Corn is not the answer

In the search for alternative fuels, ethanol creates a lot of discussion about its potential to generate cleaner, renewable fuel for cars. This is great. The discussion gets us moving in the right direction. However, using alternative fuel should not mean higher food prices, crop soil destruction, and forest clear cutting (to make more land to grow corn). A good alternative to using fresh corn for ethanol is to use cooking grease, and turn it into some form of biodiesel. Alternative fuel entrepreneurs, a.k.a. hippies, have been using grease in their cars for decades.

Another solution to the renewable fuel puzzle may be sugar cane. To succeed corn, it should be cleaner, cheaper, and not destroy land in its wake. Here are a few sugar positives:

  • “it’s also easy on the atmosphere, releasing a fraction of the carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases that add to the world’s steamy greenhouse”
  • “making sugar ethanol requires only a fifth of the gasoline and diesel it typically takes to make fuel from crops like corn”
  • Brazilian sugar cane is “efficient, brewed without the official price props or government handouts that are common in Europe and the United States”

sugar caneOpponents fear sugar cane may present many of the same problems as corn – namely the clear cutting forests and destroying native crops to make room to grow sugar cane. It may also eventually force farmers to grow more sugar to meet demands, driving up the price of food crops. However, sugar cane doesn’t grow well in rain forest conditions. “To show they’re going the extra mile, many [sugar cane companies] have signed a pact to gradually put an end to the slash-and-burn method of harvesting that has been a sooty hallmark of sugar cane farming.” With this approach in mind, sugar cane may be better than corn ethanol. Either way, let’s keep this discussion going.
Newsweek

We’re a tough crowd – those of us who want alternative energy that doesn’t do more harm than good to the environment. (My favorite solution is still an electric car that you plug in to your solar-powered home. I’m a dreamer.)

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14 thoughts on “Corn is not the answer

  1. Thanks, Seth. I did see this and it’s heartbreaking. And harmful to the people who live in the area surrounding the blasted mountain top. It contaminates the groundwater, and the runoff causes innumerable other problems. Along with many other laws BushCo has enacted, this one is vague.

    Here’s a good idea – put some wind turbines or solar panels up there to “reduce dependence on foreign oil” and utilize renewable, clean energy.

  2. Reached your site thru my friend G’s Brewed Fresh Daily. Interestingly, the AMA (american motorcyclist assoc) , is curreently involved in blocking a move toward allowing 20% ethanol blends at the pump. The allowance of anything over 10% blends would be devastating to motorcycles and their fuel systems.

    As for Seth’s comment, I think you’d be wise to check out the record of the right Sen. Byrd (D-WV) on mining in general — you’ll find he’s the ‘top of the food chain’ when it comes to current practices within the hollows of WV. Blaming the current admin in the WH is largely irrelevent and more importantly, misleading.

  3. Interesting about the motorcycles. I’ve been looking at Vespas and other scooters that get 60+ mpg.

    While Sen. Byrd is certainly involved in the mining practices, the NY Times article points out that it is the Bush Administration, not a Senator, that is loosening federal rules.

  4. Sorry to post and ditch that last one — check out Honda’s Metropolitan (not a Vespa, but retro-styling w/ a better price tag and relibility!).

    My point re: Byrd and the WH — legislation does not begin at the WH…it may have an easier path at that level (depending on the Pres, political stripes and their veto power), it begins at lower levels. Byrd is the King of WV and he is vloyal to the interests within that state — mining being but one. Btw, my tag on BFD is billygoat; sorry to post anon but was having probs any other way!

  5. I’m going to look into it further (for myself, not this blog). It didn’t seem, from the article, that this was legislation that went through the Senate. I’m not sure how that would work, but it seems that the president is loosening regulations to allow more mountain top blasting. I know it’s happened in the past, but it is happening now too, which is what we need to focus on. Also, I’m pretty that Bush isn’t following (D) Sen. Byrd’s suggestions when it comes to anything.

  6. I think this is a good case to show that environmental issues are not partisan. Each party is just as guilty of playing things up to their interests. We need to elevate the discussion to find out how to prevent things like this. Move our energy policy in a clean, healthy, renewable direction.

  7. Indeed Terra, indeed. It’s my biggest problem with the Global Warming debate — to me it obscures things such as conservation, which is something that ALL people can and should practice. GW is so polarizing as an issue and I find that it has actually turned people off from the basic (such as conservation) issues. Sad.

  8. terra,

    i like the blog. did you ever consider that corn (sugar) based ethanol is just the primer for the pump, so to speak? and will be replaced by second generation production techniques using enzymes or heat to extract sugar from the cellulose and/or lignin contained in the stalks/stems of all plants? This technology, currently in the testing stages at various sites around the country, would eventually enable construction and demolition debris to be used to produce ethanol.

  9. billygoat, I agree. People can have a normal discussion about recycling, or reducing waste, but once you mention the gw-word they shut down. That’s why I like to talk about fun, interesting ways to reduce our impact on the planet. Additionally, if it’s a left-right issue, then if you don’t agree on someone’s politics about gay rights or whatever, you’re not going to listen to their energy ideas.

    (thanks for the tip about the Honda Metro. I also like the Bajaj Chetak (?), and Genuine Scooters. We’re going to look today! I like Honda, so I will definitely check out the Metro too)

    john m, I haven’t heard about that. It sounds interesting! Cars can run on other sources of energy, so I’d like to see the focus shift to things that don’t require energy to produce energy (ethanol, gas, etc). In the meantime, these alternative fuels are a good way to offer *choices* to consumers, which I think is an important part of capitalism.

  10. Terra,

    Make sure to post about (your scooter) if you buy one! As for the Bajaj (an India product), they’re OK. I’d stick with the Honda if the following things matter: Reliability, Service and Support! And I agree with you re: keeping it light / keeping it fun!

    And another thing — seeing that you’re in Akron (?), are you familiar with the communal gardens near Norton?…v interesting!

    Speaking of fun, I was going to build a root cellar in my basement this Spring, but delayed it till this Fall. Should you know of any good resources (I’ve found some good ones), please let me know! You can always get my email from G at BFD!

  11. billygoat,
    I haven’t heard of root cellars, so I just looked it up. I’ll do a post for sure! I think this curiosity answered a mystery I discovered this morning while retrieving my runaway dog. My neighbor’s yard had a plastic garbage can dug deep into the ground, right outside their kitchen door. I wondered what it was for, but it may have been a root cellar at one time. Interesting…

    Thanks for the idea!

  12. Pingback: Alternative Fuel Part 2 « terra, not terror

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