Midwest Flooding Brings to Light the Vulnerability of Corn Ethanol

Image Credit: Steve Pope/European Pressphoto Agency
Hurricane Katrina highlighted the extent to which oil supplies are subject to disruptions from the weather, and we've long known that a terrorist attack or a decision by OPEC can affect oil supplies and prices. Supporters of biofuels often point to these facts as reasons for increasing our production of corn-based ethanol and other biofuels. After all, we can grow corn right here in the U.S., supporting American farmers and freeing ourselves from the grip of OPEC and petro-dictators such as Hugo Chavez.

Flooding Disrupts Ethanol Supply
Well, the recent flooding in the Midwest has demonstrated that, in addition to its questionable environmental and social benefits, corn based ethanol brings with it some unique supply issues. For instance, the flooding has forced up the price of ethanol 19% in the last month alone. In other words, "as America grows more reliant on corn for its fuel supply, it is becoming vulnerable to the many hazards that can damage crops, ranging from droughts to plagues to storms." Many people are beginning to see corn ethanol for the boondoggle that it is. The EU is reconsidering its biofuels mandate, and so-called advanced biofuels such as cellulosic ethanol have yet to advance beyond the pilot phase. At the same time, high food prices are causing food riots and worsening hunger, and the increase in biofuels is at least partly to blame. FInally, in 2008 the U.S. is expected to subsidize corn ethanol to the tune of around $12 billion--money that could be far better spent on critical infrastructure and incentives for better batteries, wind, solar and geothermal.

Unfortunately, last year's energy bill established an ethanol mandate of "nine billion gallons for 2008" that is "scheduled to rise to 36 billion gallons a year by 2022," committing the U.S. to an alternative energy path of dubious merits. As one energy analyst put it, "our energy policy is like playing Russian roulette with every chamber loaded."

A More Sensible Approach
So what would be a more sensible approach? Well, myself and many others haveargued that the future of our transportation system lies in plug-in hybrid (PHEV) and pure electric vehicles. When it comes to the stability of fuel supply, these vehicles can't be beat: they can run on wind, solar, geothermal, coal, nuclear, biofuels, gasoline, etc. Perhaps what we'll see in the coming decades are PHEVs that run on biofuels when the battery runs out of power. Israel is investing heavily in the necessary infrastructure for electric vehicles, and GM is placing its bets on the Chevy Volt. Time will tell.

Via: ::NY Times
More on Ethanol
Ethanol Death Watch As Corn Prices Rocket
Obama, McCain and Ethanol Debate: One Thing's Missing
Ethanol: Not as Pointless As We Thought!

More on the Flooding
Millions of Acres of Corn Won't Be Knee-High on the Fourth of July: But Meat Prices Will
Lessons From the Midwest Floods
Five Reasons Why Environmentalists Aren't Blaming Global Warming For Recent Weather

Tags: Biofuels | Ethanol | United States


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