Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Popping the Ethanol Bubble

A couple of Polytechnic University (NY) professors put a pin in the rapidly expanding ethanol bubble, concluding that we could never make enough of the stuff to make a difference:
...Thus the entire U.S. corn crop would supply only 3.7 percent of our auto and truck transport demands. Using the entire 300 million acres of U.S. cropland for corn-based ethanol production would meet about 15 percent of the demand.
For good measure, they add a moral component to their argument:
Finally, considering projected population growth in the United States and the world, the humanitarian policy would be to maintain cropland for growing food -- not fuel. Every day more than 16,000 children die from hunger-related causes -- one child every five seconds. The situation will only get worse. It would be morally wrong to divert cropland needed for human food supply to powering automobiles. It would also deplete soil fertility and the long-term capability to maintain food production. We would destroy the farmland that our grandchildren and their grandchildren will need to live.
These arguments from general energy principles would seem to dominate over enthusiasm for ethanol, as was highlighted in today's Boston Globe. Although this article primarily discussed cellulosic ethanol, not corn ethanol.

1 comment:

charles said...


I think you have presented a balanced picture. Ethanol should certainly be allowed to support some portion of our energy needs - as should solar/wind - but none of these can reasonably be expected to replace FFs - certainly not anytime soon. We don't use FFs because of some sinister plot by oil interests. We use FFs because they have (at least until recently) been the lowest cost and least damaging to the environment. Whether or not the environmental/political cost now justifies much more expensive altervatives is at the root of the debate.

I personally like nuclear/solar combined with "plugable" hybrids to meet most of the transportation demand.