Fuel of the Land

I’m quite certain people are aware of the increases in fuel costs as well as food costs. Groceries have gone up 40% in the last year. And sure, a good deal of that is due to the massively jumping gas prices. It costs more to ship food from its various sources whether by train, plane or automobile, so to speak. But a lot of the cost increase is coming from the huge overproduction of corn to suit the needs of ethanol producers.

The world is facing the most severe food price inflation in history as grain and soybean prices climb to all-time highs. Wheat trading on the Chicago Board of Trade on December 17th breached the $10 per bushel level for the first time ever. In mid-January, corn was trading over $5 per bushel, close to its historic high. And on January 11th, soybeans traded at $13.42 per bushel, the highest price ever recorded. All these prices are double those of a year or two ago.

As a result, prices of food products made directly from these commodities such as bread, pasta, and tortillas, and those made indirectly, such as pork, poultry, beef, milk, and eggs, are everywhere on the rise. In Mexico, corn meal prices are up 60 percent. In Pakistan, flour prices have doubled. China is facing rampant food price inflation, some of the worst in decades.

Earth Policy Institute

Essentially, we are limiting food production by focusing heavily on corn production. A good deal of the corn goes toward making the ethanol which then takes away from viable food corn. However, much of the remaining corn after ethanol production is put into feed for animals, but this still means that it will not be used for human consumption.

Another issue with corn ethanol production is the environmental cost. E85 was touted as the next fuel that would decrease costs at the pump and help out the environment by lowering emissions. The issue is almost opposite. Creating the ethanol requires more trucks, more use of diesel and gasoline, more heating and energy, and this increases greenhouse gas emissions. It also runs much less efficiently in E85 compatible vehicles, requiring more fill-ups and therefore drawing from the ethanol reserves much faster. It also increases some of the potentially harmful chemicals in the air, chemicals not emitted by gasoline.

Because burning ethanol can potentially add more smog-forming pollution to the atmosphere, however, it can also exacerbate the ill effects of such air pollution. According to Jacobson, burning ethanol adds 22 percent more hydrocarbons to the atmosphere than does burning gasoline and this would lead to a nearly two parts per billion increase in tropospheric ozone. This surface ozone, which has been linked to inflamed lungs, impaired immune systems and heart disease by prior research, would in turn lead to a 4 percent increase in the number of ground level ozone-related deaths, or roughly 200 extra deaths a year. “Due to its ozone effects, future E85 may be a greater overall public health risk than gasoline,” Jacobson writes in the study published in Environmental Science & Technology. “It can be concluded with confidence only that E85 is unlikely to improve air quality over future gasoline vehicles.”

Scientific American

Another key issue is the overuse of land for higher production of corn. It is likely, at least in my opinion, that if corn based ethanol production increases, land will continue to be overtaxed and sapped of important nutrients due to lack of care and proper crop rotation. If this occurs, the land will simply dry up and blow away, such as occurred in the Dust Bowl in the 1930s.

Now, even though I continue to make arguments against corn based ethanol, I am a proponent of alternative fuels. There are many other ways to get fuel from the land, even creating ethanol using switchgrass, so-called cellulosic ethanol. I will include a list of news and information sources after this point. We do need to do something about our dependence on oil, a resource that some day will run dry. We also need to focus on protecting our planet and our atmosphere because when the atmosphere is gone, we won’t be doing so well anymore.

Environment Friendly Fuel: Cyanobacteria as Ethanol Producers

Cellulosic Ethanol


Electric Car

Alternative Fuel Information