4). Likewise, in the same article, Kay Martin of the Ventura County, California public works agency is quoted as saying, "From a macroeconomics or macro-environmental perspective, it just makes sense." The need to build an infrastructure for production of bio-fuels creates economic opportunities.
Of course, not everybody is so enthusiastic. To grow corn, diesel tractors are required to plant, fertilize and harvest it with substantial coal-fired electricity needed for the still. David Pemental, a professor who has done research and a leading opponent of ethanol, says corn ethanol is "unsustainable, subsidized food burning." He charges that most of the one billion dollars spent per year by federal and state governments goes to agribusiness (such as Archer Daniels Midland, a mega corporation) that already owns 35% of the market. He also claims that an acre yielding 7,110 pounds of corn will produce 328 gallons of ethanol. He estimates 140 gallons of fuel would be needed to plant and harvest each acre. That, plus the energy costs of refining it and moving it to filling stations would make it cost prohibitive and a poor way to use agricultural lands. Others dismiss Pimentel's criticisms. A different study showed that ethanol production yielded 36 per cent more energy than what was needed to produce it. Also Pimentel doesn't take into account the livestock feed and other byproducts that result from ethanol production.
Lavelle (2003) argues that "the ethanol industry could be transformed by biotechnology. Researchers," who, she says, can now unlock the sugars found in tough agricultural waste products -- corn husks, rice hulls, saw grass, and wood chips -- which can then be fermented into an alcohol that can fuel vehicles. This so-called cellulosic, or biomass, ethanol would require less energy to produce and could be manufactured from material that is now burned or buried" (p. 20).
In December, 2003 the Department of Energy awarded $75 million in grants for biomass ethanol research, but the succeeding budget reduced biomass ethanol funding and left the private sector to lead future development (Lavelle, 2003). Federal funds for research and development of cellulosic ethanol would be taxpayer-money well spent.
A more serious criticism is the environmentalists' fear that biodiversity would suffer with large extensions of monoculture. Fauna and flora would be lost in the process. This could be mitigated, however, if one-third of every ecosystem type were preserved (Oliveira, Vaughan, & Rykiel, 2005). There is also the problem of land use. Producing ethanol from cellulose in large enough quantities to replace current fuel consumption "would require the additional growth and harvesting of woods and grasses over enormous areas of land." An article in Issues & Science Technology (2002) points out that "to supply ethanol for the current light vehicle fleet of the United States would require an area of energy crops as large as the current area of food crops grown in the United States.
Additional land use of this magnitude would be staggering and contentious" (p. 18).
According to Haroon S. Kheshgi, an engineer for EXXonMobil Research, nothing will replace petroleum because to run an average U.S. car with corn-derived ethanol for a year would require 14 acres of cropland -- about nine times more land than is needed to feed one person the same length of time. Aside from the fact that Kheshgi is invested in the oil industry, this argument, does not consider the use of agricultural waste products as the source or use of the by-products of distilling ethanol. If the land were still used to grow food, and the wastes were used for ethanol, benefits to the environment would be great. Also, if hydrogen power is the ultimate goal, ethanol could be "part of a transition strategy for shifting from today's internal combustion engine technology to tomorrow's hydrogen-based engines" (Issues in Science & Technology, 2002, p. 17).
Some detracters claim the ethanol industry wouldn't even exist if it weren't for federal subsidies and tax breaks that have boosted profits. But ethanol producers say the oil industry has received subsidies worth $130 billion during the past 30 years. This does not count the cost of maintaining military to protect oil supplies in the Middle East, about $50 billion more a year.
The second largest producer of ethanol, Illinois, has six ethanol plants. In 2004 these plants produced 875 million gallons of ethanol using 325 million bushels of corn. 40% of the total ethanol consumed in the United States currently comes from corn grown in Illinois. The ethanol industry invested $1 billion in Illinois in 2004 and generated 800 plant operations jobs and 4000 industry-related service sector jobs (Advanced Materials & Processes, 2005). Plainly, ethanol is good news to corn growers and government subsidies are well spent.
Retooling for Ethanol
The problem at this point is not lack of alternative fuel vehicles (AFV) that can use ethanol. According to John Brewington, a fleet management consultant in Mount Airy, N.C., "The number of E85 vehicles far outstrips any other AFV. But they never get any E85 to run them. The availability of E85 is very limited" (Brown, 2004, p. 35). Gregg Duckett, the public works operations manager in Phoenix, says the problem with E85 is infrastructure. He says there are only about 200 fueling stations nationwide that carry it, even though more than two million vehicles will use it. And the cost of transporting ethanol makes it average 37 cents higher per gallon than unleaded gasoline (Brown, 2004). Nevertheless, ethanol producers want to boost refining capacity. According to Agri Marketing in 2001, 34 of the nation's 62 ethanol plants were then scheduled to undergo some form of expansion, and the number of new plants under construction is growing. But the ethanol industry is highly fragmented. Farmer's co-ops are building refineries, hoping to compete with bigger producers. They are located near the fields, which is an advantage, and have the latest technology. It is very expensive to build an ethanol plant, however. "A large-scale refinery capable of processing 100,000 bushels a day -- enough to yield about 250,000 gallons daily -- would carry a $350 million price tag" (Ingebretson, p. 53).
The cost of installing an ethanol storage tank and pump at a service station is $62,400. It would cost about $2.7 billion to install pumps at corner service stations. This price is fairly reasonable when you consider that it cost $12 billion to retool for unleaded gas (Dolan, 2002).
With oil prices rising, alternative fuels made from renewable crops are rapidly becoming more attractive. As production increases and with more experience, the prices for these fuels should go down. In fact, with the use of agricultural and forest wastes, the prices should go down even more because the resources needed will be less expensive. Cellulosic ethanol is nearly carbon-neutral, which makes it good news for the environment (Fulton, 2005). Increasing the use of ethanol can improve energy security and vehicle performance. Rural economies would benefit too. In areas where farmers are being paid not to plant, new incentives could encourage production of crops for ethanol instead. Production of ethanol can reduce waste, as well, by re-cycling by-products. If the government would support more private research, there is every possibility that ethanol use might more than double worldwide in the next five years.
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Deierlein, B. (2001). Alternative fuels: The race is on! Waste Age, 32 (8), Aug, 62-63, 67.
Dolan, G.A. (2002). In search of the perfect clean-fuel options. Hydrocarbon Processing (International edition), 81 (3), Mar, 13-15.
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