NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


October 5, 2007

Politicians often refer to ethanol as a "renewable fuel" that could secure the United States' "energy security."  But ethanol is not a truly renewable energy source, and is not more secure and dependable than oil, say James Eaves, assistant professor in the Department of Finance and Insurance at Laval University, and Stephen Eaves, vice-president of Eaves Devices.


  • Ethanol is not currently produced in a "renewable" manner -- the production process is almost completely dependant on fossil fuels such as coal, natural gas and diesel.
  • If ethanol were produced in a manner that did not require fossil fuels, processing all the corn in the country would displace about 3.5 percent of our gasoline consumption.
  • Also, bear in mind that the United States is responsible for about 70 percent of global corn exports, so even small diversions of corn supplies to ethanol could have dramatic implications for food prices and the health of the world's poor.

Another ethanol shortcoming is that it is not very secure:

  • While it is true that U.S. corn yields have increased substantially over the past few decades, researchers have observed that the year-to-year percentage gain has steadily declined.
  • The rate peaked around 4 percent in the early 1960s and was less than 1.5 percent in 2001. That growth rate is not expected to keep up with food demand.

Moreover, variability in U.S. corn yields appears to be increasing, a point that is underscored by this summer's drought.  Researchers predict that, even under the best-case global warming scenario, corn yields are likely to decline by 22 percent in the short-run.

Source: James Eaves and Stephen Eaves, "Is Ethanol the 'Energy Security' Solution?" Washington Post, October 3, 2007.

For text:


Browse more articles on Environment Issues