7 things to know about ethanol

Sunday, November 17, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CST
A plant that produces ethanol sits next to a cornfield near Coon Rapids, Iowa, in July. Government mandates to increase ethanol production have helped drive up corn prices, leading to land being farmed to produce the crop.

President Barack Obama has called corn-based ethanol "the most successful alternative fuel we have ever developed." Billed as a green replacement for billions of gallons of gasoline, ethanol has enjoyed widespread political support. But the results of America's ethanol policy have not been as green as advertised.

Here's what you need to know:

  1. Ethanol is an alcohol that is fermented and distilled from corn. Since 2007, when Congress required oil companies to blend billions of gallons of ethanol into their gasoline, it has become one of America's most widely produced renewable fuels.
  2. When it burns, ethanol emits less carbon dioxide than gasoline. That's why it is a centerpiece of the government's plan to reduce greenhouse gases.
  3. Getting ethanol from corn has a hidden environmental price that the government rarely acknowledges. America's ethanol policy has encouraged farmers to plant millions of new acres of corn.
  4. More than 5 million conservation acres — environmentally sensitive farmland that had been set aside and allowed to grow as grassland — have disappeared on Obama's watch.
  5. Every time a farmer plows into grassland, it releases carbon dioxide that had been naturally locked in the soil. In the name of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the policy encourages a practice that emits greenhouse gas.
  6. The corn boom has increased fertilizer pollution in Midwest waterways and beyond. Scientists say that's worsened a huge "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico.
  7. Environmentalists and many scientists now say, when all the environmental factors are considered, corn ethanol is not a viable strategy for combating global warming. But it has been a boon to Midwest farmers. The Obama administration no longer pitches ethanol as a greenhouse gas strategy. Rather, it's frequently presented as a program that helps rural America.

Like what you see here? Become a member.

Show Me the Errors (What's this?)

Report corrections or additions here. Leave comments below here.

You must be logged in to participate in the Show Me the Errors contest.


Michael Williams November 17, 2013 | 12:40 p.m.

Here's number (8) on the list of things you need to know:

(8) News organizations fail to employ journalists who know squat about science. Oh, those journalists and editorialists can pontificate "Green!" or "Global warming!", but mainly such musings are simply a regurgitation of someone else's agenda and reflect journalistic preconceived notions. News folks are good at writing, but abysmal at science.......

Remember this: An ignorant human is at the mercy of the last person they talked to........

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith November 17, 2013 | 1:52 p.m.


Let's hope the situation eventually improves, because until it does it appears that a few savy operarors will continue to bamboozle both the media and significant segments of the public.

Is there ANYTHING (other than the specific numbers) about this situation that was not apparent from the beginning? As I recall, you, Mark Foecking and I have addressed parts of the situation at one time or another.

Maybe it's time to repeat (and I've posted this at least twice before) that our friends in Brazil achieved automotive "energy independence" by making motor fuel out of sugar cane - and also made a temporary shambles out of the world sugar market in the process.

Actions do have consequences, and there's one hell of a difference between science and politics (including the get rich quick schemes).

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams November 17, 2013 | 3:27 p.m.

Ellis: on hoping the situation improves.......

Well, we can spit in one hand and hope in the other, then see which one fills up first.

Snake oil salesmen (and women, but mainly the former) have been with us since Groog tried to sell fermented palm tree sap to a Homo habilis group, maintaining the elixir would cure everything including fever-and-ague, rheumatism, and T-rex bites.

Again I state: If you are ignorant of a subject, you are at the mercy of the last advocate you talk to.....

You ask, "Is there ANYTHING (other than the specific numbers) about this situation that was not apparent from the beginning?"

No. It was predictable.....and predicted. The only thing I can say that is positive in this situation is that a whole lot of farmer friends have made excellent money for several years....something they have not been able to say for quite some time.

For the rest of us....not so many positive things to say.

I hold the activists, politicians, social manipulators, AND supporting media equally responsible.

With emphasis on the "supporting media". Quite frankly, the media should have been the most ethical....and most this cast of characters. It is expected.

They weren't. And aren't. The MSM routinely let us down which is why many folks search for other news outlets with absolute relish.

Not a good thing, either.

(Report Comment)

Leave a comment

Speak up and join the conversation! Make sure to follow the guidelines outlined below and register with our site. You must be logged in to comment. (Our full comment policy is here.)

  • Don't use obscene, profane or vulgar language.
  • Don't use language that makes personal attacks on fellow commenters or discriminates based on race, religion, gender or ethnicity.
  • Use your real first and last name when registering on the website. It will be published with every comment. (Read why we ask for that here.)
  • Don’t solicit or promote businesses.

We are not able to monitor every comment that comes through. If you see something objectionable, please click the "Report comment" link.

You must be logged in to comment.

Forget your password?

Don't have an account? Register here.