MENU

Enthusiasts
Category

is corn-based ethanol fuel really beneficial?

Corn-based Ethanol Fuel: Is it Doing More Harm than Good?

Despite being an issue for decades now, corn-based ethanol fuel remains a hot topic. Debates about the environmental and economic effects of this fuel continue to contrast its supposed benefits. In this article, we try to take a closer look on the ramifications and downsides of this fuel type.

From Dr. Mercola’s site and recent article, “The Environmental Costs of Corn-Based Ethanol.”

President Bush signs the Energy Independence and Security Act which started the use of corn-based ethanol fuelA Brief History of the Corn-based Ethanol Fuel Law

In 2007, Congress passed a law requiring gasoline to be mixed with ethanol, ostensibly to reduce dependence on foreign oil. Ethanol was also a major part of Obama’s presidential platform for “green” energy, which he touted as the answer to global warming.

The roots of the policy regarding the use of corn-based ethanol fuel can be rooted back during the Carter Administration. During this time, the use of ethanol was seen as the most viable answer to the problem on high crude oil prices caused by the supply curtailment of the Organization of Petroleum  Exporting Countries, aka OPEC. Use of the alternative, however, was temporarily halted as the industry took a 360 turn with the falling prices of crude oil.

Come the administration of George H.W. Bush which prioritized environmental goals over energy security. In 1990, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) enforced the Clean Air Act. Five years later, the use of oxygenates which includes corn-based ethanol fuel took the spotlight as gasoline was modified to campaign better fuel burning and reduced emissions.

Ethanol, considered a good oxygenate, has the capacity of increasing gasoline’s octane. The petroleum industry, however, favored an oxygenate that they could produce from cheaper natural gas and petroleum refining by-products. A good example was methyl tertiary-butyl ether or MTBE.  This changed, however, when farm states started to favor ethanol over the latter.

Corn-based ethanol fuel expansion boomed in 2005 when MTBE was banned in some states and when Congress, in relevance to the EPA Act of 2005 did not give MTBE manufacturers liability protection from health claims and environmental damage.

In 2007, George W. Bush finally signed a law mandating oil companies to add billions of gallons of ethanol in their gasoline products. The administration’s belief that it will make the country “stronger, cleaner and more secure” was further campaigned by then presidential candidate Barack Obama, who used homegrown corn as the primary player to slow global warming. In 2010, corn-based ethanol fuel was ranked as the no.1 use for the crop in the country.

More and more lands are now being turned for crop use to support the high demand of corn for corn-based ethanol fuel production.The Effects of Corn-Based Ethanol Fuel

But is the use of corn-based ethanol fuel really helping the country?

Corn-based ethanol fuel seemed like the perfect alternative that could solve America’s environmental and economic problems at first. It did not take long, however, before people finally started to notice that it was doing exactly the opposite.

Many specialists have already criticized the decision of the government to grow corn for fuel rather than for food. Together with the mandate of growing corn for fuel use comes the need for farmers to till more lands to support the now higher demand for the crop.

 

The ethanol boom has come at a far higher price than the US government is willing to admit. Millions of acres of conservation land has been destroyed—converted into corn fields.

In the first couple of years that Obama was in office, five million acres of conservation land disappeared as farmers tried to address the demands for food, animal feed, and now fuel. Environmentally valuable grasslands have been used to grow corn. Moreover, a lot of farmers are now dropping from the conservation program. The latter is a campaign which involves paying farmers with a certain amount in exchange of them leaving their farmland idle to improve soil fertility.

According to an article in Time World, soil erosion and degradation rates suggest we have only about 60 remaining years of topsoil. Forty percent of the world’s agricultural soil is now classified as either degraded or seriously degraded; the latter means that 70 percent of the topsoil is gone. Our soil is being lost at 10 to 40 times the rate it can be replenished, and our agricultural systems are to blame, which epitomizes the term “unsustainable.”

This phenomena does not only pose adverse effects on our lands but also affects the future of food production as well. As Dr. Mercola puts it;

Soil degradation is projected to cause 30 percent loss in food production over the next 20 to 50 years—while our global food demands are expected to increase by 50 percent over this span of time. All of these things considered, should we really keep growing so much corn to fuel our cars?

Soil degradation is another cause of the production of corn for corn-based ethanol fuel.Corn-Based Ethanol Fuel and its Effect on the Environment

Besides the consequences that corn-based ethanol fuel is having into the future of land use and food production, its negative effects on the environment is another big issue that tails it.

In just five years, (between 2005 and 2010), American corn farmers increased their use of nitrogen fertilizers by more than one billion pounds. As a result, many areas now have to address increasingly polluted drinking water.

As more and more acres of land are used for corn production for the purpose of corn-based ethanol fuel, American farmers are pushed to increase their use of fertilizers. These chemicals then run off into bodies of water and also cause decimation of top soil. The new pattern of farming can contaminate and deplete the already limited fresh water in the environment. Worse, corn-based ethanol fuel makes use of GE (genetically engineered) crops which requires more agricultural chemicals and water.

The billions of pounds of fertilizer being used on all of these corn fields are also contaminating rivers, and contribute to an ever-expanding dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico—a zone, currently the size of Connecticut, that is too toxic to support aquatic life.

Farmers dropping off from the conservation program and expanding their use of lands also damage the top soil as well. Conserving land is important since it traps carbon in the soil and prevent erosion of topsoil. Topsoil is very important as it is the latter that lets plants grow.

Topsoil can take decades or even centuries to be regenerated. In other words, production of crops for corn-based ethanol fuel is doing the exact opposite of what it is supposed to do which is to save the environment.

Is Corn-based Ethanol Fuel use worth it?

From the statistics and evidences above, the question on whether corn-based ethanol fuel is doing its job remains debatable. With it affecting land use, food production, and the environment, production of ethanol fuel leaves a larger footprint as compared to production of other fossil-fuel sources of energy. If it’s just the issue on lessening the amount of emissions, there are other alternatives like fuel additives which can help make fuel friendlier to the environment by lessening the emitted particulates in the air. There is also the fact about the BTU of ethanol as well. What are your thoughts given the fact that ethanol enriched fuel actually has less BTU (energy) per gallon over its counterpart?

 

Read More
Heat and friction destroys bearings in manual transmissions and other important components

How Heat and Friction Destroys Bearings

November 23, 2013 • Enthusiasts, Racers • Views: 3604

A Closer Look at How Heat and Friction Destroys Bearings in Manual Transmissions There are five common types of bearings found in manual transmissions: plain, ball, roller, tapered roller, and needle. Plain bearings are those used on an engine’s lower …

heat and friction cause a great negative impact on transmissions by affecting its internal parts.

Heat and Friction and its Impact on Transmissions

November 23, 2013 • Enthusiasts, Mostly Trucks • Views: 2768

Curious of the ways that can help you spare your gearbox or transmission from these factors? Read on for a crash course about them. Manual Transmissions: The Basics Standard transmissions, also known as manual gearbox or manual transmission is a …

Heat and friction are factors that can affect engine performance and fuel economy in vehicles.

Heat and Friction: Primary Enemies of Car Engines

November 21, 2013 • Enthusiasts • Views: 10287

Engines, Heat, and Friction A modern internal combustion engine is comprised of dozens of moving parts. Without proper oiling, these parts run against each other with tremendous speed, creating friction which then leads to heat. This heat can wear the …

A lot of efforts have been placed to control and lower diesel particulate matter emissions.

Diesel Emissions and Black Soot: What are We Doing to Control Them?

November 14, 2013 • Enthusiasts, Mostly Trucks • Views: 5613

e United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) With the use of a nationwide network of monitoring sites, the EPA came up with ambient air quality trends for particulate matter (PM) and diesel emissions. Set under the Clean Air Act, EPA …

Trucks are one of the leading sources of diesel exhaust and particulate matter.

The Dark Side of Diesel Exhaust

November 13, 2013 • Enthusiasts, Mostly Trucks • Views: 2607

Emissions vary a lot in particle sizes and chemical compositions depending on factors like engine type, operating conditions, and fuel formulations. There is also a great difference between off-road and on-road engines with the former being an older, less efficient …

One of the many sources of particulate emissions are diesel trucks. Learn about them here.

What Are Particulate Emissions?

November 13, 2013 • Enthusiasts, Mostly Trucks • Views: 3758

Let’s take a closer look at these particulate emissions in this article. Factors Affecting the Release of Emissions: There are several factors that affect a vehicle’s rate of emitting pollutants. Size Accumulated mileage Fuel used Weather conditions Vehicle’s condition Diesel …

Contact patch of tires affect steering position, vehicle speed, and many other factors.

The Fuss about Contact Patch of Tires

November 11, 2013 • Enthusiasts • Views: 3678

Why is it important? The contact patch of tires is the only connection between the vehicle and the road. Its characteristics (e.g. shape and size), therefore, play a huge role on important handling characteristics and ride qualities of the vehicle. …

Following some precautions is needed for winter driving.

Braving Winter Driving With Your Trailer the Right Way

November 11, 2013 • Enthusiasts • Views: 1989

Preparing the Trailer: Towing involves a certain set of chores, the most important ones being trailer preparation and maintenance. Besides from keeping yourself safe, following certain measures also clears you from certain laws that can put a damp on your …

Winter blends are now being used earlier due to prices peaking.

The Battle of the Blends: Issues on Winter Blends and Ethanol Blend Wall

November 8, 2013 • Enthusiasts • Views: 2451

The rise of the price of gasoline has pushed a lot of issues into light lately. One of the most controversial topics in the industry presently is the gasoline blends traditionally not used in certain circumstances. Below, I quote some …