Energy

One tankful of ethanol could feed a person for a year

By Adrian Duyzer
Published August 21, 2006

(First posted on Ade's blog)

Ethanol, the fuel mainly produced from agricultural crops like corn, will likely have disastrous effects on the environment. Deforestation and the massive use of chemical fertilizers are just the appetizers, but the environmental costs pale in comparison to the human costs.

Lester Brown, president of the Earth Policy Institute, lays those out in a Fortune article:

The growing myth that corn is a cure-all for our energy woes is leading us toward a potentially dangerous global fight for food. While crop-based ethanol - the latest craze in alternative energy - promises a guilt-free way to keep our gas tanks full, the reality is that overuse of our agricultural resources could have consequences even more drastic than, say, being deprived of our SUVs. It could leave much of the world hungry.

We are facing an epic competition between the 800 million motorists who want to protect their mobility and the two billion poorest people in the world who simply want to survive. In effect, supermarkets and service stations are now competing for the same resources.

This year cars, not people, will claim most of the increase in world grain consumption. The problem is simple: It takes a whole lot of agricultural produce to create a modest amount of automotive fuel.

The grain required to fill a 25-gallon SUV gas tank with ethanol, for instance, could feed one person for a year. If today's entire U.S. grain harvest were converted into fuel for cars, it would still satisfy less than one-sixth of U.S. demand.

This problem is especially acute in poorer countries, where farmers are shifting production from food to fuel crops, or simply taking food and selling it to fuel producers rather than food suppliers.

"Sugar prices have doubled over the past 18 months (driven in part by Brazil's use of sugar cane for fuel)", the article says, and "Malaysia, the leading exporter of palm oil, is emerging as the biofuel leader in Asia", but has had to "suspend further licensing while it assesses the adequacy of its palm oil supplies".

In Malaysia, as this 2004 article reports, there is an enormous gap between rich and poor.

Even within urban areas, a significant underclass has emerged as well over the decades. A few kilometers from Mariam's kampong, at a sprawling squatter settlement next to an established industrial estate, conditions are dismal. A sizable number of undernourished children can be found in squatter areas and plantations, according to Nasir, a trained nutritionist. The telltale signs are underweight children, poor academic performance, and health problems. Invariably, many of the children drop out of school.

I wonder how Nasir the trained nutritionist feels about palm oil going into gas tanks instead of the mouths of undernourished children.

Adrian Duyzer is an entrepreneur, business owner, and Associate Editor of Raise the Hammer. He lives in downtown Hamilton with his family. On Twitter: adriandz

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By eb (anonymous) | Posted August 21, 2006 at 15:48:55

You can always spot unitelligent people, they are the ones that argue and protest change and advancement as if they know what they are actually talking about. They poke at concerns and issues and provide no solution. It must be nice to always be the person who throws stones and never the visionary who invented windows. In other words, if you are so smart provide solutions along with your criticisms and you may get a few stones thrown your direction too.

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By eb (anonymous) | Posted August 21, 2006 at 15:49:42

You can always spot unitelligent people, they are the ones that argue and protest change and advancement as if they know what they are actually talking about. They poke at concerns and issues and provide no solution. It must be nice to always be the person who throws stones and never the visionary who invented windows. In other words, if you are so smart provide solutions along with your criticisms and you may get a few stones thrown your direction too.

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By eb (anonymous) | Posted August 21, 2006 at 18:03:25

You can always spot unitelligent people, they are the ones that argue and protest change and advancement as if they know what they are actually talking about. They poke at concerns and issues and provide no solution. It must be nice to always be the person who throws stones and never the visionary who invented windows. In other words, if you are so smart provide solutions along with your criticisms and you may get a few stones thrown your direction too.

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By jason (registered) | Posted August 21, 2006 at 20:07:06

I'll only post this comment once so as not to appear intelligent. jk! eb, check out our categories on the right side of the page - specifically, energy, neighbourhoods, revitalization, sprawl, transportation etc.... You will find a great abundance of suggestions and solutions to help us cope with declining oil production.
Ade's post doesn't appear to be 'throwing stones' as much as providing some much needed background on the issue of ethanol and how it relates to humanity - specifically regarding our health (more chemical farming for mass quantity) and the endless masses of starving people all over the world. In North America we usually don't hear stories like this on the 6pm newscast. I appreciate it when folks find them and post them here on RTH. Once we have good info and facts on a certain topic we can all make more informed decisions, not just continue buying something because Ford or an oil company tells us to. Cheers,

Jason

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By Frank (registered) | Posted September 11, 2006 at 12:23:50

I agree with Jason. Besides, I'm pretty sure that the majority of possible alternatives have been explored already. And he does offer a solution...stop driving oversized vehicles and use other means of transport if possible.

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By Jamie W (anonymous) | Posted September 11, 2006 at 12:40:24

As a farmer, the Ethanol production is a welcome site. Present prices for corn (ethanol input) & also soybeans are below the cost to grow them. So any increased demand that would put upward pressure on the price of these crops is welcomed. In fact in Canada, if we have another 2 to 5 years of these crop prices, a significant number of farmers will either be bankrupt or hang up their hat and sell the land and retire. The problem doesn't exist in the USA, as they have very generous farm support programs.

The people in the world living in poverty, struggling to find food, are not doing it because it isn't available. They cannot acquire it for a myriad of other reasons (social & political & too lengthy to discuss here--- we do our best see www.canadianfoodgrainsbank.ca)

In the end the Ethanol plants are welcome sights for the farming community.

If you ate today, it was created by God, and produced by a farmer. If you don't believe that, try growing it yourself sometime (seriously, it's fun).

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By (anonymous) | Posted January 02, 2007 at 23:11:42

Some stories this Fall indicated that certain grains were in short supply thanks to Ethanol production. The farmer should get more for their efforts - as one of the few groups actually doing something worthwhile - but the damand doesn't seem to have made much difference. The fact is, there isn't much more Ethanol production available without starving someone. Some of the pie-in-sky ideas about Ethanol can't be realized unless someone started bulldozing lots of cities for the extra farmland. Nothing is going to replace oil. Not even nuclear - we are already way short on nuclear fuel production to take care of the existing plants... The only way out is massive cuts in consumption - huge changes in lifestyle - and living like we are already in a crisis in order to avoid falling off a very steep cliff.

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