Corn Ethanol: Not the Greatest Thing Since Sliced (Corn)bread

This is exactly the problem with corn ethanol. Just a few years ago corn ethanol was promoted endlessly by politicians of all flavors, industry processors, farmers organizations, lobbyists – you name it. Politicians famously promoted corn ethanol on the basis of fighting global warming. Now let me ask you…How many politicians do you know who really have a passionate concern for global warming?

Scientists differ in their opinions and their study results for corn ethanol. David Pimintel, a professor of agriculture at Cornell University produced a study that concluded that a gallon of corn ethanol contained about 77,000 BTUs of stored energy. Not too shabby, but for comparison a gallon of gasoline contains around 124,000 BTUs

Pimintel went a bit further and calculated the energy required to produce that 1 gallon of ethanol. As it turns out, there is a lot involved in making that gallon of ethanol – big farms, labor, fertilizer, lots and lots of big fuel hungry machines, transportation to refineries, refining – you get the picture. He concluded that ll this effort to produce that 1 gallon of ethanol required around 131,000 BTUs of energy.

Hmmm…Doesn’t sound like such a good deal does it?

As mentioned, studies and results vary. The U.S. National Renewable Energy Lab concluded that 1 BTU of energy input is required to produce about 1.3 BTUs of energy from corn ethanol. Well, if we take these more optimistic numbers, at least our numbers are into the positive range. But it is still a WHOLE lot of effort to get that 30% gain.

Starvation, Global Food Prices

With the nation mobilizing to shift arable land into production of corn ethanol and away from food production we witnessed dramatic increases in grain prices. This was land that could have been used to produce food for humans or feed stock for agricultural animals.

Pimintel estimates that about 11 acres is required to produce fuel for one car for a year. That same 11 acres, in contrast, could feed about 7 people.

And lastly…Let’s not forget that there are about a billion people living on the earth without enough food to eat.