Ethanol is not the answer, report says


Ethanol will not come close to solving climate concerns, energy security issues or dependency on oil, says a new report just released by a group of non profits including The Network for New Energy Choices, Food and Water Watch, and the Vermont Law School.

The report, titled “The Rush to Ethanol: Not all biofuels are created equal,” is an interesting read and compiles a lot of stats on the shortcomings of ethanol, particularly corn-based ethanol. While there’s been a lot of talk about the controversies of the ethanol industry, the report highlights some less well known information like “ethanol’s ability to reduce global warming pollution is quite limited.” It also gives some recommendations for a more sustainable ethanol industry, which is always nice. Here’s 10 of the anti-ethanol highlights we pulled from the report:

  • “The potential for corn ethanol to reduce U.S. dependency on foreign oil is limited. Even if the entire U.S. corn crop was dedicated to ethanol, it would displace only a small share of gasoline demand.”
  • “The most favorable estimates, which already include cellulosic feedstocks, point out that fuel made from biomass can replace only a fourth to a third of transport-related oil consumption.”
  • “The Congressional Research Service has estimated that even if 100 percent of the U.S. corn harvest was dedicated to ethanol, it would displace less than 15 percent of national gasoline use.”
  • “Although some farmers are excited by rising corn prices, the current ethanol boom is intensifying the concentration of ownership and the industrialization of agricultural lands, resulting in a revenue drain from rural communities.”
  • “Corn is the single most subsidized crop in the United States, receiving more than $51 billion between 1995
    and 2005.”
  • “Gasoline refiners who add ethanol to their product are entitled to a $0.51 per gallon tax credit, amounting to nearly $2.5 billion in subsidies paid to refiners in 2006 alone.”
  • “The most favorable estimates show that corn ethanol could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 18 percent to 28 percent, while cellulosic ethanol is estimated to offer a reduction of 87 percent compared to gasoline.”
  • “Ethanol can actually increase emission of some kinds of pollutants. According to the Congressional Research Service, ethanol may cause higher ozone levels under certain atmospheric conditions.”
  • “Coal and natural gas are commonly burned to run biofuel refineries, and emit many of the same pollutants that ethanol is intended to reduce, including carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and particulate matter.”
  • “The potential for ethanol to displace gasoline is limited — there is simply not enough land or water to produce ethanol in quantities that could significantly displace gasoline without unacceptable environmental impacts.”


Jim Beyer

Ethanol doesn’t even make sense if you can make it from cellulosic sources (A big if….)

The same biomass can produce twice the fuel (energetically) in the form of methane instead of ethanol (None of that expensive distilling is needed) and the technology can be found at, let’s see, your local landfill!

The best way to displace domestic oil use for transportation is developing PHEVs (plug-in hybrid electric vehicles), not biofuel.


This in an important note in your story: # “Corn is the single most subsidized crop in the United States, receiving more than $51 billion between 1995 and 2005.”

Not only is ethanol not an answer to global warming, but it would likely further increase corn subsidies, which give incentive to grow more corn and less of other foods, which is not only bad for the environment (requires a lot of pesticide), but will drive up the prices of other foods due to scarcity.

There is a reason why so many Governor’s, like Minnesota’s self-proclaimed “most pro-ethanol governor in the country” argues that Minnesota can become the “Saudi Arabia of renewable fuels.”

Ethanol is about $$$$$$

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