An Unfortunate Truth about Bioethanol (from Corn)
The article does not dismiss all bioenergy, and it reports on new research and development that may provide economically-viable bioenergy supplies. The discussion of these potential new approaches is supportive and hopeful.
However, the article dismantles myths about corn-ethanol as a fuel. These include the matter, well-known by technologists but seemingly unknown to politicians or the public, that ethanol is a lousy fuel for many reasons. Not the least is the “hygroscopic” nature of ethanol- its property of absorbing water from the atmosphere. Automobile fuel with significant water content is bad for combustion efficiency.
It is time we realized that “natural” is not synonymous with “environmentally friendly”, or even “harmless”. It is time we stopped allowing senseless government subsidies of environmentally-wasteful corn ethanol programs that are driving up the cost of nearly all food, everywhere, in the US and around the world… without doing a single thing to solve any energy problem.
If you want to read more about the harmful effects on “normal people” of increased food prices, just see”Biofuelled: Grain prices go the way of the oil prices,” from The Economist print edition, or online at the link. The fact that demand for grain is exceeding supplies is explained in this article:
“The culprit is the growing use of grains to make biofuels, such as ethanol. … Ethanol distilleries (in the USA) now consume 1/5 of the Nation’s corn.”
But how can this be? Bioethanol is all natural. Isn’t that good? In a word, NO, and the stresses that corn-ethanol places on the environment, the food economy, and the cost of living are serious. Farm production may not be able to keep up with demand, and, the article reports, even if production is increased, it may not matter:
“… even if new land is planted, argues Jeffrey Currie of Goldman Sachs, it will not necessarily reduce the cost of grains. Since high oil prices and generous government subsidies ensure that biofuels are profitable, any extra grain will be used to make more (ethanol). That will not dent the oil price (…). Instead, the price of biofuels has risen to that of petrol (gasoline), and the price of corn and crude oil, the main feedstocks for the two, have converged.”
How can it happen that food prices are being driven up with NO environmental benefit? Among other things, we should consider the following points:
- the convergence of pressure from large national and multinational farming companies and from small farmers
- the readiness of politicians to use public funds to “give back” to their constituents and campaign contributors through huge subsidies
- the undoubted joy in some circles that this behavior can be successfully linked, however falsely, to “improving the environment”
- the willingness of the public to believe that anything “natural” has to be better than alternatives
For additional relevant articles in The Economist and many other news and scientific sources, see the World Headlines link under my blogroll heading. Comments and feedback are welcome, as always.
© James K. Bashkin, 2007
Technorati Tags:rising food prices, grain prices, biofuels, altenative fuels, sustainability, corn ethanol, bioethanol, us food prices, food vs. oil, government subsidies for bioethanol, the economist, ethanol as fuel,
Generated By Technorati Tag Generator