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No Corn for Oil

Updated on August 17, 2012
Corn Ethanol Waste
Corn Ethanol Waste | Source

Faced with the worst drought conditions in over 50 years, corn output has dropped by 17 percent over last year’s yield, and it could get worse. However, there is no need to panic. With one simple policy change, we can ameliorate the affects of the drought on our corn supplies.

To stabilize corn prices and supplies, we must stop the U.S. policy that requires the use of 13.2 billion gallons of biofuels, mostly corn ethanol, this year and next. One bushel of corn produces 2.8 gallons of ethanol, consuming 1/3rd of the nations corn supply in 2009. Using corn for ethanol loses trillions of calories a year that can go to human consumption around the globe in various forms.

Moreover, UC Berkeley professor and civil engineer Ted Patzek estimates that it takes six times the energy to produce ethanol than the energy made available for automobiles during the process. Put simply, it takes 6 megajoules of energy in fertilizer and other energy costs to create 1 megajoule of energy for use in cars in the form of ethanol.

The only reason corn is used for fuel in the United States is the big farm lobby in D.C. and our Congressional system giving farm states with small populations equal power in the Senate compared to more populous states.

Here are the facts:

There are about 48 ears of corn per bushel.
There are about 77 calories per ear of corn.
Thus, there are about 3696 calories per bushel of corn.
In 2009, there were 3.8 billion bushels of corn used for ethanol.
That means about 14.5 trillion calories a year went to corn ethanol in 2009.

That would be about 5,000,000 days of 3000 calorie diets. Certainly, we wouldn’t only eat corn, but the food needs of people need to come before corn ethanol.

Despite its inefficiencies, there are people who will argue that corn ethanol production creates thousands of jobs and is good for our economy. It may create jobs, but there is alternative biomass one can use for biofuels that won’t take food off the market, creates similar numbers of jobs, and are more efficient. According to Scientific American, switchgrass makes a better biofuel than corn, and humans don't eat switchgrass.

Farmers in North and South Dakota and Nebraska are now planting large tracks of switchgrass, “proving that it can deliver more than five times more energy than it takes to grow it.” And, switchgrass only needs to be planted once and produces 13 megajoules of energy for every one megajoule of petroleum consumed in its cultivation. "But yields from a grass that only needs to be planted once would deliver an average of 13.1 megajoules of energy as ethanol for every megajoule of petroleum consumed…This means that switchgrass ethanol delivers 540 percent of the energy used to produce it." (ibid)

With the rising cost of corn, the inefficiency of using corn for ethanol, and the lack of food in the world, it’s time to start chanting, “No corn for oil.”

Tex Shelters


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    • texshelters profile image

      texshelters 4 years ago from Mesa, Arizona

      Thanks Maestro Joe!



    • Joseph G Caldwell profile image

      Joseph G Caldwell 4 years ago from southwest Pennsylvania

      Miscanthus is a good biofuel, better than corn, sugar, even switchgrass:

      "... one hectare of this perennial grass species can produce enough fuel to prevent 5 to 7 tons of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere compared to fossil fuel. They summarize the following attributes of the crop: A coal substitute that produces only as much carbon dioxide as it consumes from the atmosphere as it grows; an efficient output fuel having an energy ratio of input to output of less than 0.2; this is relatively lower than the 0.8 energy ratio for ethanol and biodiesel from canola; and in addition to being a clean, efficient and renewable fuel source, Miscanthus also is very easy to grow with good yield on untilled soil, an effective land management measure that can lower carbon debt."

    • texshelters profile image

      texshelters 5 years ago from Mesa, Arizona

      Nope, it's not a joke. Thanks.


    • profile image

      Ginger Ruffles 5 years ago

      Not a joke Tex. Read Omnivore's Dilemma.

    • texshelters profile image

      texshelters 5 years ago from Mesa, Arizona

      Ha ha. Good one. Corn McNuggets...


    • texshelters profile image

      texshelters 5 years ago from Mesa, Arizona

      The government screw it up for corporate interests and agrabus.

      Thanks. So you don't eat chips or other products with corn in them? Congrats!


    • profile image

      Ginger Ruffles 5 years ago

      Does this mean corn won't be so cheap this year even with subsidies that it won't end up as filler or something else in just about everything I eat ? Better yet, does this mean McDonalds will actually have to put chicken in their McNuggets this year?

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 5 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      Well....someone can eat my share of corn......I don't indulge in corn. Probably the only veggie I don't eat..........It should come as no big shock to anyone that the Gov't screws things up......I mean, that IS their job, isn't it? And they do it sooooo well. UP++

    • Wesman Todd Shaw profile image

      Wesman Todd Shaw 5 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

      I'm reminded of a lyric in a Ricky Skaggs Bluegrass tune:

      "If I lose a hundred dollars while trying to win a dime, my baby she got money all the time...."