For a while there, it seemed like everyone could agree on ethanol: Subsidies for farmers, carbon-neutral fuels, and energy independence brought people together for a common cause. That is, until frenzied production pushed ethanol prices into a tailspin, and the rising demand for corn sent food prices soaring. Worst hit are those in the developing world, who rely on cheap corn for their daily meals, and farmers who feed their livestock with the grain.
Now people are starting to ask...is the cure worse the disease? And the answers aren't easy to get at. Corn ethanol consumes a quarter of a gallon of gas for every gallon created. Industries that depend on corn are hurting under higher prices, and a glut in ethanol production is actually keeping prices unmanageably low.
The Wall Street Journal has an excellent and in-depth article on the possible future of ethanol, as well as some other bio-fuel contenders. The obvious answer from EcoGeek's perspective is that corn ethanol isn't going to save the world and, in fact, might end up hurting the environment. As we turn more land over to farming corn, we destroy habitat and create an even more unsustainable demand for water.
Already, the midwest is running low on natural supplies of water, and growing corn (and converting it to ethanol) is a very water-intensive project. We should be happy that 10% of gasoline now sold in a lot of places (including my state) is ethanol. But we're not going to be able to move beyond that.
It was a speedy change, and it gives me hope for the possibility of more speedy changes...particularly if we can figure out how to make cellulosic (non-food-crop) ethanol economically viable.
written by Bob from ALAMN, November 29, 2007
written by Moondyne Joe, November 30, 2007
written by Alcohol rehab, March 13, 2008
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