RE: Agriculture and oil

From: Glenn Morton (
Date: Sun Aug 12 2001 - 22:29:27 EDT

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    THanks. From what I have seen, this is often the case. People advocate a
    solution which doesn't make any sense, yet they haven't analyzed the problem
    to know if it is a net gain or loss.

    >-----Original Message-----
    >From: Todd S. Greene []
    >Sent: Saturday, August 11, 2001 2:21 AM
    >To: Asa@Calvin. Edu
    >Cc: Glenn Morton
    >Subject: Re: Agriculture and oil
    >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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