Ethanol Madness
Friday, October 14, 2011 at 11:45AM
Skeptic in Energy

Melissa Lott at Scientific American (via Climate Progress):

For every 10 ears of corn that are grown in the United States today, only 2 are consumed directly by humans as food. The remaining 8 are used in almost equal shares for animal feed and for ethanol. And, for the 12 months from August 2011 to 2012, the U.S. biofuels industry used more corn for fuel than domestic farmers did for livestock feed – a first for the industry. This significant milestone in the shifting balance between crops for food versus fuel shows the impact of government subsidies for the biofuels industry. And, it could represent a tipping point in the conflict between food and fuel demand in the future.

Over the past year, U.S. farmers used 5 billion bushels of corn for animal feed and residual demand.  During the time timeframe, the nation used more than 5.05 billion bushels of corn to fill its gas tanks. And, while some of the corn used to produce these biofuels will be returned to the food supply (as animal feed and corn oil), a large proportion of this corn will be solely dedicated to our gas tanks.

According to Rabobank's head of agricultural research, Luke Chandler, this shift in the balance between food and fuel could be the tipping point in world grain markets. China, once able to supply its internal corn demand, currently expects to import (from the U.S.) a few million tons of corn next year. This will likely place additional stress on the United States corn industry, as it will introduce another source of demand (and corresponding market pressures) for the nation's corn harvests.

The energy efficiency and global warming impacts of corn-based ethanol are both terrible. When we grow corn for ethanol fuels, we start with a lot of fossil fuel inputs, add some sunshine, and yield a product that in Iowa and other corn belt areas has a little more energy content than the fossil fuel inputs, but in marginal corn-growing regions the fossil fuel inputs exceed the net energy outputs. From this earlier Realitybase post:

To the extent our goal is to reduce CO2 emissions, corn to ethanol is a terrible idea because the proportion of "renewable" content in the ethanol is very small or negative. If we don't care about global climate change or increasing the cost of transportation fuels but do care about minimizing energy imports, corn to ethanol is a way to convert domestic coal to a transportation fuel—not a good way, but a way.

In recent years, the conversion of corn to ethanol has contributed to rising food prices worldwide. As if we didn't have enough humanitarian and political crises. We need to end the corn-to-fuel madness.

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