Maizium, id frumenti genus appellant wrote the cleric Peter Martyr d’Angheira to his patron Cardinal Sforza in May 1493 upon the return of Christopher Columbus from the Islands of the Arawaks in the lesser Antilles. Loosely, Peter said: “Hey check out this new kind of wheat!” Corn was introduced to Europe. The Arawaks also had popcorn but no movie shows. As you may recall from your early history lessons, Columbus never landed in America and he called the natives “Indians” because that was where he intend to arrive on this world-changing journey.
Corn is a-mais-ing. It is one of the few vegetables that has all 23 amino acids, and the surviving Arawaks can digest them all unlike most Americans who can only digest two or three of them. For the natives, it was the perfect fuel. Now we are making it a less-than-perfect fuel replacement. Corn is used in just about every food product one can image. It feeds cattle, chickens, and hogs and is used in syrup, soft drinks, corn starch, corn oil and alcoholic drinks. Now add to this list, ethanol.
Ethanol is the alcohol in our beer that we enjoy at a ball game, a party or after a long day at work. In this author’s opinion that’s where it belongs. Using food products as a source of energy other than intended for our personal combustion is simply not a good idea.
Corn is the principle vegetable used in making the fuel, ethanol. Corn is also one of the most central food products there is. When it comes to processed foods, corn is in just about everything. That is where it should stay! If we start using food products in fuel, we will open a Pandora’s box of future problems. The amount of water needed to process a gallon of ethanol is three gallons. Did you know that the sheer volume of the corn fields in the United States actually affects the weather in this country and the jet stream? Stay tuned when I cover global warming.
The environmental argument for ethanol was that the carbon produced by the burning of ethanol is offset by the volume of carbon dioxide consumed by the corn crop itself. A credit that cannot be attributed to oil or gas. Enter the ethanol lobby. Today 40 percent of the corn produced in the U.S. is used for ethanol. The RFS — or Renewable Fuels Standard — arm of the EPA is the legal medium that gives the ethanol lobby the support for the refineries that supply the mandated gasoline refineries to use ethanol. This is how the ethanol mandates got in.
The full effects of ethanol were not included; they include: the production of ozone at twice the level, the depletion of nitrogen sources for fertilizer and the extensive use of water to grow and process ethanol. The RFS does not weigh in on one of the more critical environmental effects of growing corn and that is the weather. Also ethanol is heavily subsidized — taxpayer money not only supports the 51-cents-a-gallon tax credit but it also subsidizes the refineries material supplies to the tune of $1 billion a year.
Does ethanol even makes sense?
It takes the energy of one gallon of ethanol to produce 1.4 gallons of usable ethanol. How is this effective? Compare this to gasoline which requires less than 10 ounces of the equivalent energy of ethanol to produce 1.4 gallons of gasoline.
The other issue is the heat value of a gallon of ethanol is only approximately 70 percent when compared to a gallon of gasoline. The use of fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides in making this energy is another compromise of the manufacture of ethanol. Ethanol is anhydrous — that means it attracts water. This is one of the reasons it is bad for gasoline engines. It has caused many problems including dissolving the seals in older engines.
In a world where the population is increasing by the rate of 85 million a year it hardly makes sense to farm food to convert to fuel for mechanical devices. Water, land use and fertilizer are rapidly becoming concerns as the world’s population increases. Ethanol isn’t necessarily environmentally friendly when burned either because it produces twice the ozone that gasoline produces.
In conclusion: Ethanol is not the best way to go for energy. We cannot afford to jeopardize the food supply for fuel. To do so would be just plain corny!
James Bobreski is a process control engineer who has been in the field of electric power production for 43 years. His “Alternate Energy” column runs the last Sunday of the month. He is the owner of Synchronicity1 LLC, which is dedicated to designing a digital farm for independent farm operation. He has several inventions, namely a digital wire sorter, portable scoreboard, axis solar panel drive and an ubiquitously mountable LED light module. He likes to cycle and play soccer. He lives with his life partner Sherry in Penn Yan.