Monday, July 18, 2005

The corn ethanol scam

North American agribusinesses grow massive amounts of corn, based not on any sane economic rationale but on subsidies they extort from governments. Much of that corn is turned into cheap sweeteners, which make their way into the food system and explain much of the North American obesity epidemic. Since there is still too much corn left, they came up with the ethanol scam:

". . . researchers at Cornell University and the University of California-Berkeley say it takes 29 percent more fossil energy to turn corn into ethanol than the amount of fuel the process produces. For switch grass, a warm weather perennial grass found in the Great Plains and eastern North America United States, it takes 45 percent more energy and for wood, 57 percent.

It takes 27 percent more energy to turn soybeans into biodiesel fuel and more than double the energy produced is needed to do the same to sunflower plants, the study found.

'Ethanol production in the United States does not benefit the nation's energy security, its agriculture, the economy, or the environment,' according to the study by Cornell's David Pimentel and Berkeley's Tad Patzek. They conclude the country would be better off investing in solar, wind and hydrogen energy."

There is even a neocon aspect to this (note the name Frank Gaffney), the thinking being that use of ethanol will reduce dependence on Middle Eastern oil and thus remove any political influence that Muslim countries might have on American foreign policy in the Middle East. Fuel from corn is a neocon/agribusiness fraud, and just encourages the agricultural subsidies that are the real reason for much third-world poverty. There is still the possibility that fuel can eventually be produced economically from straw and agricultural waste (cellulose ethanol, the energy for which comes from the plant waste itself), but the research has not yet been done (see here).