Ethanol Production Used More Corn than Farmers in Past Year
October 13, 2011 1:01 PM
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Much of the ethanol produced from the corn was exported overseas
When it comes to removing our dependence on foreign oil there are other options than using electricity or hydrogen to power cars. One of the options is using
to replace some of the petroleum used in our gasoline. The big downside is that most of the ethanol produced in the U.S. today is made from corn.
Corn is an important food crop that is consumed by humans and used as feed for livestock and other animals. Scientific America reports that for every ten ears of corn grown in the U.S. today, only two are consumed by humans as food. The other ears are used for animal feed and ethanol production.
The numbers show that for the year spanning August 2010 to August 2011 the biofuel industry used more corn than farmers used for animal feed and residual demand. This is the first time more corn has been used for ethanol and shows a shifting balance that could spell trouble in the future. Over that year span, farmers used 5 billion bushels of corn and ethanol production used 5.05 billion bushels. Some of that corn did return to the food supply as animal feed and corn oil.
The fear is that the shift from food being the largest use for corn and fuel taking the top spot is a concern that could have significant impact on the world grain market. One of the reasons for the shift to ethanol use for corn is the government subsidies and the import tariffs on foreign ethanol.
Steven Rattner said in a piece written for the
, “Because of the subsidy, ethanol became cheaper than gasoline, and so we sent 397 million gallons of ethanol overseas last year. America is simultaneously importing costly foreign oil and subsidizing the export of its equivalent.”
That means much of the corn being used for fuel isn't making it into American fuel tanks so we still have to import more foreign oil to meet our fuel needs. Some in Congress are working hard to get the subsidies repealed and to lift the import tariff so that cheaper biofuels made from sugarcane can be imported from Brazil. There is also a lot of research going into making ethanol from other crops like
Rattner also wrote, "Even farm advocates like former Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman agree that the [ethanol] situation must be fixed. Reports filtering out of the budget talks currently under way suggest that agriculture subsidies sit prominently on the chopping block. The time is ripe."
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Ethanol is awesome. Ethanol politics are a freaking mess.
10/15/2011 6:25:02 PM
Ethanol is so promising for the US in the long term (economy-wise). Not corn ethanol, I think all foodcrop --> ethanol production is a stepping stone to a more viable process that would essentially be more of a bio-solar process.
But the politics surrounding ethanol are a complete joke and hinder efforts to ever progress beyond food --> ethanol. It doesn't take a genius to see that food + water + some energy --> slightly more energy is not necessarily a good long term formula for a world that has huger issues throughout the world. When the rich have the option of burning food for cheap, it really hinders efforts to feed the starving. Foor --> ethanol is a good middle ground to get our feet wet with and learn about how to optimize engines around ethanol, etc... But we need to be thinking longer term.
We are at the point where if we don't just wipe all the ethanol related legislation off the books and start over, we are pretty much never going to see the scientific community and energy companies put forth the effort needed to bio-engineer a truly long term viable ethanol production process.
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