Food or fuel?
It can be eaten with butter, made into sweetener, or processed to run your car. So what exactly do the experts have to say about using corn as fuel instead of food?
Monday, October 5, 2009 - 13:48
CONVERTING COBS: Growing gas isn't necessarily cleaner. (Photo: Rostros y Voces/flickr)
In case you haven't yet noticed, I've been on a bit of a corn kick lately. It's a touchy subject ... lots of people depend on making their living by growing corn, and others claim that corn leads us to cleaner, greener ethanol fuel. Furthermore, we also can't deny the fact that corn is found in just about everything -- soda, fruit drinks, hamburger meat, chicken, pork and even shipments of international food aid.
So then the question is raised: is corn really all that sustainable?
The honest answer after considering all the shipping, fertilizers, GMOs and water that goes into producing corn and converting it into bio-fuel is that the jury is still out. And it looks like the jury may be out on this question for quite a while.
Recently at the 2009 Consumer Issues Conference hosted by the University of Wyoming, I had the privilege of sitting in on a presentation by Dr. Tim Burkink, professor of Marketing and Dean of the College of Business and Technology at the University of Nebraska at Kearney. His topic "Ethanol: Food or Fuel? An analysis of Systems in Conflict" focused on the big picture of ethanol in the United States and questioned whether or not the practice of growing corn to make ethanol is sustainable.
Being from Nebraska, the differences in opinions regarding corn production for ethanol became apparent when Dr. Burkink asked for the audience's initial feelings on ethanol. When faced with feedback stating that corn is highly political, largely subsidized and lacks big returns (it takes about four gallons of fossil fuels to produce five gallons of ethanol) it became obvious that Mr. Burkink was, "not in Nebraska anymore."
Unlike Nebraska and other mid-western plains states, it is not typical to see an ethanol label on the gas pump while refueling your car or truck in Wyoming. Therefore, people in this state are not sensitized in quite the same way. But despite these facts, Dr. Burkink explained that using corn for ethanol adds value to the product even though the environmental benefits are a bit muddy. Ethanol is a topic where agriculture and energy converge; the inputs and outputs are numerous. But according to the conclusions of Dr. Burkink, it is absolutely essential to acknowledge that both fossil fuels and bio-fuels are not sustainable and that if we continue down this road, further development and research in biofuel energy and infrastructure is a must.
Here are some additional facts about the fuel versus food debate:
25 percent of United States corn production goes towards making ethanol.
97 percent of U.S. ethanol is made from corn.
Renewable resource fuels are expected to increase from 9 billion gallons to 36 billion gallons by the year 2022.
The country of Brazil is energy independent -- their ethanol is made mostly from sugar cane, a much more efficient raw product for making ethanol.
Ethanol is attributed to 3,000 jobs in Nebraska and approximately $3 billion in ethanol infrastructure and farmers' incomes.
President Obama has stated that ethanol helps our national security.