I found an interesting article in the online issue of Business Week. John Carey, the author of ” Is Ethanol Getting a Bum Rap?” provides some of the hidden truths about the food vs fuel debate. The article is based on a study conducted by Texas A&M University that provides some interesting and controversial conclusions. It provides yet another perspective with its own statistics and comments by notable backers.
“Biofuels are a very, very small factor” in rising food costs
“The underlying force driving changes in the agricultural industry, along with the economy as a whole, is overall higher energy costs,“. As a result without corn derived ethanol, food prices would still be increasing. Apparently last year there was enough corn produce to allow a stockpile of 10% surplus.
“the ethanol industry is here to stay”
Certainly the 1st generation corn-fuels were and are not the way to be heading to a greener and sustainable renewable fuel due to its negative carbon and energy balance (more to produce than save). And it is widely accepted that investment should switch to focus on higher generation fuels and innovative processing technology for increasing yields and productivity (especially the separation technology for cellulosic sources with lignin). They mention sugarcane and switchgrassas as potential corn-substitute crops. However I still believe neither is satisfactory, with organic waste streams holding a more viable ethanol source. For example methane is obtained from wastewater treatment plants for energy use, however is ethanol able to be extracted from this process too? Solid waste from this industry (the largest biotech industry) accounts for a solid chunk of their operational costs. It is certainly challenging to get your head around the different perspectives and pull out a logical/ most appropriate means to pursue the biofuel revolution.
They rub further salt into the wound of followers of the ‘ethanol is causing increases in food prices’ bandwagon by stating and reasoning that increasing food prices is actually not a bad thing
If you do end up reading the article be sure to check out the replies to it – you can definitely feel the heat around this global debate. Fueling such responses:
“Excuse me, fertilizer from oil and natural gas? Oh, you must be the princess who spun gold from flax. do some research before commenting”
” I disagree with your assessment. No one on God’s green earth can tell me that ethanol has done anything to help.”
A couple others that support the other side of the story:
http://www.technologyreview.com/printer_friendly_article.aspx?id=20641 – ethanol is the cause of food prices
http://www.grist.org/news/maindish/2006/12/08/philpott/ – cellulosic ethanol is even worse