Re: Agriculture and oil

From: Todd S. Greene (
Date: Sat Aug 11 2001 - 06:21:25 EDT

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    Hi, Glenn.

    Hope you're having fun overseas.

    Below is something interesting along these lines that I happened to
    catch in science news recently.

    Todd S. Greene

    ###### Glenn Morton, 7/28/01 9:58 AM ######
    > I put a small piece on my web page about what happens to a modern
    > agricultural system when the oil is cut off. North Korea is a
    > perfect example. Cuba would be also, but I don't have much data on
    > them. It is at


    FOR RELEASE: Aug. 6, 2001

    Ethanol fuel from corn faulted as 'unsustainable subsidized food
    burning' in analysis by Cornell scientist

    Contact: Roger Segelken
    Office: 607-255-9736

    ITHACA, N.Y. -- Neither increases in government subsidies to corn-based
    ethanol fuel nor hikes in the price of petroleum can overcome what one
    Cornell University agricultural scientist calls a fundamental input-
    yield problem: It takes more energy to make ethanol from grain than the
    combustion of ethanol produces.

    At a time when ethanol-gasoline mixtures (gasohol) are touted as the
    American answer to fossil fuel shortages by corn producers, food
    processors and some lawmakers, Cornell's David Pimentel takes a longer
    range view.

    "Abusing our precious croplands to grow corn for an energy-inefficient
    process that yields low-grade automobile fuel amounts to unsustainable,
    subsidized food burning," says the Cornell professor in the College of
    Agriculture and Life Sciences. Pimentel, who chaired a U.S. Department
    of Energy panel that investigated the energetics, economics and
    environmental aspects of ethanol production several years ago,
    subsequently conducted a detailed analysis of the corn-to-car fuel
    process. His findings will be published in September, 2001 in the
    forthcoming Encyclopedia of Physical Sciences and Technology .

    Among his findings are:

    o An acre of U.S. corn yields about 7,110 pounds of corn for processing
    into 328 gallons of ethanol. But planting, growing and harvesting that
    much corn requires about 1,000 gallons of fossil fuels and costs $347
    per acre, according to Pimentel's analysis. Thus, even before corn is
    converted to ethanol, the feedstock costs $1.05 per gallon of ethanol.

    o The energy economics get worse at the processing plants, where the
    grain is crushed and fermented. As many as three distillation steps are
    needed to separate the 8 percent ethanol from the 92 percent water.
    Additional treatment and energy are required to produce the 99.8 percent
    pure ethanol for mixing with gasoline. o Adding up the energy costs of
    corn production and its conversion to ethanol, 131,000 BTUs are needed
    to make 1 gallon of ethanol. One gallon of ethanol has an energy value
    of only 77,000 BTU. "Put another way," Pimentel says, "about 70 percent
    more energy is required to produce ethanol than the energy that actually
    is in ethanol. Every time you make 1 gallon of ethanol, there is a net
    energy loss of 54,000 BTU."

    o Ethanol from corn costs about $1.74 per gallon to produce, compared
    with about 95 cents to produce a gallon of gasoline. "That helps explain
    why fossil fuels -- not ethanol -- are used to produce ethanol,"
    Pimentel says. "The growers and processors can't afford to burn ethanol
    to make ethanol. U.S. drivers couldn't afford it, either, if it weren't
    for government subsidies to artificially lower the price."

    o Most economic analyses of corn-to-ethanol production overlook the
    costs of environmental damages, which Pimentel says should add another
    23 cents per gallon. "Corn production in the U.S. erodes soil about 12
    times faster than the soil can be reformed, and irrigating corn mines
    groundwater 25 percent faster than the natural recharge rate of ground
    water. The environmental system in which corn is being produced is being
    rapidly degraded. Corn should not be considered a renewable resource for
    ethanol energy production, especially when human food is being converted
    into ethanol."

    o The approximately $1 billion a year in current federal and state
    subsidies (mainly to large corporations) for ethanol production are not
    the only costs to consumers, the Cornell scientist observes. Subsidized
    corn results in higher prices for meat, milk and eggs because about 70
    percent of corn grain is fed to livestock and poultry in the United
    States Increasing ethanol production would further inflate corn prices,
    Pimentel says, noting: "In addition to paying tax dollars for ethanol
    subsidies, consumers would be paying significantly higher food prices in
    the marketplace."

    Nickels and dimes aside, some drivers still would rather see their cars
    fueled by farms in the Midwest than by oil wells in the Middle East,
    Pimentel acknowledges, so he calculated the amount of corn needed to
    power an automobile:

    o The average U.S. automobile, traveling 10,000 miles a year on pure
    ethanol (not a gasoline-ethanol mix) would need about 852 gallons of the
    corn-based fuel. This would take 11 acres to grow, based on net ethanol
    production. This is the same amount of cropland required to feed seven

    o If all the automobiles in the United States were fueled with 100
    percent ethanol, a total of about 97 percent of U.S. land area would be
    needed to grow the corn feedstock. Corn would cover nearly the total
    land area of the United States.

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