Sunday, February 3, 2008

Full Tank, Empty Fridge

In the Fall/Winter 2007 issue of the McCombs School of Business Magazine (TEXAS), the article “Alum Fuels the Debate on Ethanol” describes Karl Doenges opinions on ethanol. As President of CleanFUEL Distribution, Doenges claims that “Ethanol has and will continue to have a positive impact on our economy and on our national security. It is better for the environment than using petroleum based products.” The article by Ashley Warren implies that ethanol is cheaper and more efficient than gasoline. Doenges seems mainly concerned with convincing people that ethanol will not harm their engines and that flex-fuel vehicles are the way to go in the long run.

Warren never addresses the entire energy picture in the article, and she never mentions that coal plants are needed for the process of turning corn into ethanol. In fact, corn is not mentioned at all. Not one word. But, as we all know, if she is talking about ethanol in the US (which she is), she is referring to corn as its source. Warren doesn’t mention the food shortages and increasing prices that ethanol inflicts, nor its true environmental impacts, such as increased pollution from the additional fertilizer and pesticides used and the loss of high quality topsoil, necessary for growing crops. According to the August 17, 2007 Science issue, substituting just 10% of US fuel needs with biofuels would require 43% of US cropland. The tax breaks, tariff protection, and mandates that make it possible for farmers and producers to reap profits from ethanol are also omitted. As far as energy content, ethanol lags behind gasoline, only driving a car 2/3 as far. Shockingly, filling a 25 gallon tank with pure ethanol would require more than 450 pounds of corn, enough to feed a human for a year (Johnson, Runge 2007). Overall, ethanol from corn is a net energy loser and hopes of it being even a part of our solution to our energy problem should be abandoned immediately because what’s the point in having a full tank of ethanol and an empty refrigerator?

Works Cited:
Johnson & Runge; “Ethanol: Train Wreck Ahead?”; Perspectives. Fall 2007.

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