- Politics and Social Issues
No Corn for Oil
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.”