Media survey: Politicians rethink food-based ethanol
Drawbacks appear in a process once touted as an answer to global warming.
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" 'There has been apparently some effect, unintended consequence, from the alternative fuels effort,' Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told a meeting of the Peace Corps in Washington when asked for the US government's view on the spike in world food prices."
"[Bush] said the rise in food prices has been caused by weather, increased demand and energy prices, while only a small part is due to the production of corn-based ethanol. 'And the truth of the matter is, it's in our national interest that we – our farmers – grow energy, as opposed to us purchasing energy from parts of the world that are unstable or may not like us.' "
"[A] study published in Science magazine Feb. 29 concluded that greenhouse-gas emissions from corn and even cellulosic ethanol 'exceed or match those from fossil fuels and therefore produce no greenhouse benefits.' By encouraging an expansion of acreage, the study added, the use of US cropland for ethanol could make climate conditions dramatically worse. And the runoff from increased use of fertilizers on expanded acreage would compound damage to waterways...."
A comprehensive method of study, developed by the Empa Research Institute in Switzerland, takes into account total environmental impacts, such as loss of forests and farmland and effects on biodiversity. The result is not good news for corn ethanol producers. A story in Britain's The Guardian says that:
"In a study of 26 biofuels the Swiss method showed that 21 fuels reduced greenhouse-gas emissions by more than 30 percent compared with gasoline when burned. But almost half of the biofuels, a total of 12, had greater total environmental impacts than fossil fuels. These included economically-significant fuels such as US corn ethanol, Brazilian sugar cane ethanol and soy diesel, and Malaysian palm-oil diesel. Biofuels that fared best were those produced from waste products such as recycled cooking oil, as well as ethanol from grass or wood.
These are early days in that effort, however, and the full environmental, economic, and social impact is not fully known – as was the case when corn-based ethanol first came on the scene.