Bush’s Hearts-&-Minds tour of South America is feeding our brewing ethanol-mania. Corn-based ethanol seems like a great solution, especially for us — anyone who’s driven across Michigan in July knows that we grow a lot of corn. But we need to stop and give corn-based ethanol a good look, because it cannot replace our dependance on foreign oil.

First off, a gallon of ethanol has only three-quarters as much energy as a gallon of gasoline. You will need to buy one-third more ethanol to drive as many miles. Also, ethanol offers little to no advantage if you’re concerned about Global Climate Collapse: although ethanol has fewer carbon molecules per gallon than gasoline, burning those extra gallons in order to get as far means that we’ll be dumping roughly as much carbon into our atmosphere.

America’s appetite for corn is enormous. But Americans consume so much gasoline that all the corn in the world couldn’t make enough ethanol to slake the nation’s lust for transportation fuels. Last year ethanol production used 12 percent of the U.S. corn harvest, but it replaced only 2.8 percent of the nation’s gasoline consumption.

‘If we were to adopt automobile fuel efficiency standards to increase efficiency by 20 percent, that would contribute as much as converting the entire U.S. grain harvest into ethanol,’ Brown said.

(from “Biofuels Boom Raises Tough Questions“, AP Wire.)

Why is corn-based ethanol getting so much attention? Because it is profitable, even though it isn’t ecologically or economically sustainable. Ethanol isn’t taxed like petroleum-based fuel, which means it is essentially subsidized by 51 cents per gallon. Additionally, federal corn subsidies to farmers keep the growing of corn artificially cheap (which is why we use it in so many inappropriate ways, such as loading sodas with high-fructose corn syrup instead of sugar, or feeding it to cattle, whose ruminant digestive tracts cope poorly with grain.) The constant flow of federal research funds for ethanol projects doesn’t hurt, either.

Finally, corn is hard to grow. Corn cultivation requires a great deal of fertilizer, and still saps the soil of nutrients. Ethanol — specifically cellulosic ethanol, made by breaking down and fermenting the rigid cellulose from the cell walls of stalks of switchgrass or the trunks of poplar trees, or even garbage like cornstalks — is still a part of our diverse-energy future, but golden kernels of delicious corn aren’t going to save us.

Dave-o is a frequent contributor to GrowDetroit. He unabashedly supports Poor Mojo’s Newswire, a blog of merit since 1905 — now available electronically!

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