Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Corn Ethanol--Nah!

Colin A. Carter and Henry I. Miller provide a good article in the Christian Science Monitor, the link thanks to Tim Haab. They mention that a Bush Mission Goal of ethanol replacing 15% of domestic fuel usage would require the entire American Corn Crop, if the ethanol was dependent on Corn; the rationale behind the current Subsidies presently awarded. They don’t really come out and state it is Insanity to place Our Food Production in direct competition with Our desired Fuel Production; but it is a Statement which I will render. A further Slaughter of domestic Meat herds will only impel a Protein shortage in the American Diet. This will occur rapidly if Feed Lots do not get their own Round of Government Subsidies, because as the Situation now dictates if left to its own resolution, We will find a potential 34% Protein shortage within 3 years.

Ethanol Production cannot be Self-Sustaining if Production requires a greater draft of minerals from the ground, than can be replaced naturally. Corn production is better than Cotton in terms of Soil depletion, but in no way can it be considered Self-Sustaining. Ethanol Production can only be Self-Sustaining if it is based upon Nitrogen-fixating plants–best possibility being Gamma grasses. They have the additional benefit of harvesting frequency of a potential 3-4 times a year. They also enjoy the capacity of great bulk, but a bulk which can be ground and powdered after fermentation, and re-mixed with ethanol to furnish Carbon substance to ignite. All Government Subsidies for ethanol should be routed to this area.

American Farmers will not feel slighted by this redirection, basically because almost All such Farmers can easily switch to Gamma grasses production–a production which is actually much cheaper than Corn production, and faces far less threat from adverse weather. It is also a Self-Sustaining production with only limited Needs for Fertilizer, and composed of Mineral elements which requires little Fuel itself for production and distribution. Little Water, little Fertilizer, lower Tillage Costs, and greater bulk actually delivered to a potential Fuel source. Actual ethanol production would require larger fermentation tanks, and grinding facilities; but actual production of usable Fuel could be maximized. lgl

1 comment:

Ron Steenblik said...

Mr. Lux,

Corn farmers could switch to growing grasses for ethanol, but the probability is that they won't -- at least not without yet more subsidies. A recent study from Iowa State University's Center for Agricultural and Rural Development (CARD) modelled future ethanol production and concluded the following:

"A key and possibly counterintuitive insight is that there is no ethanol price that makes it worthwhile to grow switchgrass because any ethanol price that allows ethanol plants to pay more for switchgrass also allows them to pay more for corn. So long as farms are responding to net returns in a rational manner and so long as ethanol plants are paying their breakeven price for raw material, farmers will plant corn as an energy crop. Switchgrass in the Corn Belt will make economic sense only if it receives an additional subsidy that is not provided for corn-based ethanol."

Not surprisingly, there is now at least one bill before the U.S. Congress proposing new, additional incentives to encourage farmers to produce feedstock crops other than corn. The bill, co-sponsored by two mid-west Senators, John Thune (R-SD) and Ben Nelson (D-NE), (see Press Release) would pay producers a "cost share" for planting energy-dedicated crops and a per-acre rental payment. Once the biorefinery is operational, the rental payment would end and the producer would receive a matching payment up to $45 for each ton of biomass delivered to the biorefinery for up to two years.

That would, presumably, be on top of the $0.51/gallon that the blender would receive for mixing the ethanol with gasoline.

Ronald Steenblik
Research Director
Global Subsidies Initiative