photo by tlindenbaum
It's almost considered conventional wisdom at this point that corn ethanol probably isn't the best biofuel out there. It may not be the primary cause of global food shortages, but corn-based ethanol has nevertheless has gotten a bad rap lately. Here's something that won't change that tarnished reputation:
Ethanol Expansion Contributes to Increase Runoff
According to Louisiana State University professor R. Eugene Turner growth in the Midwest corn-based biofuel industry may be the cause of a record-breaking "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico this summer.
Turner as quoted in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: "In the past several years, there's been an expansion of corn, which has the highest fertilizer per acre...and that's for biofuels."
How much of an expansion? Last year U.S. farmers planted 90 million acres of corn: The greatest amount in the last 60 years. Obviously not all of the expansion is because of increased ethanol production. As many authors have pointed out corn is in a huge percentage of the US food supply whether we recognize it or not. The result is that gains is preventing runoff which began in 1990s have been
In the 1990s voluntary efforts by corn growers and states to reduce runoff resulted in a 30% decrease, but since then expanding corn production has made up the difference.
Worst 'Dead Zone' Ever
According to Turner's team's research the area of oxygen deprived water caused by fertilizer run-off into the Mississippi River is expected to grow to over 10,000 square miles this year. The previous record was in 2002, when the gigantic algae bloom covered 8,500 sq. miles. For those that need a different reference point: that's an area bigger than the state of New Jersey. In this area the algae consume so much oxygen that fish are forced to flee or asphyxiate to death.