Ethanol is Not the Answer!

I listen to a lot of NPR, so, needless to say, I’ve been deluged lately with debates about energy prices, energy crises, and possible solutions to both. I also keep hearing a lot about ethanol, and that drives me crazy.

A lot of people are worried because the corn being consumed to produce ethanol is putting a strain on the supply, and driving up the price of corn-based foods (which, in America, seems to be nearly everything). As a result, there are scientists and politicians talking about alternative sources of ethanol.

To me, this is like talking about finding alternate sources of crude oil: it’s a stupid and short-sighted thought. What we need is to phase out fossil fuels altogether, not dig up Alaska or Russia or China or wherever to find more of them; and, in the same vein, what we need is to stop thinking about ethanol altogether, not try to find better ways to produce it!

I’ve got two major problems with ethanol. First, since it’s based on corn, it is inevitably a carbon-based fuel. And since it’s carbon based, basic chemistry will tell you that any products of its combustion will contain carbon dioxide. Seeing as the human race may have already signed its own death warrant, even if we stop pumpin greenhouse gases into the atmosphere today, I think it’s missing the point somewhat to talk about another carbon-based combustion fuel.

Secondly, with the world and the world economy in the state that they’re in, is it really wise to put any more strain on the food supply? With the economy in the toilet and food prices already in the stratosphere, it seems idiotic to me to make it any harder for the poor — in this country and abroad — to afford food.

I also have a third problem with ethanol, and this is the one that irritates me the most: it’s a pretend solution. People who buy ethanol, and politicians who support ethanol, do so primarily to feel like they’re doing something about global warming. But they’re not really doing anything to make the energy economy more carbon-indepenent. To me, ethanol is a solution (a crappy one at best, and at worst, not a solution at all) chosen by rich white people who aren’t willing to take the drastic mesaures needed to keep Homo sapiens sapiens off the endangered species list.

Those are my thoughts.

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4 Responses to “Ethanol is Not the Answer!”

  1. Brock Tice Says:

    I agree that there are a lot of problems with ethanol. You do realize, though, that unlike with oil, the carbon being pumped into the atmosphere from ethanol came from the atmosphere to make the corn in the first place, right? It’s not adding any carbon, at least not on the timescale of about a year.

  2. asymptote Says:

    I agree with you in principle, but the laws of thermodynamics demand that the corn will only remove SOME of the carbon dioxide. Inevitably, you can’t recycle ALL of the waste of any system. Also, corn isn’t the only thing absorbing CO2, and the vast majority of plants, for one reason or another, cannot be used to produce ethanol.

  3. Brock Tice Says:

    Right, but the issue isn’t that the corn is pulling x amount of the carbon from the atmosphere, it’s that the carbon in the corn has to come from the atmosphere in the first place. When you burn it, you’re just re-releasing carbon that came from the air in the first place.

    The big problem is that it takes more energy to grow, harvest, and ferment the corn than you get out of it in the end.


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