Ethanol Fuel Barely a Couple

In addition, large quantities of natural gas are required to produce fertilizers which are needed for growing corn. It is estimated that an average of 135 pounds of nitrogen (a potent-greenhouse-gas) per acre is used in growing corn in most U.S. farms. Besides, research by the U.S. Department for Agriculture (USDA) shows that tilled soil releases carbon dioxide gas into the atmosphere in proportion to the volume of soil loosened (Kenny).

Most of all, it is erroneous to assume that ethanol is likely to reduce Americas dependence on foreign oil. It has been estimated that the current ethanol production in the United States that has triggered such massive increase in grain and food prices around the world barely satisfies less than 3% of U.S. gasoline needs; and if the entire U.S. grain harvest were converted into ethanol, it would satisfy scarcely 18% of the countrys automotive fuel need (Brown.). Furthermore, even if the highly ambitious target of producing 36 billion gallons envisaged by the Renewable Fuels Standard (RSA) law signed into law by President Bush in 2007 is achieved by 2022, it would scarcely replace a paltry 1.5 million barrels of oil per day, which is just seven percent of current U.S. oil needs. It is, therefore, pertinent to ask whether the effort to produce ethanol from corn is at all worthwhile? It certainly does not seem so when we consider the World Banks estimate that “the grain required to fill the tank of a sport utility vehicle (SUV) with ethanol…could feed one person for a year.” (“World Development Report” 71)


As we saw in this essay, bio-ethanol, especially the type produced from corn in the United States, is not such a good idea as was assumed just a few years ago. The several fold increase in its production over the last two years has triggered an unprecedented hike in global food prices that threatens the poorest sections of the third world with the clear and present danger of hunger. The indirect effects of converting corn into ethanol have also eroded the apparent environment friendliness of such fuel. In short, producing corn-based ethanol is simply not worth the human suffering and environmental damage it can cause.

Works Cited

Brown, Lester R. “Why Ethanol Production Will Drive World Food Prices Even Higher in 2008.” Earth Policy Institute. January 24, 2008. May 30, 2008.

Carter, Colin a. And Henry I. Miller. “Hidden Costs of Corn-Based Ethanol.” Christian Science Monitor. May 21, 2007. May 30, 2008.

Corn…Fuel…Fire!” Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. December 17, 2007. May 30, 2008. http://www.

Flavin, Christopher. “Biofuels 2.0: Its Time for Congress to Act.” World Watch.

May 12, 2008. May

Hur, Jae. “Corn Heads for First Monthly Drop Since August; Soybeans Fall.”

May 30, 2008. May

Jeff Goodell. “The Ethanol Scam: One of Americas Biggest Political Boondoggles.” Rolling Stone. August 9, 2007. May

Kenny, Alice. “The Tricky Question of Bio Fuels.” Ecosystem Marketplace. 2007. May

Phillips, Tom. “Fears for Amazon rainforest as Brazils environment minister resigns.” Guardian. May 14, 2008. May

Rosenwald, Michael S. “The Rising Tide of Corn: Ethanol-Driven Demand Felt Across the Market” Washington Post. June 15, 2007: Page D01.

World Development Report 2008: Agriculture for Development.” The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development / the World Bank, Washington DC. 2007

World Grain Consumption and Stocks, 1960-2007.” Compiled by Earth Policy Institute from U.S. Department of Agriculture, electronic database. January 11, 2008. May

The Renewable Fuels Standard (RSA) signed into law by President Bush in December 2007, requires that biofuels production to be raised to 36 billion gallons in 2022.

It is recognized that bio-fuel is not the only reason for the increase in food price; other factors such as rising demand for food in rapidly advancing countries such as China and drought in major food producing areas such as Australia have also contributed.

Although most grain prices have come off their all-time highs but are still under pressure (Hur)

The increase in grain price on previous occasions was not as dramatic as it is this time around the World Bank reports that for each 1% rise in food prices, caloric intake among the poor drops 0.5% (Quoted by Brown).

According to the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, U.S. corn production rose 19% while soy farming fell by 15% in 2007 alone (“Corn, Fuel, Fire”)

Apart from the greater calorific value of sugar-cane-based ethanol as compared to corn-based ethanol, Brazil enjoys significant comparative advantage over the U.S.-produced ethanol, including ample agricultural land, warm climate, and on-site distilleries that can process cane immediately after harvest (Carter and Miller)

It is not possible to use pure ethanol as fuel in car engines; hence 85% ethanol is blended with 15% gasoline to make it usable in existing engines.


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