Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Producing Ethanol

It can be interesting how, once information makes its way onto the internet, it can be perpetuated long after new information contradicts it.  I recently read how forty percent of the corn crop grown in the U.S. is being used in the production of ethanol (google: "40 percent of corn used in ethanol").  As a result, there is concern about corn prices, and even wheat prices being forced higher.

When I researched further, I found it interesting to find how little of what I had been led to believe in the past was true.

Myth Number 1:  The use of corn to make ethanol is driving up the price of grains.
Prices may be up, but it isn't necessarily because corn is being used to make ethanol instead of being used as feed.  Corn is mostly used as animal feed, and the corn that is used to make ethanol can still be added to feed.

Myth Number 2:  It takes more energy to make ethanol than ethanol produces.
According to calculations using modern farming procedures and modern production techniques, it is currently estimated that ethanol contains at least 30 percent more energy than it takes to make it.

Myth Number 3:  Using all of the farmland in the U.S. to produce corn for ethanol would only meet 4 percent of the energy needs of that country.
Ethanol burns cleaner and is therefore better for the environment.  The carbon dioxide that is given off in the fermentation process can be captured and used, or stored instead of being released into the atmosphere as when burning hydrocarbons.  Any reduction in green house gases should be seen as good.  We spend money on wind and solar.  They will never meet the total energy needs of the U.S..  Does that mean we shouldn't bother?

Myth Number 4:  Corn grown to produce ethanol is ruining the farm land and wasting water.
That is like blaming nuclear power plants for nuclear bombs.  The real problem lies in proper farming practices, not in the type of crop being grown.  It is okay to grow corn for feed, but it is not okay to grow corn to produce ethanol and then use the corn for feed.  Why?

Myth Number 5:  The high price of corn (because of ethanol) is driving up the price of meat.
As stated before, the more corn that is grown for ethanol production, the more of it is available for feed.  How does that increase food costs?

Myth Number 6:  Ethanol production is only viable because it is subsidised.
With corn at $3.00 a bushel, it is believed to be competitive when oil is at $70.00, or more, a barrel.  The price of corn has risen to twice that recently.  How much should we expect to pay for a barrel of oil in another year?  Two years?

All in all, I am sure the production of ethanol is having some affect on corn prices, but to say the current price of food is because of ethanol is, in my opinion, irresponsible.  Then there is the question of whether it is a good idea to subsidise the production of crops for energy.  We subsidise other forms of alternative energy, why is this example such a particularly bad one?  If we really want to be efficient in our land use, we should stop growing corn for feed, eat less meat, and grow more human food.  Why don't we do that?

Rather than debate the real facts, we end up with a whole lot of misinformation for, and against.  This is exactly what I warn against when trying to decide where to put your money in the stock market.  Identify the relevant data, verify it, check for hidden agendas, and don't listen to all of the unsubstantiated double talk.  By knowing what to look for we can avoid a huge amount of irrelevant, and misleading "noise" and focus, instead, on the important facts that can give us a real return on our money.

Was it only me?  Had you heard of any of these myths about ethanol?

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