Anonymous asked in Politics & GovernmentElections · 1 decade ago

Ethanol vs Corn Ethanol: Were we duped? Corn's highest and best use is in food production. Ethanol from...

...grasses and trees (switchgrass and mesquite) is much smarter.

Why did the U.S. begin its ethanol experiment with CORN as a feedstock?



Becca: I know. I, too, have cousins making the first profit they've ever made in corn. I'll muster up the courage to tell them that they and all of America would be much better off with other feedstocks. Oh, Lordy!


Update 2:


Elanor: You don't mince words, I see. I don't doubt that corn actually produces more energy than it uses and, as Adam mentioned, it takes fuels the U.S. produces to replace liquid fuels from the Mideast.

However, (& please understand that I hear contradicting arguments constantly so I take them with a "peer-review & time will clarify things" approach) I'm more inclined to accept - again, from Adam's answer - that starting out with corn benefited us most in the learning curve of fuel fermentation.

I wasn't aware cellulosic conversion to sugars was anything new as malting, mashing and Kvass are all (I thought) starch to sugar processes. It may be a cost-thing where it now costs a 1% what it once did.

I thank you for informing me of the cattle feed remaining after the ethanol process. We're still up against a 1% extraction cost for petroleum, though. We'll need much better than 120% (~80% extraction cost).



Update 3:

Elanor: [cont] I just had a look at the pic links. I couldn't agree more. You know, I honestly think Bush soul-searches, questions himself and STILL can't accept that oil can be replaced.

I can't seem to get two similar answers as to the competitiveness of any immediately available replacement for cars. Electricity is already cheaper from Solar and Wind than from coal, natural gas and MUCH cheaper than nuclear for a plant built today and amortized over 15 years.

And, the new battery technology developments (Firefly seems best in all respects - division of Caterpillar) may well make Plug-in EV's much better than gas or diesel ... or even hybrid in the next 2 years.

If not, though, how do we beat petroleum with renewables? Hydrogen slams into the compressibility challenge; biodiesel from algae is still many times higher than petrol-diesel; methanol has some promise but, unless converted from Methane, ???

Again. We must get $99 worth of energy for every $1 spent. Daunting!


13 Answers

  • 1 decade ago
    Favorite Answer

    The short answer is that making cellulosic ethanol wasn't feasible at the time we began producing ethanol. Only recently have we worked out reasonable ways of breaking down cellulose into sugars so that it can be fermented to fuel. I think that corn ethanol is becoming obsolete, but that it has served a useful purpose. Hopefully this will clarify the topic more:

    Yes, corn ethanol is very inefficient from the standpoint that you only get back about 120% of the energy you put in. Also, it would not be economically feasible without large government subsidies. However, the type of fuel used in the process is predominantly natural gas and coal for fertilizer production and electricity respectively. So, corn ethanol does help to reduce oil consumption.

    More importantly, in my opinion, is that corn ethanol is a "bridge" technology that will help our economy move toward a more efficient and economically viable next-generation biofuel.

    The endpoint of this technology path is a cellulosic process that produces a fuel with better properties than ethanol (e.g. butanol or a synthetic petroleum). You can think of a cellulosic process as two steps; breaking down cellulose into sugars, and fermenting sugars into fuel. Corn ethanol has helped us to become very good at the second part, and many corn ethanol plants will be able to add-on the first step once a cellulosic process has been more fully developed.

    Source(s): I'm a scientist who has studied biofuels, although it's not directly related to my work. I also know people at several biofuel research companies and have had this type of conversation many times.
  • Vicky
    Lv 7
    1 decade ago

    What many people fail to realize is that the corn used for ethanol production is NOT fit for human consumption. It is "field corn".

    The process of turning it into ethanol removes the corn oil, which then becomes a value added by-product.

    The process ONLY uses the starches from this "field corn" and what remains is another valuable by-product called "distillers grains". This by-product is very important to livestock (cows, pigs, fowl) ranchers as it is an inexpensive high-protein feed.


    “Feeding wet distillers

    grains saves us 25 cents

    per day per cow. We won’t

    switch our grain ration

    for a nickel or dime, but

    a quarter savings is big.

    I believe it’s the best

    byproduct feed to come

    along. And we’ve tried

    them all.”

    —Missouri Dairy Farmer

    Mark Chamberlin4}

    (another) QUOTE:

    {“Our concern has been

    ‘Will there be enough feed?’

    Assuming all the distiller’s

    grains are available for

    livestock feed, clearly there

    will be.”

    —Dr. Jim MacDonald,

    Texas A & M Experiment

    Station beef cattle


    Advanced Agricultural Technologies in farming have increased the YIELD of farms.

    The US can grow enough corn to feed humans & livestock and STILL have plenty for ethanol production! In fact, the sometimes the (perishable) corn grown for human consumption is wasted/destroyed because it isn't used in time.

    The process for making ethanol from switchgrass would be just as costly but would yield NO valuable by-products.

    Many of the "myths" surrounding ethanol have been debunked by reliable sources & I urge you to read this (cited & sourced) 8 page report recently published by the US Corn Growers (perhaps some of your cousins are already aware of this)


    {“Claims on higher

    consumer food prices

    in the popular press are


    prices and increasing retail

    margins are competing

    explanations for the rising

    food prices.”

    —John Beghin, economist

    at the Food and

    Agriculture Policy

    Research Institute at

    Iowa State University6}

    I urge you to also read this report (published by the US Department of Energy)

    which totally debunks the MYTH that it takes more energy to produce ethanol from corn than the YIELD of energy .:

    I could post dozens of links to reliable sources, but that would make my answer even longer than it already is....

    ...but I will end this answer with one more image:

    (PERSONNALLY, I would rather see the US president holding the hand of a US Corn Farmer. ...)

    Source(s): in the (American) auto business since 1983
  • 4 years ago

    Burning food is foolish. But I was very surprised to hear the Shell Oil commercials say that they are using "sugar beets" for fuel. [They used to say "corn."] I have not researched that yet. I don't like hidden crap in our food either. But what you should be more concerned about is the acceptable bug parts approved in food processing and all the antibiotics/hormones in feed. Not to mention GM meat. I'm sure if McDonald's could engineer a three breasted no legged chicken - they would. You can't blame the obesity problem on sugar. 95% of the time, it is the consumer's lifestyle choice. And it has been taught by obese parents to their obese children. We have become a gluttonous slothy society of which, I am not a part of.

  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago

    Ethanol from corn is a complete red herring and still being perpetuated by all of the leading candidates. It's more destructive to the environment, drives up the cost of food, and depletes the soil. Check out the research being done at Augsburg college. They are making biodiesel out of waste from ethanol production and even using algae with a process using zirconium which produces zero emissions or waste in the production process. The first production facility is under construction.

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  • 1 decade ago

    I think that made ethanol with corn not is a good idea.Yes you were duped, if the government was correct the corn prices wouldn´t so expensiver, is spite the corn used is not human consumer, not is?

    You Americans, has techonology and money. You would can made ethanol with sugar cane likewise with what the Brazil produces. The ethanol by sugar cane is more cheap and the impact in the food prices is less than the ethanol corn. The United States must made to produce ethanol by sugar cane, Here in Brazil, the ethanol sugar cane has not impact in the price food.and the production of etanor for hectare, it is 4 times bigger than your production of the alcohol of corn

  • Rick31
    Lv 7
    1 decade ago

    I agree with you. Congress started subsidizing corn as the crop to make ethanol from and most analysts say it was a very bad decision. Ethanol from grasses and trees would be best as long as a tree is planted for every one cut down. Brazil uses sugar cane to make ethanol which is their primary fuel. Their government allowed for their ethanol production whereas the US government had tried to thwart much of the research. I also think we should look at producing fuel from waste.

  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago

    There is plenty of corn grown in the US. The rise in food cost is almost entirely because of the rise in the cost of oil.

    The production of ethanol only accounts for less than .25% of the increase we have seen . that is only one quarter of one percent. I have been told that without the ethanol in our gasoline , the cost would be almost 30% higher. So , yes , I think ethanol is a step in the right direction.

    More bio fuels are needed however.

  • 1 decade ago

    Obviously no one is thinking for the future and what using corn for fuel would do to our food supply. Along with Congress pandering to the farmers for votes. Now we have a Dem. congress. Farmers are mostly Democrats because they get lots of money from us (the taxpayers) to subsidize their crops. We definitely need to stop using corn and use other proven things.

    Source(s): Cousin is a corn grower and is kicking his heels all the way to the bank!!! Edit- My cousin has had major profits for many years. Lives a real nice life and more power to him. I do not believe we should use feed stock for fuel because we need it for feed for the animals for FOOD!
  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago

    ALGORE, pushed legislation to subsidize the use of corn for ethanol to be used as fuel. Algore is the pope of the new enviro-extremists religion.

  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago

    Because the US has a huge surplus of corn. The US government buys tons of corn and lets it rot in storage bins just to keep the price up and farmers employed.

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