Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Cornfields Vs. Oilfields

I received an email this morning guiding me to this infographic <-- you can see it a little larger there.

A few thoughts:
  • Not shown is energy needed to produce corn - in the form of fertilizer, herbicides and pesticides, irrigation, the running of farm equipment, and the management of runoff.
  • Energy is needed to refine corn to produce ethanol, but I guess you'd need to refine oil to produce gasoline too.
  • The corn would probably be genetically engineered, with negative effects to the environment and positive effects to Monsanto.
  • In my mind, Distillers Dried Grains With Solubles (DDGS) should not be fed to livestock.
  • The growing of corn depletes a rapidly dwindling and valuable resource: water.
  • The land upon which the corn grows could be used to feed people, yes. But continuing to burn gasoline spews greenhouse gases which also reduces land to grow food since it contributes to global warming which increases drought and desertification.
  • Why corn? I read that sugarcane is more efficient at producing ethanol than corn. But sugarcane doesn't grow well in the US. And using sugarcane as an ethanol source would just transfer our dependence from oil-producing regions to sugarcane-producing regions. (So is ethanol from corn really about going green? or about protectionism?)
What do you think? Is ethanol from corn a viable alternative to gasoline?


caulfieldkid said...

No way José. Using food for fuel is a really, really bad idea. It's not sustainable and marginally better for the environment, if that (I'm sure some would argue the exact opposite). I can't think of any benefits other than very short term gains in terms of cost and, as you mention, it financially benefits the American farmer.

It doesn't take a genius to look at all the facts and determine the decisions about ethanol production are politically motivated.

Long term, solutions such as using solar power to generate hydrogen production are what make sense. Right now it's not efficient nor do we have the means to distribute or consume such energy, but if you want to invest in the future those are the type of things that need to be developed. Using food for fuel is just foolish and, in my mind, irresponsible.


Bix said...

The more I read about how humans acquire energy, the more I think we should be focusing on things like conservation and recycling.

Here's a great piece by Robert Alvarez on a problem with nuclear fuel generation:

"Unsafe At Any Reactor: U.S. nuclear plants are storing increasing amounts of highly radioactive spent fuel in pools that are vulnerable to accident or attack. New safety policies are needed."