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Not so green: corn ethanol reduces the soil carbon, increasing emissions and possibly contributing to warming. This effect is worsened if the leaves are removed for biofuel production, as some have suggested.  (Source: Don Hamerman)

Professor DeLucia of the University of Illinois and his colleagues have completed a massive new study, showing just how bad for the environment corn, and especially sugarcane, ethanol may be. It also shows grass ethanol can be very beneficial to cutting carbon, on the other hand.  (Source: Don Hamerman)

Replanting corn and sugarcane land with biofuel grass can help undo the damage done by these crops, the study suggests.  (Source: Don Hamerman)
A new study shows that switching from corn ethanol to grass may have great benefits

The ethanol business is a booming market, buoyed by several years of high gas prices.  While hampered somewhat by falling petrol costs, the market is seeing support from big investors like GM and is producing millions of gallons fuel yearly, with pumps expanding across the country.

However, while most agree that moving away from reliance on insecure, depletable oil is a good thing, there are also significant downsides to corn ethanol production, the current primary form of ethanol produced.  As discussed previously at DailyTech, corn ethanol is cited for higher food costs.  Additionally, it may not be as green from a carbon perspective as people think.

Companies like Coskata are looking to use alternatives such as quick growing grasses or wood waste to fuel their ethanol production.  Now a new study shows that not only does such production help to normalize food prices, it also helps cut down on excess atmospheric carbon.

A study from the University of Illinois confirms that some sources of biofuels can actually increase emissions of carbon dioxide, while others can decrease them.  The key is what you grow and where you grow it. 

The study compiled soil carbon information from dozens of other studies in order to get the big picture.  What it observes is that the amount of carbon that exists in the soil is increased by letting decomposing plant matter sit and eventually be absorbed into the earth, while tilling and plowing decreases the carbon in the soil, releasing it into the atmosphere.

Explains Evan DeLucia, a professor of plant biology at Illinois, "From the time that John Deere invented the steel plow, which made it possible to break the prairie sod and begin farming this part of the world, the application of row crop agriculture to the Midwest has caused a reduction of soil carbon of about 50 percent  The biggest terrestrial pool of carbon is in the soil. The top meter of soil holds more than three times the amount of carbon stored in either vegetation or the atmosphere, so if you do little things to change the amount of carbon in the soil it has a huge impact on the atmosphere and thus global warming."

Corn ethanol increases emissions, according to the study, because corn must be constantly replanted, and replanting requires tilling the fields.  Switchgrass, Miscanthus, and other fast-growing grasses, however, require no tilling and can grow wild, greatly increasing the soil's carbon and decreasing emissions.

Furthermore, these sources have more carbon density than corn, so once cost-efficient ways are created to process them, cellulosic ethanol should require much less land to produce than corn ethanol.

The study is significant, says Professor DeLucia as currently 20 percent of the U.S.'s corn crop goes to ethanol.  He describes "so we began with the hypothesis that it might be good for soil carbon to put a perennial biofuel crop on the landscape instead of corn."

From there they delved into massive amounts of information on soil carbon levels on land growing corn, sugar cane, Miscanthus, switchgrass and native prairie grasses, taking into consideration many factors.

They found that sugarcane, used greatly by Brazil's ethanol industry, is the worst offender when it comes to biofuels.  Sugarcane planted on native land slashes the carbon content, releasing vast amounts of carbon into the air.  Whereas perennial grasses add to soil carbon's base level each year, sugarcane land would require a century just to recover to the base level.

Corn showed similar, but lesser problems.  These problems could be alleviated somewhat by leaving more of the corn stover (plant waste) on the field, but the carbon was still cut significantly.

Losses from the initial planting of Miscanthus, switchgrass or native perennial grasses by on converted corn or sugarcane land took very little time to be neutralized thanks to great yearly gains in soil carbon.  Professor DeLucia states, "Consistent with our hypothesis, the perennial feedstocks like Miscanthus and switchgrass start building soil carbon very, very early on.  From a purely carbon perspective, our research indicates that putting perennial biofuel crops on landscapes that are dominated by annual row crops will have a positive effect on soil carbon."

These conclusions, he says, walk the study unintentionally "seems to walk you right into the food for fuel debate".  But he says that it just makes sense to plant grasses as biofuel feedstocks, even from a purely carbon-conscious perspective.

The research will be featured in the journal Global Change Biology Bioenergy next month.

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Subsidies distort the market
By blowfish on 12/8/2008 9:17:34 AM , Rating: 5
Unfortunately there are so many vested interests in growing corn for ethanol production that it will be hard to transition to more sensible alternatives. Those farmers just love their subsidies, and to hell with common sense and reason.

RE: Subsidies distort the market
By weskurtz0081 on 12/8/08, Rating: -1
RE: Subsidies distort the market
By Schrag4 on 12/8/2008 10:01:24 AM , Rating: 4
I don't think you quite got the point. Subsidies are introduced to get people to act in a way that defies "common sense and reason." Basically, it provides an artificial financial incentive to do something other than what they would have done if there were no subsidies.

So sure, farmers can plant whatever they want, and usually they'll plant what the market needs them to plant. But you introduce subsidies to plant a specific crop, and now maybe they're incentivized to plant that crop instead of what the market really needs. You're totally right, farmers COULD say "Screw this free money, I'm planting something that'll make me less money!" But somehow I doubt many do that if it indeed means they'll make more money with the subsidies (it won't for all farmers).

RE: Subsidies distort the market
By Ratinator on 12/8/08, Rating: -1
RE: Subsidies distort the market
By dever on 12/8/08, Rating: 0
RE: Subsidies distort the market
By Fronzbot on 12/8/2008 6:42:30 PM , Rating: 3
Hmm, I could say that in a style atypical of the author he actually produces a piece that runs counter to what the "liberal" media portrays as "eco-friendly".

I expect you trolls to come out and flame for my strategic placement of quotations and my somewhat defense of Jason Mick, otherwise this wouldn't be a proper Environmental article on Daily Tech now would it?

RE: Subsidies distort the market
By Solandri on 12/8/2008 8:32:36 PM , Rating: 5
I should point out that the corn subsidies are well-intentioned (at least initially) and serve a useful purpose. The government subsidizes food production to insure an oversupply. Food is demand inelastic. If a crop fails thus decreasing supply, demand does not drop proportionately. Demand stays the same (everyone has to eat), so the short supply results in skyrocketing prices.

To protect against this, the government subsidizes food production to insure there's an oversupply. We could have a bad season or a partial crop failure, and there'd still be enough food for everyone to eat. Usually the excess was sold overseas, sold as livestock feed, used as humanitarian aid, or it just goes bad in storage and gets thrown away.

Someone got the bright idea of using it to produce ethanol. After all, if it was going to rot in a grain silo otherwise, might as well use it. Applied only to the excess corn, it's a good idea. Unfortunately, if the idea works, you no longer have an oversupply of corn anymore. It now starts impacting the market price of food, and the subsidy makes it look bad for all involved.

So the subsidies aren't quite as evil as people are making them out to be. If it were just food, they'd be a good thing. But now that we're mixing food (which people need to live) and energy (which we can get elsewhere), it's starting to have unintentional synergies.

RE: Subsidies distort the market
By Ringold on 12/8/2008 8:53:20 PM , Rating: 2
Usually the excess was sold overseas

Thus keeping global prices down, thus pricing out developing world farmers, thus helping to perpetuate deep poverty in the poorest parts of the globe. No surprise, then, that European and American ag trade barriers consistently derail global trade talks.

It's all cute, and maybe well intentioned (the lobbyists I'm sure are very well intentioned), but that doesn't mean it's good for world as a whole. Just farmers.

RE: Subsidies distort the market
By MamiyaOtaru on 12/8/2008 11:04:47 PM , Rating: 2
Well now the rest of the world can be super happy that food prices are going up. This will lift them out of their poverty somehow.

RE: Subsidies distort the market
By Ringold on 12/9/2008 4:23:54 AM , Rating: 1
They've been going down lately, but years of depressed prices followed by a massive short spike did nobody any good (except, of course, developed country farmers who managed to lock in prices). The net effect in the developing world was sending 100m or so people back in to poverty; at least, that was the last estimate I heard out of the IMF or WB. Particularly hard on the urban poor, who have to buy their food. No surprise, prices went up more than they should have in many markets, and will do so again in the future, because in the midst of the spike many countries erected quick barriers; a typical attempt at sticking ones head in the sand and wishing the real world away. Thats the kind of action that leads to massive famine, not actual supply shortages.

Food prices also dropped quick enough that I've read some farmers will lose money; they put more fertilizer and whatnot on their crop than the crops are now worth.

So, heading right back to the status quo. There's no replacement for free trade.

RE: Subsidies distort the market
By dever on 12/9/2008 12:16:51 PM , Rating: 1
Government policies are always "well-intentioned" aren't they? I'm sure every single action taken by force through government, had at least one fool behind it who thought "it's for their own good whether they no it or not."

"Well intentioned" doesn't matter. Effects do.

By weskurtz0081 on 12/11/2008 9:35:46 AM , Rating: 2
First of all, there are some pretty childish posters in here. I got down rated JUST for disagreeing!

Second of all, I didn't realize they were getting paid to ONLY plant corn, I thought they got subsidies either way. If they get the money to plant corn, and nothing else, then yes that posses a problem, and what you said makes sense.

RE: Subsidies distort the market
By Mitch101 on 12/8/2008 10:10:57 AM , Rating: 4
Corn is a farmers friend right now.

Farmers currently get a good price on the crop if its not gov subsidies there is human consumption but on top of that corn is often sold for animal feed and can be sold on the side to other farmers with animals to feed. Many levels for corn crop to be sold.

RE: Subsidies distort the market
By Entropy42 on 12/8/2008 10:44:29 AM , Rating: 2
There must be some sort of credit for just growing the corn, without even harvesting and selling it. There is a cornfield near me (MI) that is just sitting there, still unharvested. And they obviously don't plan to, since its already snowing here.

RE: Subsidies distort the market
By JonnyDough on 12/8/2008 4:33:30 PM , Rating: 2
No offense, but you people are idiots. Corn can stand freely in a field after a snowfall for three reasons. One is silage. The other is rot. Sometimes a farmer leaves corn so he has a fence line or tree line to hunt deer off of (illegal in many states, unless he has a special permit designed to help farmers minimize crop damage).

For the post before yours:

Daylight savings does not decrease the day. The amount of daylight in a day, however does decrease after the summer solstice. I'm sure farmers are aware of both of these things. I highly doubt farmers are idiots like you might assume. They are good at what they do, many of them excel at being veterinarians, carpenters, mechanics, merchants, and market researchers ALL AT THE SAME TIME. Don't anyone ever dare to call a modern farmer stupid (partly because anyone willing to get into a pen with a bull and stick medicine up it's ass has more balls than most people I know. Hands of leather are enough of a warning not to pick a fight.

Speaking of which, don't ever pick a fight with an Amish kid, no matter how thin he looks. I've been around a few, and I can tell you that when you're raised with a strict disciplinarian father and 7 brothers, and work is pretty much life - you're likely to be pretty tough.

Farmers practically invented the calendar, they know exactly what the weather is doing 99% of the time. They wake up at 4am to milk cows and brave the weather to pull crops in, or to mend a fence and catch their cattle in the middle of a storm. Weather and seasonal change affects them much more than it affects most people.

And for the post before that one:

Farmers also will plant what stands to get the biggest gain at the lowest risk. They often weigh their odds. Crops that are likely to do well in almost any weather reap little money because a monkey could grow them. Crops that bring in more but only grow well if there's a lot of rain or not too much wind or an early frost or something, are riskier. The seed costs more and the entire field can fail. Not only do they have to watch the weather, but they have to keep an eye on market prices for crops, and reports about what farmers around the U.S. and the world are planting - as they have an effect on sale timing. You sit on seed corn too long, it rots and you can't sell it. You sell it at the wrong time and you get less for it. Farmers are gamblers. They are also investment and savings bankers. They have to know how to save and invest to be able to get through a bad year following a good one.

RE: Subsidies distort the market
By Reclaimer77 on 12/8/08, Rating: 0
RE: Subsidies distort the market
By Myg on 12/8/2008 7:26:16 PM , Rating: 2
He wouldnt be wrong to support such an idea; they would understand the meaning of hard work and the value of real labour...

It doesnt mean we should all live that way of life; it just means we should learn the lessons offered, which I am sure they would be more then glad to share.

RE: Subsidies distort the market
By JonnyDough on 12/9/2008 5:16:10 PM , Rating: 2
This coming from a guy who kisses Mashers backside every chance he can.

RE: Subsidies distort the market
By japlha on 12/8/2008 2:29:02 PM , Rating: 3
It's good for the farmers, not so good for the animals or for us. Corn fed beef aren't as healthy as grass fed beef. The omega 3/omega 6 ratio is messed up with corn fed beef as well. Too much omega 6. Then when we eat corn fed beef we get meat that isn't as nutritious as it could be.
Let's not get started on High Fructose Corn Syrup either.

RE: Subsidies distort the market
By Ringold on 12/8/2008 7:42:54 PM , Rating: 1
Corn fed beef aren't as healthy as grass fed beef.

People seek out corn fed beef because it tastes better. If they cared about any of your points, they'd be munching granola and tofu, not cancer-causing red meat. :P

And then there is kobe beef, where they even give the cattle some booze, but that stuff is too expensive for me.

RE: Subsidies distort the market
By Reclaimer77 on 12/8/08, Rating: -1
RE: Subsidies distort the market
By JonnyDough on 12/11/2008 1:42:37 PM , Rating: 1
I'm going to get auto down rated to -1 for posting a response to your post, but I can't resist.

Many beef cows are raised in a way that would make you sick.

This includes dodging FDA regulation by keeping young calves alive just up until they point they would otherwise die, if it weren't for their antibiotics and steroids they would perish. Can you imagine what this does to the meat of a cow? There is possibly a reason kids are having more teenage sex, they're getting hormones through their food!

They've also been known to feed the cows sawdust to fatten them up. Which is also horrible for the cow, and lowers the nutritional value.

Yes, there is a direct correlation between the health of a cow and the health of you. You are what you eat.

Steak and hamburger by themselves are not all that unhealthy. They have a lot of nutrients (because a cow is also what it eats), and protein is essential to a diet. Man cannot live on bread alone. It's actually fact.

Furthermore, fowl such as chicken and turkey are much more efficient at turning what they eat into healthy edible meat than many other meat sources are. Cows and pigs have to eat a lot more food to get the same amount of edible body mass than birds do.

Ethanol sucks
By BansheeX on 12/8/2008 10:01:48 AM , Rating: 5
Living in Iowa, we have big agribusiness getting billions in taxmoney to turn food crops like corn and soybean into biofuel, and it's always portrayed in our local papers as being a great thing for Iowa and the environment. People drive around with pro-ethanol bumper stickers. Few of us understand it's only good for corn growers, not consumers here or elsewhere. The whole industry is buying propoganda ads to save this foolish foray into ethanol conversion facilities. Just yesterday, I was driving home from work and had the radio on, there was a 30 second spot bought by an association of growers flat out stating that ethanol did NOT increase food prices, was good for America, was good for the environment. Just lies, basically, to keep the money flowing.

RE: Ethanol sucks
By Screwballl on 12/8/2008 10:51:15 AM , Rating: 5

I am against Ethanol and have been since it first showed up in South Dakota at least 15+ years ago. At that time, vehicles were not made to handle it so all sorts of things got fouled up... from TBI/EFI injectors blowing out/burning up to piston ring oxidation in aluminum blocks among other things, you were lucky to get more than 60,000 miles from an engine using nothing but E10 (10% ethanol). Nowadays they have better options with new cars (2003-newer) that can handle it properly for over 200,000 miles.

I am only against it using the current feed stock, there are better alternatives using grasses or the corn stalks/leaves rather than the corn itself. Growing up in rural areas, some may remember there was a massive scare (late 80s, early 90s) where corn was produced in such great quantities that some farmers simply threw tarps over thousands of tons of it hoping the market bounced back rather than sell it for a potential loss or break even. This is when the farmer's lobbyists (like Daschle from SD) punched through some sort of mandate that allowed for them to 1) get rid of the excess corn, and 2) make a market that will remain high for a few decades (making them all sorts of money).

Enter Ethanol.

Now another interesting bit is that locally in northwest FL, I have not found a single gas station that has the E10 blend labeled (outside of a few in Pensacola carrying E85, but no E10). Even if they did (or I find out they are selling it without labeling it), I would not put it in my vehicles because I have seen what it does to engines not modified to handle it properly, and as I have a 91 truck with TBI, and a 04 Durango with 4.7L, these were not made for Ethanol in any way.

I find Ethanol (the way it is currently used and marketed) is a massive scam.
10% Ethanol = 20-30% lower gas mileage
10% Ethanol = 2-5% lower price at the pump per gallon

Doing the math:

Say the 10% Ethanol is at $2.00 a gallon versus regular non-ethanol is $2.05 per gallon, and you drive a vehicle getting 20mpg with non-ethanol (15 gallon tank, as an example).

15Gal @ 2.05 = $30.75
15Gal @ 2.00 = $30.00

20mpg x 15 Gal = 300 miles

Now using E10, lets say there is a 25% drop in mileage (15mpg), as my experience has seen 20-30% drop when using Ethanol:

15mpg x 15Gal = 225 miles per tank

30.75 / 300 = $0.1025 per mile to drive NOT using Ethanol
30.00 / 225 = $0.1333 per mile to drive using E10

Now per year, average 15,000 miles:

$1,537.50 using regular
$1,999.50 using E10

$462 per year savings to NOT use Ethanol

Now look at this over 100,000 miles:

$13,330 = cost to use E10
$10,250 = cost to NOT use E10

Combine that with the lowered food prices by less corn being used for fuel and we are better off all around.

Ethanol is NOT the answer, just an expensive alternative, not even a good one.

RE: Ethanol sucks
By FITCamaro on 12/8/08, Rating: 0
RE: Ethanol sucks
By Screwballl on 12/8/2008 1:36:28 PM , Rating: 2
Lets see, on several 2000+ mile road trips (yes 2000 miles, from Florida to South Dakota and back):

We had a 2001 Nissan Frontier which was gutless to begin with (2.5L V6) but at 20 mpg highway was not too bad... until we used E10 at which point it dropped to 14-15.5 mpg highway.

Or our 2001 Nissan Pathfinder with 3.1L V6 that saw 22-24 mpg highway dropped to 16mpg highway (and 12mpg city) when E10 was used.

With our current 2004 Durango with 4.7L V8 usually sees 15mpg (city) drops to 12-13.4 mpg when E10 is used. At 78K miles it runs fine as long as Ethanol is not used, but when we do, it stutters and feels like a gutless V6 in a heavy truck.

Oh and my 91 Suburban with 7.4L 454 V8 with TBI (work truck) usually sees ~12mpg city but with E10 it drops to 8.6-9.4 mpg. Also had to replace the TBI injectors and intank fuel pump a few thousand miles after using the E10 TWICE. Here it is at 164K miles and as long as I do not use Ethanol in any form in any of my vehicles, they run well, do not need unnecessary part replacements and get proper gas mileage.

TBI = Toilet Bowl Injection. TBI F-bodies sucked.

Only if they were not maintained properly.

And my parents 04 Hemi Durango has done over 80,000 miles using E10.

congratulate them... but also warn them that they will need some heavy engine work to be done around 100K miles, partly because these hemis are not known for reliability, but also because the ethanol is eating away at key components inside the engine, sensors and injectors. Chrysler did not start selling proper flex-fuel vehicles until the 2006 model year (which can handle the Ethanol properly).

As for other vehicles, remember that they may run fine for 50,000 miles or more. Someday take apart that Camaros TBI/Carb and just see how bad off it looks. The injectors/jets will be tarnished and partially gummed up. My neighbor and his 90 Camaro needed a total engine rebuild at 90,000 because everything was gummed up and oxidized from E10 usage in Alaska and North Dakota. He treats his car like his baby and takes very good care of it so maintenance is not an issue in most cases.

RE: Ethanol sucks
By FITCamaro on 12/8/2008 3:26:02 PM , Rating: 2
I'm not advocating E10. I'm just saying that personally, my vehicles haven't seen really any loss of mileage vs. EPA(in many cases I've gotten better but that's from how I drive). Or just over the years in general. I'd obviously prefer it to be gone but just haven't seen a problem.

TBI F-bodies sucked because they were dogs. The intake didn't flow at all. Putting a carb on a TBI engine gave a nice bump in horsepower and torque because of how restrictive the intake was. It was even worse than TPI in terms of flow. At least with TPI you got massive low end torque. TBI sucked across the entire rpm range. Not sure which was worse, TBI or CFI.

RE: Ethanol sucks
By Maroon on 12/8/2008 11:24:12 AM , Rating: 2
Yep, since E10 started being used here in the Mid-south. My mileage has dropped about 10%. I commute 600 miles a week in my 2004 VW Passat 1.8T and I used to get 32 mpg constantly, now thanks to E10 the best I can get is 29 mpg. I maintain my car religously so it can't be blamed on that.

E10 sucks.

RE: Ethanol sucks
By foolsgambit11 on 12/8/2008 7:22:36 PM , Rating: 2
So in other words, you're telling me that, essentially, the ethanol may as well be water (well, water would do more damage to the engine). That you get 10% worse mileage when there's 10% less gasoline in the tank. Interesting. Tests show that fuel efficiency should only be down about 4% with E10.

RE: Ethanol sucks
By Maroon on 12/8/2008 10:54:59 PM , Rating: 2
I'm sure those tests are averaged from many different vehicles. Some may do better than 4%, some may do worse. For whatever reason my car just doesn't like the stuff. My FNL has a 10 year old GMC Suburban and he says his mileage is the same. Go Figure.

Just a thought
By Dharl on 12/8/2008 11:34:17 AM , Rating: 2
I'm just going to throw something out there because I never see anyone bring this up when speaking of E85... so please by all means correct me if I'm wrong...

In order to produce E85 ethanol don't you have to cause the corn to go through a fermentation process? Fermentation produces a large amount of Carbon Dioxide. Doesn't this kind of defeat the sole purpose that people want this type of fuel made for?

How do they counter act this production of CO2.

Then you read an article like this where it is affecting the carbon in the ground due to tilling. Interesting research.

Of course I'm one who doesn't believe in global warming/climate change. Earth's just in it's natural cycle. So there my bias out of the way.

Heh, Just tell all the environmentalist out there to stop drinking alcoholic beverages and 'global warming' will be resolved.

RE: Just a thought
By Master Kenobi on 12/8/2008 1:48:32 PM , Rating: 2
Ethanol for lack of better comparison is essentially Moonshine. So yes, fermentation is part of the process.

RE: Just a thought
By BikeDude on 12/8/2008 5:15:50 PM , Rating: 2
Fermentation produces a large amount of Carbon Dioxide.

But how much CO2 is produced if you let the corn rot on the ground? (or by digested by an animal?)

You have to offset those numbers by the amount of CO2 the plant consumes during photosynthesis.

RE: Just a thought
By ebakke on 12/8/2008 5:33:47 PM , Rating: 2
But how much CO2 is produced if you let the corn rot on the ground? (or by digested by an animal?)
More than if you don't grow it in the first place?

It has been debunked...
By RoberTx on 12/8/2008 8:35:03 PM , Rating: 2
Global climate change (formerly known as global warming) has been debunked as junk science as far as I'm concerned.

RE: It has been debunked...
By Motoman on 12/9/2008 9:23:46 AM , Rating: 2 other news, the sun revolves around the Earth, and the Earth isn't's burrito-shaped!

RE: It has been debunked...
By RoberTx on 12/10/2008 2:26:01 PM , Rating: 2
Alcohol ....
By RoberTx on 12/11/2008 1:53:47 PM , Rating: 2
Henry Ford wanted to use alcohol as a fuel and use hemp ( marijuana ) as the source. I have often wondered what else Henry wanted to do with the "source". If they made fuel out of marijuana would you work at the refinery for a jug and a joint a day?

RE: Alcohol ....
By RoberTx on 12/11/2008 1:57:09 PM , Rating: 2
By the way, during the Great Depression dock workers in New Orleans were paid with alcohol, marijuana, and potatoes in lieu of cash at times.

RE: Alcohol ....
By RoberTx on 12/11/2008 2:01:02 PM , Rating: 2
And no I don't smoke pot. 30 years of smoking cigarettes have made it almost impossible to inhale anything but air. If you smoke ciggies give it up now.

By menace on 12/8/2008 10:25:03 AM , Rating: 5

sorry I'll get in trouble looking at porn at work

By joeld on 12/8/2008 9:06:33 AM , Rating: 4
I should be researching this more -- I had no idea 20% of US corn production was reserved for Ethanol.

sky rocketing corn prices
By Dreifort on 12/8/2008 12:00:56 PM , Rating: 3
Ok, first there was the big boom in the corn/biofuel market. So naturally, speculators drove the price of corn through the roof (just as they did with oil). Hedge investors said - corn is the next hot item, so the price jumped up. These same guys will now see corn like they saw oil (over the summer) - a rare commodity as production was low and gloom & doom oil-won't-be-around-forever-talk.

So first, investors drove the price of corn up because of demand and few resources committed to developing corn ethanol. Supply & demand. Now with news that corn is "bad for the environment".... these same investors will see the gloom & doom with corn and see the corn-is-bad-for-the-earth-talk. This means less corn (due to over regulation and worries of a corn killed earth). So now corn prices will soar -- again.

Damn can of corn use to be $0.29...then jumped to $1.99...what's next $10 for a can of corn?

What happened to normal inflation of an annual average rate of 4% over the previous 20 years? hmmmm...

The problem is the media got more involved. Now it's "Corn! Bad for you, bad for your kids...and bad for the earth! News at 11."

The media has played a huge part in driving prices up and down and overplaying environmental issues. Guess that's what happened when Ted Turner initiated the 24/7 cable news coverage. ***-hole. News channels have too much time on their hands and overkill every story.

There are real issues with carbon deposits and hurricanes shutting down oil refineries for... 4 days (OMG! the horror!). But we consumers pay the price in the end when the media influences the markets which in turn influence the prices we pay at the pump or grocery or anywhere.

I blame Ted Turner for all this.

RE: sky rocketing corn prices
By FITCamaro on 12/8/2008 12:11:34 PM , Rating: 1
Agreed. The media is largely responsible for wild price swings we've seen in the past several years. I wish they'd just shut the f*ck up and let people formulate an opinion on their own. Part of why I never watch the news anymore.

So the moral is, don't go off half-cocked, again.
By rcc on 12/8/2008 1:29:28 PM , Rating: 2
It really doesn't matter what your stance is on biofuels, or GW, etc. If you accept the data presented in the article, it's a an excellent example of the reasons to think before acting.

The entire biofuel industry has apparently blitzed off in the wrong direction, and only now years later is it figuring out what may be the correct path. In the meantime, they've driven up food prices and limited the stocks available for humanitarian efforts, to the point where they got themselves labeled as a "Crime against Humanity".

First, ask the question.... does this make sense. Then ramp into full scale production. If the answer is no, keep it small and figure out the right way.

By FITCamaro on 12/8/2008 4:33:37 PM , Rating: 2
to the point where they got themselves labeled as a "Crime against Humanity".

No the same liberal environmentalists who caused the ethanol blitz were also the first to point the finger at the oil companies as prices on goods rose as refineries had to retool and spend money to coincide with mandates that so much ethanol be mixed into gas(in addition to rising global demand and speculation). So those who caused the problem were never blamed for it.

I have a better idea...
By Yaron on 12/8/2008 5:05:52 PM , Rating: 2
Let's take all those so called scientists, put them in a corn field, pour a lot of bio fuel on them and throw a match. It will be interesting to measure the effect it will have on global warming. It will definitely cool me down though ;)

Every week, they come up with a new "study". The whole thing is a farce.
Bunch of liars with financial interests, they are no better than the oil industry.

RE: I have a better idea...
By RoberTx on 12/8/2008 8:37:18 PM , Rating: 2
"Every week, they come up with a new "study"...I think it has accelerated to every day.

By owyheewine on 12/8/2008 9:44:05 AM , Rating: 1
Cellulosic ethanol is just another boondoggle. Let's just develop our fossil fuel resources to keep energy cheap and plentiful. Suddenly "global warming" has disappeared as an issue. Even Al Gore, the most vocal science illiterate, has quit talking about it. He is working to promote government spending on this kind of waste. If it can be produced economically, then great. If it requires subsidy, it should be discarded.

RE: Ethanol
By mmntech on 12/8/2008 10:27:59 AM , Rating: 2
Much of the core foundations on which the "concensus" was built on have largely been discredited at this point, and roughly 60% of people (in the UK anyway) don't think mankind is having much of an effect on climate, for good or ill. Talking about climate change, carbon taxes, and more money to fight global warming right now in an economic crisis is vary unkosher. It's also been an unseasonably cold fall in much of the northern hemisphere. They'll be back though as soon as the first summer heat wave hits.

I have no problems with developing alternative fuels, I just feel its dishonest to keep linking them to climate change. It's a cheap tactic to get more research funding. We should be looking into them anyway since oil is a finite resource and the long term price trend for it is still rising. I also don't like the idea of converting food crops for fuel since it can artificially spike global food prices, as what happened earlier this year. (or at least that was part of the problem)

Oh gosh
By DeltaZero on 12/8/2008 9:44:02 AM , Rating: 2
So what, we are not allowed to plow anymore now? I suggest we just lay down and die to increase the soil carbon.

no till corn
By mongoosesRawesome on 12/8/2008 9:57:04 AM , Rating: 2
What about no till corn? It could be used for food or ethanol as demand dictates and would leave more carbon in the soil. In MD, most the corn planted is no till.

No one
By tarpon on 12/8/2008 11:41:30 AM , Rating: 2
Wants to talk about the AGW hoax being phony anymore.

Not to worry, if the current solar trend continues, it will soon be so cold, that Al Gore will be the only person left on the planet who believes AGW exists.

If alcohol is so good for vehicle fuel, it would have not been abandoned when the car was invented -- And yes, you would be able to buy it on every street corner cheaper than gasoline. So how are they going to sell their $3.99 a gallon ethanol in a $1.99 a gallon gasoline world.

Great, but...
By Motoman on 12/8/2008 12:49:59 PM , Rating: 2 position on biofuels has always been based on the need to firstly, create a positive energy transaction (in other words, a gallon of <x> you get out of the process needs to provide more energy than it took to produce), and secondly, not require a dedicated crop.

While I applaud this improvement of going from corn to grass, this is still a dedicated crop. Why is that bad? Here's a couple ways...

1. It uses up arable farmland that should be used for food production (we already don't grow enough food to feed the world). This decreases the available food and increases the cost of available food.

2. It promotes clearcutting of more land, say from forests/rainforests, and that is clearly a very bad idea.

I'd like to see them develop a viable process for ditchweed, or corn stalks, or some other by-product that we currently don't use but already have. That would be the holy grail.

By RU482 on 12/8/2008 5:30:27 PM , Rating: 2
When comparing Gasoline to E10 or E85 (or diesel, for that matter) the "cost per mile" must be caluclulated.

When the price of gas was ~$3.50, and E10 was only 0.10 cheaper, it was more expensive to use E10. Now that the price has come down, E10 is competitive again.

Things to keep in mind

Ethanol Production
By JonIscream on 12/9/2008 9:23:42 AM , Rating: 2
Ok all of you tree hugging, rocket scientists - How many gallons of water does it take to make a gallon of ethanol? (over 1000). If you have all the money in the world and I have the last glass of water, you can't afford a glass of water. If you want to freeze to death in the dark, that is your business. Don't cause a global drought with your ignorance.

Random Observations:
By Kary on 12/9/2008 12:16:37 PM , Rating: 2
Did everyone miss this:
"Furthermore, these sources have more carbon density than corn, so once cost-efficient ways are created to process them , cellulosic ethanol should require much less land to produce than corn ethanol."
It's not cost-efficient to make fuel from grass/waste wood/... yet. How would using something that's going to cost MORE to produce helping anything? (Ok, smaller carbon foot print...I remember my grandmother's greenhouse..forgive me if I have trouble pretending to be afraid of a "make plants grow better for more of the growing season" effect)

Corn, when used to make fuel has FOOD as a WASTE PRODUCT (even if it is just high grade animal food). Yes, I read the comment about corn fed beef being less nutritious.. I'll take less nutritious steaks for $2.87/lb vs $4.95/lb steaks with 1.5x the nutrition, thank you very much (Chuck Steak, for those wondering about the $2.87)

What would be the byproduct of using grass to make fuel...I'm guessing not something edible? Ideally I'm thinking it would be turned 100% into fuel. When they say corn has a higher carbon footprint, are they adding up it's footprint just for fuel production, or do they take into account that the animal feed would be produced with or without the ethanol production?

Corn subsidies have to be the greatest nuclear deterrent EVER. Can you really afford to nuke the country that provides you with food (because it costs less to buy from the US than to raise your own food). Why pay to build nukes and look like a villain with the whole arms race thing when you can feed the world and have your enemies face starvation in retaliation for attacking you (or just ticking you off)? This isn't mentioning lowering our own food prices or keeping us from being dependent on foreign powers for food.

the scientific facts....hahahahaha
By RoberTx on 12/10/2008 2:24:28 PM , Rating: 2
This is too good to pass up. The first link is from a report about how global warming is proven beyond a doubt. The second is about how global warming is not proven at all.

Ethanol schmethanol
By Massivegasburner on 12/10/2008 4:40:43 PM , Rating: 2
Here we go, from the same egg-heads who promoted corn based ethanol ten years that isn't good enough...oooh nooo, it pollewtes tew much, they say.

Any damnfool coulda told ya that if it takes a gallon of diesel to produce a gallon of ethanol, it's gonna end up being a negative event.

And, if all these alternatives were so darned hot, why haven't they come up with the "bugs" needed to make cellulosic ethanol. Better yet, lets get cellulosic Butanol going so it can replace gasoline 1:1 without retuning the engine. (It also doesn't draw water like methanol & ethanol.)

Do that and you'll deserve some praise.

Otherwise shut the **** up.

By Lord 666 on 12/8/2008 9:18:23 AM , Rating: 1
When will ethanol just finally run its course and die?

Keep focused
By Mitch101 on 12/8/08, Rating: -1
RE: Keep focused
By therealnickdanger on 12/8/2008 9:35:34 AM , Rating: 5
I really wish my car ran on E85 so I would pay $3.90/g instead of $4.00/g. I would also enjoy getting worse fuel economy while also paying more in taxes to cover the subsidies that make E85 "cheaper" than gasoline. Oh yeah, let's not forget paying more for all my food due to rising corn prices, I really like that part the most. Yup, I love me some alternative fuels.


RE: Keep focused
By BansheeX on 12/8/08, Rating: 0
RE: Keep focused
By Chadder007 on 12/8/2008 11:19:31 AM , Rating: 1
Agreed, and OPEC just agreed to a massive cut in Oil production. I guess they couldn't afford those extra 20 gold plated Bentley's this Christmas for the kids.

RE: Keep focused
By BansheeX on 12/8/2008 2:03:15 PM , Rating: 2
Even if OPEC didn't cut production, we have a general problem where major oil fields responsible for the bulk of production are drying up AS world demand for oil increases. There haven't been any new discoveries sufficient to meet that new demand. If supply expansion peaks, but demand outpaces it, the price trend has to stay up. Add unprecedented domestic money supply increases, and that spells worse news for us. If the dollar loses its reserve status, its all over, we can't export our inflation anymore and it all comes home to roost. Just a few years ago, oil was $20 a barrel and gold was $275. It is currently much higher than that and poised to liftoff again in dollar terms after these hedge funds stop imploding. The Fed is the only one left willing to buy up government debt (bonds) at these interest rates. The money they create to do so is backed by no new labor or product, unlike foreign savings that was part of the mixture before. That usually precedes a hyperinflationary spell, we're certainly not the first ones to have tried paying off our debt with a printing press.

RE: Keep focused
By Spuke on 12/8/2008 2:48:52 PM , Rating: 2
If the dollar loses its reserve status, its all over
Yep, I just bought three 30k gallon propane tanks, a huge pellet boiler, a 15kW solar system, and a 10kW propane generator. We've been buying extra food and supplies for the past 3 years. When things implode, we'll be ready to weather the storm for quite a few years.

RE: Keep focused
By Ringold on 12/8/2008 8:44:02 PM , Rating: 2
The Fed is the only one left willing to buy up government debt (bonds) at these interest rates.

.. eh? The funds rate has been trading way below the target rate for quite a while now. The fed is buying a bunch of crap, but treasuries on the open market? No, I think thats genuine demand by genuine people who can't seem to find anything better to do with their money. With all other asset classes collapsing, they'd rather practically pay the government to hold their money for them in short term instruments than risk it elsewhere.

You'll be right about some of that in another year or two, when the velocity of money picks back, but not yet. The bonds might go back to sane yields just as soon as the equity markets stop declining.

I still maintain that oil was supply and demand driven earlier this year at the peak just as it is now. Demand collapsed, and so has the price. It can't fall too much lower, because huge portions of the worlds oil fields has costs right about where it is now, and crack spreads for refineries are negative. Not sure what any of that has to do with inflation; just dwindling oil reserves and increasing costs at tapping new ones. Gold is also interesting as a proxy for many things, but it's also unreliable; it has every reason to be going up, but fails to do so. The long bond and long corporate bonds could be used to look ahead at inflation expectations, but they're also not showing anything too scary. That doesn't mean inflation wont shoot up (I think, like you, that it will), but Volcker put us in a recession last time to slay the beast.. maybe the old man can talk Obama in to doing it again if necessary. Either way, I don't see how we could speak with such certainty about it yet, things are too unclear as yet. For now, we're deflating.

RE: Keep focused
By BansheeX on 12/9/2008 11:22:45 PM , Rating: 2
Few people could explain market behavior as being rational right now, in any sense. I don't define deflation/inflation as prices, but money supply decreases/increases. I see falling prices from deleveraging, not deflation. I also think there is a lag effect to the inflation being created now, it simply hasn't gotten into the system yet, but it's there. Once it does, I expect stocks to soar nominally, commodities to outpace them, and the dollar to drop like a stone.

You mention demand destruction in oil. I haven't seen any of that personally. I see the same amount of traffic, I buy with the same regularity. I just think the paper futures market was a bubble. I don't blame the speculators, I blame the fact that they had all that funny money to pump into it. That's what people don't realize, inflation can go anywhere. Stock prices, home prices, assets, goods, bonds. It's a very confusing variable to have running amok. That the Fed doesn't include all consumer prices in the consumer price index makes people oblivious. Nobody complained on the way up, they only thought it was bad on the way down. But going down is the symptom, the abnormal rise that preceded it was the problem. No different from drug high and withdrawal.

RE: Keep focused
By GlassHouse69 on 12/8/2008 11:07:04 AM , Rating: 2
exactly what I was thinking

RE: Keep focused
By abzillah1 on 12/8/2008 11:07:49 AM , Rating: 2
I work for a cellulosic ethanol research biotech, and I think the main reason why prices are high is due to paying us researchers. Also, cellulosic ethanol does not use corn or food products, but uses wood chips, grasses or any part of a plant. The prices of E85 will drop after enough research has been done, and the infrastructure is built. I know you were trying to be sarcastic, but I don't see any sarcasm in your statements.

RE: Keep focused
By FITCamaro on 12/8/2008 12:09:09 PM , Rating: 2
Go work for a company trying to make gas from algae and we'll like you better.

RE: Keep focused
By Yawgm0th on 12/8/2008 2:16:51 PM , Rating: 2
I agree with the point of your sarcasm, but I want to point out that the price of corn should not be a concern for anyone in the States. The only meal I personally eat that ends up being cheaper than regular corn on the cob is Ramen noodles. Almost all corn-based products are equally cheap. You need to be living on minimum wage to really be affected by the price of corn. If you live in a third-world country and rely on foreign aid to survive, then the price of food in other countries is the least of your concerns.

Furthering that, there's the fallacy that biofuels in general lead to starvation because they increase the price of food. People starve for political and agricultural reasons, not economic ones.

The problem here is American agriculture, which has too much supply, and not enough demand. Ethanol mandates are one of many ways the government artificially increases that demand to keep the farmers working. We have a heavily subsidized agricultural industry for the purpose of giving more food than we need at lower prices than we need.

Getting back on topic, it's well-proven that corn ethanol has no positive impact on the cost of gas and results in a negative return on investment for the taxpayer. As far as environmental concerns go, using any form of ethanol-based fuel is never going to have a significant impact on C02 emissions. It does take oil to make and transport the materials for ethanol production and the ethanol itself. Is is an amazing breakthrough that magically fuels itself, in which fuel is created using less fuel than it takes to create?

It's nice to see improvements in the field; better is still better, but I wish we could put our focus in an area more likely to actually help us.

RE: Keep focused
By austinag on 12/8/2008 10:16:18 AM , Rating: 2
Agreed. We need alternatives to keep prices for all fuel sources competative.

RE: Keep focused
By acer905 on 12/8/2008 10:50:49 AM , Rating: 2
I would laugh at anyone who buys E85 from the station by my house. Regular gas - 1.45, E85 - 1.69. 16% more costly for 15%(min) less fuel economy...

RE: Keep focused
By Ray 69 on 12/8/2008 2:31:55 PM , Rating: 2
Problem is that with the price/gal at the pump under $2, the driving force behind alt fuels just lessened. People won't want a new fuel that costs twice as much as a gallon of gasoline or fuel oil. During the fuel crunch back in the 70's we started to seriously talk about drilling for our own oil. OPEC found out and dropped their price/barrel so low that it would cost us more to drill our own than buy from them. You guessed it, their oil cheaper then so we didn't drill our own. Their oil cheaper now so our efforts to find alternatives will, unfortunately, probably slow down tremendously or grind to a halt altogether.

RE: Keep focused
By FITCamaro on 12/8/2008 4:37:11 PM , Rating: 3
With oil back to as cheap as it is, once again Democrats will get their way with blocking drilling. At least until the prices go back up. Then we'll have to fight the same retarded "it takes 10 years" argument all over again.

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