Ethanol

I’d like to back up Anthony Hager’s May 9th comments about ethanol. In fact, in my estimation he didn’t go far enough explaining the problems.

One acre of land used to grow corn for ethanol will yield about 370 gallons. To get this, you need about 1300 gallons of water; you need the energy to heat those 1300 gallons to the boiling point for over 20 minutes, and to keep it simmering during the 2-day fermentation period. That uses a lot of energy—1.3 times as much as you get by burning the ethanol as a fuel when you’re done. Even if you consider using environmentally-friendly solar panels to produce this energy, you’re much better off just putting that energy into the power grid and burning regular gasoline in your car.

Over this period you will release over 2,250 pounds of CO2 into the atmosphere, the same amount you get by burning 115 gallons of petroleum—so already we’ve put in a third of the CO2 we would by burning gasoline, and we haven’t even used the ethanol for fuel yet. Ethanol releases 18.9 pounds of CO2 per gallon when burned, compared to 19.6 for gasoline, but you need to burn 1.5 gallons of ethanol to get the same energy as one gallon of gas. So really, producing the same amount of energy, you actually release 28.4 pounds of CO2 when you burn ethanol—1.4 times as much as you would getting the same amount of energy from gasoline!

We use 174 million gallons of gasoline per day, so if we convert 100% from gasoline to ethanol, we would need 260 million gallons of ethanol per day. We will go from releasing 3400 pounds of CO2 per day with gasoline to 4900 with ethanol. And that’s not including the CO2 released during the fermentation process I mentioned above, which ends up being about another 6 pounds per gallon, raising our total up to 6500! And this is supposed to help with Global Warming, how?

I suppose you could argue that the corn when it grows absorbs carbon from the atmosphere, and thus offsets that value. But what would happen with that land if it weren’t used to grow corn for ethanol? Wouldn’t it have other vegetation growing on it, natural vegetation if not other farm crops?

And how much land are we talking about? In order to meet all our energy needs with ethanol we need more than 250 million acres of corn grown solely for ethanol in order to meet our energy needs for a year. By comparison, farmers in the US currently produce less than 80 million acres of corn per year. If we import it, it will most likely come from Brazil, the largest importer of ethanol. That increased acreage will result in the loss of more rainforests.

So that’s an additional 250 million acres that will have to come from forests being cut down, wetlands being used, and habitats destroyed, not to mention almost twice the CO2 forced into the atmosphere, to switch over to this “environmentally-friendly” fuel.

All so you can lose 30% of the energy you put into it.

Feel better about ethanol now? Feel better about being taxed 51¢ per gallon to subsidize it? The environmentalists don’t want us drilling in ANWR because it will destroy 2,000 acres of forest land (about the size of an airport). But ethanol will require the loss of thousands of times as much land, probably most of it in the form of forests, wetlands, and even rainforests.

This just reinforces the idea that modern “environmentalists” aren’t really concerned with the environment at all; they want to push a socialist, anti-business agenda and have the government seize even more control over our lives, and they’re just using the environment as an excuse.

Maybe someday the technology to produce ethanol will become more efficient, and we’ll be able to make and burn the fuel without an energy loss, and reduce the amount of land required and the CO2 released. But when that day arrives, it will not require government subsidies or environmental lobbying to switch over to it, just the natural free market forces, saving money by burning more efficient fuel.

When that happens, the environmentalists might even be protesting it.

This article was published in the Lincoln Times-News on 5/18/2007.

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