Over the past year or so, pretty much all of the gas stations in our area have started carrying gas with 10% Ethanol. Around that same time, we noticed our beloved 92 Honda Civic started getting worse gas mileage. Where we used to squeeze almost 40mpg out of it on the highway, we were mysteriously looking at a number far lower, hovering around 33-34mpg. The car is old, and had had some recent engine work, however, so we couldn’t quite pin it totally on a change in gasoline.
This past weekend, all of that changed. While on the road to Savannah, we found a station which advertised “no ethanol” in it’s gas, which frankly surprised us because we thought it was now everywhere. Well, wouldn’t you know, that tank of gas went about 12% further than the previous one, under near-identical driving conditions.
There is a growing list of reasons to be extremely wary of the greenwashing that is corn-based ethanol production. First, while production methods have improved enough to no longer require more energy to grow the corn than is released from burning the fuel, there are still other factors to consider like water usage, and pesticide contamination. There’s a rather in-depth discussion of the efficiency of it over on The Oil Drum, but the gist of the argument is that using corn as fuel isn’t a very good long-term solution.
One other factor in using ethanol is how it is going to affect the world’s food supply. As more land is being used to grow crops for our gas tanks, less land is being used to grow crops for food. While this may be a short term gain for farmers growing the corn, ultimately it is not a sustainable solution. This topic is covered in depth in a 2007 article in Foreign Affairs magazine.
Thanks to high oil prices and hefty subsidies, corn-based ethanol is now all the rage in the United States. But it takes so much supply to keep ethanol production going that the price of corn — and those of other food staples — is shooting up around the world. To stop this trend, and prevent even more people from going hungry, Washington must conserve more and diversify ethanol’s production inputs.
Now, studies are being published that show the increased demand for corn, and it’s resultant fertilizer pollution are contributing to yet another disaster in the Gulf Of Mexico. This graphic from an article in the SFGate shows the “Dead Zone” in the Gulf, as compared to the current BP oil spill.
As the graphic states, the Dead Zone is caused by fertilizer from cornfields running down the Mississippi river and flowing into the Gulf of Mexico, where the nitrogen causes massive algae blooms that consume the ocean’s oxygen, leaving all the living things in it to die of suffocation. As demand for corn-based ethanol and feed for factory farmed animals has increased, so has the size of the dead zone. Continuing on in this fashion could ultimately be more harmful to the gulf than the current oil spill disaster.
So after doing a little research, I just can’t be convinced that continuing this folly of corn-based fuel is a good idea. The damage it has done to our gas mileage and pocketbooks is just the last nail in the coffin. I think it’s time to end these ridiculous subsidies for such a damaging product and allow our farmers to go back to diversifying their fields, and let truly efficient forms of renewable energy take the funding currently being wasted.