The Problem With Biofuels

 

This article was first published on Yahoo.com

 

 

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In recent years ethanol blends and other biofuels made from corn have made huge inroads into U.S. energy markets. But just how eco-friendly is corn-based ethanol? The costs associated with this not so green form of energy far outweigh the benefits. The rapid increase in corn production for ethanol has caused corn prices to skyrocket, added to the national debt and actually increased our carbon footprint.

 

A one-way flight from N.Y. to London would require a year's worth of corn from 30 football fields.


It takes approximately 129 gallons of fossil fuel to produce 100 gallons of ethanol.


How much oil does it take to make ethanol from corn?


A 2008 Royal Society of Chemistry study used an interesting analogy to express some of these costs. They found that a single one-way flight from New York to London would require a year's worth of corn from 30 football fields. Under current technology it takes approximately 129 gallons of fossil fuel to produce 100 gallons of ethanol. The expectation is that the technology will improve and this ratio will decrease in the future. For the time being, however, corn does not appear to be a very sustainable source of green energy. It is not a very renewable form of energy either, since farms lands once used to grow food are being overtaken by corn crops destined for biofuel production—a phenomenon that is making arable land in the U.S. even more rare. And, in addition to the vast amounts of water it takes to grow a sugar-rich crop like corn, converting it to ethanol requires a great deal of water as well.


How much are does the government pay farmers to grow corn for ethanol?


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Another high cost associated with biofuels made from corn is government subsidies. In recent years U.S. government subsidies to fund corn production for biofuels have topped seven billion dollars annually. Aside from those direct subsidies, a number of farmers are paid merely for maintaining agriculturally viable land—whether they grow anything on it or not. That's right. Many farmers receive government subsidies for farm land that they don't grow anything on.

 

Why have global food prices risen in recent years?

 

A more obvious cost of using corn to produce ethanol is the effect it has on corn prices for human consumption. Corn prices have skyrocketed in recent years, from under $100 a ton in 2005 to a record high of over $300 in 2011. That's an increase of over 200% in just over five years, compared to an annual inflation average of around 3% over the same period. Although there are a number of factors contributing to this increase, biofuels are often cited as one of the chief culprits. This places a great deal of stress on U.S. food prices, where products made from corn are abundant. But it places even more pressure on developing countries, where corn is a staple part of many people's diets.