How ingrained have we a society been with the idea that going ethanol is going green? We’re in pretty deep. Too deep. I used to be a supporter of ethanol, but having learned myself, I realized ethanol is not that great, and I’ll tell you why in a moment.
First, the government’s national commission on energy policy is calling for a 400% increase in the use of biofuels (see: corn ethanol [see: US farmer lobbyists]) by 2022. Flex fuel cars are in full production (mostly huge, gas-guzzling trucks and SUVs from what I can see) and there is an ethanol pump at almost every gas station in this town. Fuel runs about 30¢ cheaper than the regular stuff (but…subsidies make it this cheap).
As for the carbon output of ethanol, it’s supposedly “carbon neutral”, meaning that because it’s renewable, the carbon it outputs will be sucked right back up by the corn we’re growing to make more ethanol, a fine and dandy circular method, if not for some pesky details we’ll get to below.
In Minnesota, there are 14 ethanol plants and 20% of the corn production goes to ethanol production. MN is one of three states required to blend ethanol with gas (Hawaii and Missouri being the other two). In 2005, the E-20 bill passed, which mandates by 2013 a mix of 20% ethanol in all gasoline sold in the state. This is set to expire at the end of this year if “Minnesota is not granted federal approval to use E-20 gasoline blends”. This in turn will pump money into the local economy and provide new jobs, etc. etc.
Which would be great if MN was sitting on an unending supply of freshwater. …
Because one gallon of ethanol requires 1700 gallons of water to produce.
1700 gallons of water.
For one gallon of ethanol.
Potable water isn’t endless. And it’s one thing everybody cares about. Everybody on this planet needs water to survive. And we’re pissing away 1700 gallons of it to make 1 gallon of ethanol? And this is GREEN?
Not to mention the carbon spewed out when we grow corn and during the production of ethanol, the pesticides, and the fact that rainforests are destroyed to grown corn (well, not in MN). There are the production pollutants of drilling for oil and the production, but there is still that PESKY water issue. Estimated water used per gallon of gasoline? 1.5-2.5.
Add in the fact that corn ethanol is not that great of a fuel, as it provides 34% less energy than oil-based gas. Flex-fuel cars are tuned to give better power and torque output (why can’t we do this for REAGULAR cars?) and so you get between 20-30% less fuel efficiency than oil-based gas. Hmmm. does the price difference make up for the miles you’re losing? Based on the $2.60 gas and $2.30 e85 in this locale, nope. E85 would need to be $2.08 at most. And given that ethanol would be MORE than your regular gas without subsidies, ethanol seems to be a losing battle.
Except if we could grow sugarcane (which we really can’t on a large scale). In Brazil, sugarcane ethanol is a thriving industry, but the difference is that sugarcane gets more than 50% more ethanol out of an acre of land than corn. Also, sugarcane is 5-6 times more efficient as a biofuel than corn. Corn is not a good biofuel. But corn is this country’s cash crop.
So now you’re all thinking I’m turning into a carbon-spewing, gas-loving, SUV-driving hypocrite. NO. We need an alternative, desperately. But guess what? Corn isn’t it. There have to be other alternatives out there that are more efficient, wreak less havoc on the environment while making it, and use LESS THAN 1700 GALLONS OF WATER while producing a gallon. Heck, there ARE better alternatives (sugarcane). But since corn has a stronghold on this country, we’re not going to be on friendly terms with Brazil on that anytime soon. Yes, oil is limited, and we need renewable energy sources, but not at the cost of our water supply.