an Iowa State University study published in May; corn-price futures reached a 10-year high of $4.28 a bushel in February. All told, ethanol has cost Americans an additional $14 billion in higher food prices."
Meanwhile, "rising food prices are threatening the ability of aid organizations to help the world's hungriest people," according to a recent story in The Christian Science Monitor. One main reason? "Growing demand for grains as biofuels is pushing up the price of grains for human and livestock food," the Monitor reported. "Is a biofuel backlash coming?" asks business columnist Eric Reguly in the online edition of The Globe and Mail in Toronto. "In Rome, the World Food Program, the U.N. agency charged with fighting famine, said its budgets are being strained because of surging food prices. The world has 800 million cars. If filling them with ethanol and other plant-derived fuels keeps pushing prices up, the world's 2 billion poor people will have something to say about it."
But as many economists have pointed out, part of the problem is that in some countries -- the United States among them -- biofuels are heavily subsidized by the federal government. Reguly continues:
"Left on its own, the market in time would find a balance between food and fuel production. As it is, the billions in subsidies are encouraging a dramatic rise in biofuel production that would not otherwise occur. "This is partly why the U.N. food agencies are worried. Too much biofuel is coming to the market too quickly and the casualties might be the poor who can't afford the sharply rising food prices."
The law of unintended consequences bites the enviro-wackos in the ass.
watch out - some here are still shilling for ethanol, citing tired old lines that have been proven false.
Many farmers are already using bio-diesel in their equipment.
Only for PR purposes when the TV cameras are running. ADM uses fossil fuels internally in their plants to process ethanol.
The solution is and always has been nuclear power. Clean, efficient, and not dependent on mid east lunatics...
Anyone who spends time Freeping shouldn’t be shocked by this.
51 cents, of every gallon of Ethanol produced, in the United States, comes from the American taxpayer, excluding crop subsidies. I should have jumped on this business when I had a chance.
For electricity, yes.
Has it ever occured to you that there are gasoline/oil subsidies? What do you Suppose it costs to keep a carrier at the strait of Hormuz everyday? Further, corn costs $2 in 1950, and $2 just a couple years ago. Tell me what hasn’t gone up in price in the last 50 years or so, and get back to me. I’m just sayin’.
The corn that is used for ethanol loses hardly any value as feed, they are called DDG, or distillers dried grain.
According to Isaac Asimov, it’s also good for powering robots and spaceships...hehe
I’ve seen estimates of the impact that higher corn prices actually have on other foodstuffs, and most of the estimates you read (like this one) are grossly exaggerated.
Makes a convenient excuse to raise prices, though.
That we're more efficient in farming techniques doesn't surprise me. That we continue to subsidize any grain at all is just shocking to me. That we not only do that, but subsidize the cost of a process that results in a net loss of energy, then I object.
As for carriers, thankfully they run on nukes, and jets, yes, fuel, but then again, we don't have a carrier there because we're buying fuels, we have a carrier there because of a wacked out religion that wants to kill us because we give them money.
I think you only get a 20% energy return on ethanol, where as, you get 90% or more with gasoline.
Here's a few truisms..
It costs more to produce it than you get out of it
It only gets about 85% of the efficiency of gasoline
It makes your "check engine" light come on
Here is the real dark side: according to recent reports from Mexico, blue agave plants are being uprooted in favor of planting corn for ethanol. Blue agave = tequila = margarita!!!! Oh, the huge man-a-tee!!!!!
I am anti-ethanol.. but I agree with you that there should be an estimate of the increased military cost of helping to get secure oil supplies.. and that should be put on as a gas tax, at least on imported oil.. and an equal and opposite reduction in income tax.
That is not true. Burn ethanol, and you get CO2.
Ethanol's supporters really have very little science to stand on. In their wildest dreams, they believe it helps reduce some sorts of tailpipe emissions, but not CO2, to my recollection. They think ethanol reduces demand for foreign oil, but the most optimistic estimates are that production of one gallon of ethanol only takes 3/4 gallon of diesel to produce, not a very effective reduction in oil demand.
Ethanol is a sop. A sop to farmers who love increased demand (and therefore prices) for what they can grow on their dirt. Ethanol is a sop to the mushy brained who want to feel environmentally friendly. Side effects, though are many. It would take a book to debunk all the BS associated with ethanol. The feel-good crop-o-crap of the decade.
Check out the current stock price of the company that makes BioWillie. Willie has lost about 50 big ones in the deal.
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