Ethanol has long been promoted (especially by farm state Senators) as a solution to greenhouse gas emissions. In 2005, Congress passed the Renewable Fuel Standard, which mandated that 7.5 billion gallons of renewable fuel be blended into gasoline by 2012. Two years later it increased this amount to 36 billion gallons by 2022. Ethanol – the most common alternative fuel – is now blended into 70% of the nation’s gas.
So what’s the benefit? The U.S. Department of Energy says that ethanol production and use will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 52%, compared to gasoline production and use.
But the list of ethanol cons – or “corns,” if you will – is lengthy. It includes:
– Ethanol is harming the meat, egg and dairy industries by taking up huge amounts of the country’s corn supply (now 40%) thereby driving up the cost of the grain used to feed livestock, and in turn upping the cost of commodities that come from animals. The end of 2011 saw the end of the government’s $5 billion in annual subsidies to the ethanol industry, but its alternative fuel requirement remains the same, meaning that if corn needs to be rationed, ethanol producers may be exempt from this rationing, putting more of a burden on meat producers, who will have to reduce the amount of animals they raise and slaughter, which will in turn make meat more expensive for consumers.
– Ethanol uses up more energy than it produces. A study out of the University of California Berkley and Cornell University found that producing a liter of ethanol requires 29% more fossil fuel energy than the ethanol energy it produces. And ethanol may not even be more efficient than gasoline. It takes an estimated 2.2 billion gallons in oil equivalents to produce 1.7 billion gallons of ethanol, according to a 2001 article from Cornell University.
– Ethanol production takes up large amounts of land, irrigation water and other resources. It takes 2.69 kg of corn grain to produce 1 liter of ethanol. In 2005, to produce the 10.6 billion gallons of ethanol used in the United States, approximately 1,335,000 acres of land were needed.
– Gas with ethanol is harder on a car’s engine than pure gasoline, and cars that use ethanol mixes are less fuel-efficient.
– For the first time in 40 years, last year the U. S. was no longer the world’s biggest corn exporter, as more and more corn goes to domestic ethanol production.
– There are children starving in Africa – actually. In a world where the food supply is becoming an increasing problem (35% of deaths of children under 5 are due to malnutrition), corn is one of the cereal grains that make up 80 percent of what the world eats, and is therefore essential to combatting global hunger. Reducing corn exports reduces the amount of the grain available to other countries.
Now, a new study by U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, U.S. Meat Animal Research Center has pointed out yet another drawback of an ethanol byproduct, wet distillers grains with solubles (WDGS), could also be harmful to public health.
According to the study, with the catchy title “Impact of Reducing the Level of Wet Distillers Grains Fed to Cattle Prior to Harvest on Prevalence and Levels of Escherichia coli O157:H7 in Feces and on Hides,” found that cattle fed finishing diets with WDGS, as opposed to a predominantly corn diet, have been shown to harbor increased Escherichia coli O157:H7 populations in the feces and on the hides.
The problems with ethanol appear many and the benefits few, and more importantly, it appears to be downright dangerous.