Recently I read an article on oil imports and domestic ethanol production that piqued my curiosity. The article appearing in Popular Mechanics, discussed the impact on U.S. oil imports by the increases in domestic ethanol production. What I found was that ethanol may not be providing sufficient energy dependence relief to justify what it is costing us.
According to the Renewable Fuels Association, 2007 ethanol production was 6.5 billion gallons, up from 4.8 in 2006. A barrel of crude oil, according to our DOE, yields 20 gallons of motor fuel. Looking at oil imports over this same period, 2007 U.S. oil imports were 4.9 billion barrels, down from 5.003 billion the previous year. Eureka ! Ethanol is working !
But is it ? The American Coalition for Ethanol puts it this way,”Ethanol comprises about 3.5% of total annual U.S. gasoline consumption “. The cost of this 3.5% savings is 23% of our national corn crop, and 13% of our soybean harvest. The GAO estimates that by 2012, 30% of our domestic corn crop will be used for ethanol production. What does this mean to us ? Higher food prices, we are all feeling this, and will continue to feel this for the foreseeable future. Yes, high fuel prices are an impact, but for me, I fill up my tank every 10-12 days. I have to fill up my family of four three times a day. Forget this ethanol experiment, roll these corn and soybean crops back into the food supply, rollback food prices, I will come out ahead, and very likely so will you.
Biofuels have been touted as the answer to climate change owing to the decreased CO2 emissions. This is true on the consumer end, but again, we are not being told the complete story. Ethanol proponents fail to factor in the environmental impact of production, and most importantly, clearing the land for corn production. Some studies have shown that clearing grassland can release 93 times the amount of greenhouse grasses saved by the fuel produced from the crops grown on that land.
A recent report published by P.J. Crutzen of the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz, Germany, and colleagues concluded that environmental impact studies have underestimated the amount of nitrogen oxide, a greenhouse gas, released by the use of nitrogen fertilizers. If this study is correct, ethanol made from nitrogen fertilized corn will produce more greenhouse gas than the equivalent amount of gasoline.
“People are getting smarter. People are beginning to see that the damage ensuing from producing agrofuels by far outweighs any possible benefits,” says Tad W. Patzek, a professor of geoengineering at the University of California, Berkeley, and a prominent biofuels sceptic.
Yes, we need to be smarter, we need to declare this Iowa Experiment as a complete failure. We need to undo the methanol mandates of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, and we need to do it now.
“Rushing to turn food crops… into fuel for cars, without first examining the impact on global hunger, is a recipe for disaster,” the UN rapporteur on food said in his report to the UN General Assembly. “Agrofuel production is unacceptable if it brings greater hunger and water scarcity to the poor in developing countries,” the report says. The report concluded with calling for a five-year moratorium on biofuel production while new biofuel technology is under development.
This is one of those very rare occasions where I happen to agree with the U.N. .