Biofuels Bupkis? Ethanol Use May Not Be Saving Anything


It’s not actually a cycle, ya know?

Forbes has an interesting article up citing many studies on the ramifications of using corn-based ethanol as a replacement for gasoline. This rides the coattails of recently released reports from The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IIPC) showing that by the time crop cultivation, nitrate fertilizer effects, and water usage is taken into account, the switch to ethanol may be not be better for the environment than traditional gasoline.

From The IIPC’s 2014 report:

“Biofuels have direct, fuel‐cycle GHG emissions that are typically 30–90% lower than those for gasoline or diesel fuels. However, since for some biofuels indirect emissions—including from land use change—can lead to greater total emissions than when using petroleum products, policy support needs to be considered on a case by case basis”

Worse, the reallocation of corn from a food for both humans and livestock has led to an increase in prices. Obvious corn-based products like cereal and sweeteners have been affected over the past several years as well as foods derived from corn-fed livestock such as milk, eggs, and meat. This cost increase has not been limited to the U.S. either. Seventy percent of the world’s corn imports come from the United States.

From Forbes:

“In 2014, the U.S. will use almost 5 billion bushels of corn to produce over 13 billion gallons of ethanol fuel. The grain required to fill a 25-gallon gas tank with ethanol can feed one person for a year, so the amount of corn used to make that 13 billion gallons of ethanol will not feed the almost 500 million people it was feeding in 2000. This is the entire population of the Western Hemisphere outside of the United States.

In 2007, the global price of corn doubled as a result of an explosion in ethanol production in the U.S.”

While the IIPC’s findings have already created a firestorm of controversy over the use of biofuels in general, and ethanol in particular, it is sure to be just the tip of a rapidly melting iceberg as the debate heats up over the next couple years.

For more information, I’d suggest checking out Scientific American’s article on this topic.

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