Thursday, April 24, 2008

Rethink The Subsidies For Corn-Based Ethanol

The worldwide run-up in food prices is proof that corn-based ethanol is hardly the panacea once promised.

Corn is food and shouldn't be turned into fuel. Let alone grown with subsidies and refined in subsidized plants.

Too much raw land and farm acreage in this country is being converted to corn production for ethanol, drawing down water supplies and costing more energy in the growing, refining and transporting than it saves - - and with similar soybean-to-ethanol programs worldwide, is helping to distort food markets.

Conservation of existing petroleum resources, along with production of non-food ethanol from grasses and wood products is a far more rational approach to shortages of oil, water and oil.

I've noted this before, fyi.

This is all of particular concern in Wisconsin, where government, agriculture and industry are working hand-in-glove to vastly expand corn production for ethanol conversion.

And while it's understandable that all sectors want farmers and their rural communities to be successful, focusing on corn growing and ethanol production puts a heavy strain on the state's water resources - - at the very time when consciousness about water preservation is at its peak during the debate over the Great Lakes Compact.

It has been estimated that it takes a total of 1,700 gallons water to grow enough corn to produce a single gallon of ethanol.

I know that sounds impossible, but that highlighted link takes you to a Cornell professor quoted in the Wall Street Journal, so I'm betting it's a good statistic.

Here's the key paragraph:

"Ethanol plants consume roughly four gallons of water to produce each gallon of fuel, but that's only a fraction of ethanol's total water habit. Cornell ecology professor David Pimentel says that when you count the water needed to grow the corn, one gallon of ethanol requires a staggering 1,700 gallons of H2O. "

That's a poor use of water resources, adding to the illogic of trying to grow enough food to make a gasoline additive to stretch petroleum a little farther.

Savings that could be achieved with more efficient vehicles and greater reliance on transit.

Wisconsin has begun modest research and development funding aimed at producing ethanol from wood products and grasses, all of which are better alternatives to corn, the King Crop when it comes to water and fertilizers needed to grow it.

You know that agriculture has had its booms and busts, and that it's just a matter of time when this iteration of planting fencepost-to-fencepost will inevitably lead to farm mortgage failures when the ethanol market moves away from corn to alternative sources.

Will Wisconsin include that sort of transition planning as it moves away from the unsustainable fixation with corn-based ethanol?


Anonymous said...

Don't forget that recent studies have shown that ethanol production has significant greenhouse gas emissions (even more than petroleum)if you consider everything (such as releaseing CO2 from the soil when you till land previously not planted with crops).

Anonymous said...

Not only the CO2 released, but think about the increased use fertilizers, insecticides, and petroleum products used to produce this "renewable resource"