The Many Problems with Ethanol

May 8, 2014

America's ethanol mandate is a complete disaster, says Peter Suderman, senior editor at Reason Magazine.

The renewable fuel standard is a federal program that mandates the minimum amount of ethanol that must be mixed with gasoline. The standard has been in place since 2005, the idea being that ethanol was a more environmentally friendly fuel source. In reality, the mandate is a serious problem for the environment, car engines, gas prices, and global hunger:

  • Most green biofuels actually release more greenhouse gases than do traditional fuels. And while cellulosic ethanol -- created from corn leftovers -- was alleged to be a more environmentally-friendly biofuel, research indicates that it is also bad for the environment, releasing 7 percent more greenhouse gases than traditional fuels in the short-term. It is also very difficult to produce.
  • Models predict that increased use of ethanol will cause a decrease in ozone levels. However, a recent study found that the more ethanol used by drivers in Sao Paulo, Brazil, the more ozone levels increased.
  • Ethanol corrodes fuel lines and injectors, damaging vehicles. Moreover, because ethanol blends contain less energy than regular gasoline, cars receive substantially less mileage per gallon. Prices at the gas pump have also risen, because ethanol supply has not matched demand.
  • Worldwide, food prices have risen as corn has shifted from a food source to an energy source, reducing the available food supply. According to the World Bank, a one percent increase in food prices leads to a 0.5 percent decrease in calorie consumption among the poor. Between 20 and 40 percent of the 2007-2008 spike in world food prices was due to increased use of biofuels.
  • Just one 25-gallon tank of ethanol requires 450 pounds of corn -- the same amount of calories it would take to feed one person for an entire year.

Even the Environmental Protection Agency seems to recognize that ethanol is not all that it was cracked up to be. Just last fall, the agency proposed reducing the amount of renewable fuels that it would require this year.

Source: Peter Suderman, "The Ethanol Disaster," Reason.com, May 6, 2014.

 

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