Corn

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Corn, also known as maize, provides food in addition to being used as a feedstock for the production of the biofuel ethanol (bioethanol). Corn stover, a potential feedstock for cellulosic ethanol, is the "leftover" portion of the corn plant after harvest, including corn cobs, stalks and leaves.

Contents

Availability

Sustainability

Financial support for the growing of corn, such as through subsidies in the United States, has been linked to various impacts, both locally -- such as soil erosion, changing the overall amount and ratios of crops grown (such as through promoting increased corn production and reduced soy production) and indirect impacts on an international scale (such as through distortions of markets, increases in prices of food and changes in cropping patterns), resulting in social and ecological damage, such as increased poverty and food insecurity and degradation of tropical forests. For more, see the food-versus-fuel debate.

Environmental Sustainability

Greenhouse Gases

See: Life-cycle analysis and indirect land use change.

Biodiversity

See: Biodiversity

Pollution

Pollution and agricultural runoff associated with widespread corn production in the Mississippi River watershed in the United States has led to the development of an hypoxic 'dead zone' in the Gulf of Mexico.

Relative GHG emissions reduction potentials for ethanol by feedstock type. These estimates refer to direct emissions only, and do not include emissions from land use change. Source: Worldwatch Issue Brief: U.S. Biofuels: Climate Change and Policies (PDF file)
  • For Gulf, Biofuels Are Worse Than Oil Spill , 17 June 2010 editorial by Investor's Business Daily: "Our growing addiction to alternative energy was killing aquatic life in the Gulf long before the Deepwater Horizon spill. Abandoning oil will kill more and also release more carbon dioxide into the air."
    • "Before the first gallon gushed from Deepwater Horizon, there existed an 8,500 square mile 'dead zone' below the Mississippi River Delta....Hypoxia, or oxygen depletion, caused by agricultural runoff...has been on an upward trend as acreage for corn destined to become ethanol increases."
    • "[A] 2008 study by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) found that 'nitrogen leaching from fertilized cornfields in the Mississippi-Atchafalaya River system is a primary cause of the bottom-water hypoxia that develops on the continental shelf of the northern Gulf of Mexico each summer.'"
    • "Ethanol from corn sounds like an energy panacea, but the devil is in the details. It takes 4,000 gallons of fresh water per acre per day to replace evaporation in a cornfield. Each acre requires about 130 pounds of nitrogen and 55 pounds of phosphorous."
    • The OECD "recently stated in a report: 'When acidification, fertilizer use, biodiversity loss and toxicity of agricultural pesticides are taken into account, the overall impact of ethanol and biodiesel can very easily exceed those of petrol and mineral diesel.'"
    • "All of this may not be as visually exciting as a gushing oil well a mile below the Gulf, but it shows no form of energy is pain-free and the benefits and trade-offs of any form of energy must be judged on the basis of science and not ideology."[1]
  • Gulf Oil Spill Spawns Biofuels Industry Opportunism, 6 May 2010 blog post by Dave Levitan on SolveClimate: "[T]he biofuels industry is seizing on the Gulf [of Mexico] oil disaster to highlight the differences between traditional fossil fuels and a safer ethanol alternative. But to some environmentalists, the effort smacks of opportunism that masks many thorny issues swirling around the nation's commitment to corn-based biofuels."
    • "The president of the Renewable Fuels Assocation, or RFA, Bob Dinneen wrote a letter to President Obama on Wednesday calling for approval of increased ethanol blends."
    • "The only problem, according to Craig Cox of the Environmental Working Group, is that the corn ethanol industry has contributed substantially to its own version of Gulf [of Mexico] pollution."
    • "'The RFA statement used the tragedy essentially as a marketing tool, which we thought was offensive,' Cox said. A large 'dead zone' exists in the Gulf that has been attributed to runoff of nitrogen-based fertilizers and sediment, largely coming from the Corn Belt region."[2]
    • Related item: Union of Concerned Scientists, RFA call for more biofuel investment in wake of oil spill, 6 May 2010 by Biofuels Digest: "In Washington, the Union of Concerned Scientists [UCS] and the Renewable Fuels Association [RFA] linked increased investment in biofuels to the solution to offshore drilling risks demonstrated by the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico."
      • Brendan Bell of UCS was quoted as saying, "The real ticket to reducing our oil dependence is stronger fuel economy standards, more clean homegrown biofuels, and a 21st century transportation system."
      • Bob Dinneen of the RFA was quoted as saying, "The EPA should immediately move to allow for the blending of 12% ethanol by volume in each gallon of gasoline...EPA should grant a full waiver for the use of 15% ethanol blends as soon as the Department of Energy testing on catalytic converters is completed early this summer."[3]
  • Concern about worsening of the dead zone as a result of expanded corn-based ethanol production is echoed in a December 2007 report by the Environmental Protection Agency, "Hypoxia in the Northern Gulf of Mexico" (PDF file). The summary reads in part:
    • "Certain aspects of the nation’s current agricultural and energy policies are at odds with the goals of hypoxia reduction and improving water quality....[A]n emerging national strategy on renewable fuels has granted economic incentives to corn-based ethanol production. The projected increase in corn production from this strategy has profound implications for water quality...as well as hypoxia....Recent energy policies, combined with pre-existing crop subsidies, tax policies, global market conditions and trade barriers all provide economic incentives for conversion of retired and other cropland to corn production for use in ethanol production."

Land Degradation

Social Sustainability

Technology/Science

Properties

Technology

Economics/Policy

Publications

The cover of the October 2007 National Geographic magazine.
  • Midwest U.S. landscape change to 2020 driven by biofuel mandates by Megan Mehaffey, Elizabeth Smith, and Rick Van Remortel, January 2012. "Meeting future biofuel targets set by the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) will require a substantial increase in production of corn. The Midwest, which has the highest overall crop production capacity, is likely to bear the brunt of the biofuel-driven changes. In this paper, we set forth a method for developing a possible future landscape and evaluate changes in practices and production between base year (BY) 2001 and biofuel target (BT) 2020.... Understanding where changes are likely to take place on the landscape will enable the evaluation of trade-offs between economic benefits and ecosystem services allowing proactive conservation and sustainable production for human well-being into the future." [4]
    • PDF available at: oaspub.epa.gov/eims/eimscomm.getfile?p_download_id=502641
  • Finding Balance: Agricultural Residues, Ethanol, and the Environment by Liz Marshall and Zachary Sugg for the World Resources Institute, December 2008.
    • "This analysis explores the implications of corn stover harvest for soil carbon loss, nutrient (nitrogen) pollution, and erosion, as well as the potential to mitigate those impacts using available agricultural best management practices (BMPs) such as reduced tillage intensity and integration of winter cover crops (WCC) into production rotations."

News

2012

  • Climate change, biofuels mandate would spike corn prices, 23 April 2012 by Brian Wallheimer for Drovers Cattle Network: "A study from Purdue and Stanford university researchers predicts that future climate scenarios may cause significantly greater volatility in corn prices, which would be intensified by the federal biofuels mandate."
    • "The findings, published this week in the journal Nature Climate Change, show that severely hot conditions in corn-growing regions and extreme climate events that are expected to impact supply would cause swings in corn prices."
    • "When coupled with federal mandates for biofuel production, the price volatility could increase by about 50 percent over the period from 2020-2040 as compared to recent history." [5]
  • Spike in Food Prices Projected by 2013, 7 March 2012 by the New York Times: "In 2008 and in 2011, the world was rocked by riots and by revolutions coinciding with spikes in food prices. Now researchers are projecting that by 2013, food prices will soar to unparalleled heights, causing widespread hunger in the most vulnerable populations and social unrest, with an enormous potential for loss of human life."
    • "The computer modeling that generated the prediction of a food crisis was first published by the New England Complex Systems Institute in September. The modeling has gained considerable credibility by accurately predicting food prices over the last 10 months. The research indicates that the crucial factors behind food price increases are the conversion of corn crops to ethanol and investor speculation on the agricultural futures market."
    • "'There are two policy decisions we’ve identified as key drivers,' said Yaneer Bar-Yam, president of the institute. 'The first is the promotion of ethanol conversion, which provides the U.S. with less than 1 percent of its energy but has a much larger effect on global food availability.' The second is the deregulation of commodity markets by Congress’s Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000, the report said."[6]
    • See the report, The Food Crises: Predictive validation of a quantitative model of food prices including speculators and ethanol conversion

2011

  • Brazil, short of biofuel, can't open spigot to US, 30 December 2011 by Reuters: "For three decades, the U.S. government sought to protect American corn farmers and ethanol makers from a feared flood of Brazilian imports by imposing a tariff that had the South American country crying foul."
    • "With Brazil's ethanol industry struggling to meet booming local demand, it's U.S. producers instead who are shipping millions of gallons to the south."
    • "Three factors have converged to push Brazil's ethanol distilleries to the limit. Sugarcane production fell this year for the first time in a decade, reducing supplies; global demand for sugar has remained strong; and domestic motor-fuel demand has surged, straining local gasoline and ethanol supply."
    • "That should come as a relief to U.S. farmers who have fought to protect their subsidized corn ethanol market from producers in Brazil, whose tropical sun and cheap land allow abundant production of sugarcane, a much more efficient biofuel feedstock than corn."
    • "Cellulosic ethanol and biomass biodiesel made in the United States are also considered advanced biofuels, but supplies of these fuels have been too low to fill demand. The resulting price increase allowed certified Brazilian ethanol to compete despite the tariff."[7]
  • Are Biofuels the Best Use of Our Limited Land Resources?, 21 December 2011 by OilPrice.com: "About seven million tonnes of grain corn was grown in Ontario in 2011, and by year’s end roughly 30 per cent of that is expected to go toward ethanol fuel production."
    • "Let’s focus instead on the use of corn as part of a greenhouse-gas reduction strategy that returns more economic value per harvested bushel. Through this lens, is biofuel production the best use of a renewable but also land-limited resource?"
    • "Corn, after all, doesn’t have to be made into ethanol and burned in the gas tanks of our cars to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. It can also be used to make a variety of 'green' chemicals that form the basis of a wide variety of products currently made from petroleum-based chemicals."
    • "This isn’t just about corn; it’s also about how we choose to use agricultural residues, municipal organic waste, wood waste, algae biomass, and non-food crops."
    • "Does it make sense to just burn this material for energy, or convert it into fuel so it can be burned? Or, should we be doing a better job of targeting niche markets with high-value 'green' products that are just as effective at reducing our dependence on fossil fuels?"[8]
  • US must stop promoting biofuels to tackle world hunger, says thinktank, 11 October 2011 by The Guardian: "A new report, the Global Hunger Index, warned that US government support for corn ethanol was a major factor behind this year's food price spikes – and was projected to fuel further volatility in food prices over the next decade."
    • "Although the report noted some improvements over the past 20 years, 26 countries, mainly in sub-Saharan Africa, are still at extreme risk of hunger including Burundi, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Eritrea."
    • "But the report also suggested that efforts to reduce world hunger would be constrained without action on climate change and changes in US and European government policies promoting the use of food stocks as fuel."
    • "In practical terms, this means countries that import food – especially those in sub-Saharan Africa which import a greater share of their food – are at the mercy of US domestic policies governing corn ethanol."
    • "US policies encouraging corn ethanol production, such as subsidies and mandates, ensure more corn is grown for fuel rather than food – especially when oil prices are high."[9]
  • Biofuels, Speculation Blamed for Global Food Market Weirdness, 5 October 2011 by Wired: "A new analysis of sudden rises in global food prices puts the blame on biofuel policy and mortgage-meltdown-style speculation, which may have fundamentally changed how food markets function."
    • "'There’s a literature of a hundred-plus articles, saying this might be the cause, or that might be the cause,' said network theorist Yaneer Bar-Yam of the New England Complex Systems Institute. 'We looked quantitatively, and found two important factors. Speculators cause the bubbles and crashes, and ethanol causes the background rise.'"
    • "Among the possible causes put forward by economists are drought, meat-intensive dietary habits and market hypersensitivity to supply and demand. Another is corn-based biofuel: In less than a decade, some 15 percent of the world’s corn production has been converted from food to fuel. Perhaps most controversially, some economists have blamed a flood of speculators betting on the rise or fall of food prices."[10]
  • Biofuel push a bust, report hints, 5 October 2011 by John Roach for MSNBC: "Unless a major technological breakthrough occurs in the next few years, a U.S. government push to put 16 billions of gallons of cellulosic biofuel into gas tanks annually by 2022 will be a bust, hints a new report."
    • "The push comes from the congressionally mandated Renewable Fuel Standard. Of the mandated total of 36 billion gallons from a mix of biofuels, the corn-derived ethanol target of 15 billion gallons is doable, the report says."
    • "But a big part of the standard — 16 billion gallons of cellulosic biofuels from non-edible plant material such as cornstalks and switchgrass — is unlikely to be met, Wallace Tyner, an agricultural economist at Purdue University, told me Tuesday."
    • "'The technologies are just not advanced enough to be commercial, they are not cheap enough yet to be commercial, and we are going to have to invest more in R&D if we want to accelerate the pace,' he said."
    • "'Here we are in 2011 and we have 11 years to get to 2022 and build 16 billion gallons with a technology that's costlier and riskier, a feedstock that's costlier, and it is just not likely to happen,' he said."[11]
  • Ethanol fuel use goal likely a bust, science panel says, 4 October 2011 by USA Today: "The federal requirement for consuming 36 billion gallons of ethanol and other so-called biofuels annually by 2022 probably won't be met, and it might not reach its goal of cutting greenhouse gases even it were met, according to a report requested by Congress and published Tuesday by the National Academy of Sciences."
    • "Meeting the standard 'would likely increase federal budget outlays as well as have mixed economic and environmental effects,' according to a summary."
    • "The report notes that the way biofuels (mainly ethanol) are produced, and changes in how land is used to meet the Renewable Fuel Standard, will determine whether greenhouse gases (GHG) increase or decrease."
    • "The portion of the requirements dictating the use of 15 billion gallons of fuel mainly from corn ethanol certainly will be met, he says: 'We're at 14 billion today,' and plenty of ethanol plants are in operation. But meeting the requirements for cellulosic biofuels is uncertain, the report says."[12]
  • Our sugarcane is greener than your corn: Brazil takes on US biofuel industry, 4 October 2011 by Ecologist: "Despite a poor harvest last year, Brazil’s ethanol industry is gearing up for expansion with a series of consolidations involving big companies such as Royal Dutch Shell and Petrobras showing it means business."
    • "An Institute for European Enviroment Policy study last year claimed that biofuels could create an extra 56 million tonnes of CO2 per year due mostly to deforestation worldwide."
    • "Now the industry is keen to show the rest of the world it is cleaning up its act. Producers and the Brazilian government point to more stringent regulation and claim greater mechanisation will in fact eradicate the need for harmful burning."
    • "They are also keen to emphasise that the sugarcane ethanol produced in Brazil is a much greener alternative to corn-derived ethanol from the United States or further deforestation of Europe where land is relatively scarce."
    • "A sustainability certification, Bon Sucro Standard, has been set up, with a Raizen mill in Maracai the first to be granted sustainability."
    • "The problem is chiefly one of regulating Brazil’s vast terrain, especially when it comes to the complex issue of deforestation caused by sugarcane planting."[13]
  • Livestock producers face ethanol makers over cost of corn, 15 September 2011 by USA Today: "The flooding and record heat that have combined to shrink this year's corn crop are feeding new calls from livestock producers to weaken the government's ethanol mandates."
    • "Producers told the House Agriculture Committee on Wednesday that tightening grain supplies are driving up feed costs further and threatening to push many poultry farms and others out of business."
    • "More than 20 percent of the chicken industry, as measured by production, has been sold to foreign-owned companies because of bankruptcies in the U.S. industry over the last three years, said Ted Seger, president of Farbest Foods Inc."
    • "The Agriculture Department this week estimated that farmers will harvest 12.5 billion bushels of corn this year, the third-largest crop on record, but that was 3 percent less than the USDA had forecast a month earlier."
    • "About one-third of the corn that is sold for ethanol production winds up as a byproduct known as distillers grains that can substitute for corn in livestock feed, but poultry and hog producers say they can use the product only in small amounts."[14]
  • Testing the Water for Bioenergy Crops, 31 August 2011 by the U.S. News : "Energy researchers and environmental advocates are excited about the prospect of gaining more efficient large-scale biofuel production by using large grasses like miscanthus or switchgrass rather than corn."
    • "They have investigated yields, land use, economics and more, but one key factor of agriculture has been overlooked: water."
    • "Miscanthus and switchgrass have a very different above-ground foliage structure from corn—more surface area and much denser growth."
    • "This is good for maximizing the amount of biomass that an acre of land can produce, said Praveen Kumar, an environmental engineer and atmospheric scientist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, but it also increases water use."
    • "The result of large-scale adoption would be a reduction in soil moisture and runoff, but an increase in atmospheric humidity."
    • "In the U.S. Midwest, rainfall should remain sufficient to meet water demand, according to Kumar. However, areas that rely on irrigation could find they have less water to meet higher demands, which could increase the net cost of large-scale land conversion and put pressure on already stressed water resources."[15]
  • The Great Corn Con, 24 June 2011 opinion piece by Steven Rattner in the New York Times: "Feeling the need for an example of government policy run amok? Look no further than the box of cornflakes on your kitchen shelf. In its myriad corn-related interventions, Washington has managed simultaneously to help drive up food prices and add tens of billions of dollars to the deficit, while arguably increasing energy use and harming the environment."
    • "...Thanks to Washington, 4 of every 10 ears of corn grown in America — the source of 40 percent of the world’s production — are shunted into ethanol, a gasoline substitute that imperceptibly nicks our energy problem. Larded onto that are $11 billion a year of government subsidies to the corn complex."
    • "Eating up just a tenth of the corn crop as recently as 2004, ethanol was turbocharged by legislation in 2005 and 2007 that set specific requirements for its use in gasoline, mandating steep rises from year to year...."
    • "...All told, each gallon of gasoline that is displaced costs the Treasury $1.78 in subsidies and lost tax revenue."
    • "Nor does ethanol live up to its environmental promises. The Congressional Budget Office found that reducing carbon dioxide emissions by using ethanol costs at least $750 per ton of carbon dioxide, wildly more than other methods. What is more, making corn ethanol consumes vast quantities of water and increases smog."[16]
  • USDA report predicts record biofuel crop this year, 12 May 2011 by BrighterEnergy.org: "According to survey data gathered from farmers and historical yield trends, USDA is predicting 92.2 million acres of corn to be planted, 85.1 million harvested acres, and an average yield of 158.7 bushels per acre. This would produce a total crop of 13.5 billion bushels, an all-time record."
    • "Additionally, USDA increased its estimate for carry-out stocks of corn for 2010/11 to 730 million bushels, based on slightly lower export demand. As for the 2011/2012 marketing year (Sept. 1 – Aug. 31), USDA is anticipating total corn use of 13.355 billion bushels."
    • "Specifically for ethanol, USDA is projecting demand at 5.05 billion bushels, which translates to more than 14 billion gallons of ethanol using industry average ethanol yields."
    • "After all demands are met, USDA expects 2011/12 carry-out to be 900 million bushels, up nearly 25% from the current marketing year."
    • "In separate government data also released today, ethanol exports set another record in March, as 84 million gallons of product (denatured and undenatured, non-beverage) were shipped to destinations around the world."[18]
  • Corn ethanol policy under attack in California, 26 April 2011 by Ethanol Producer Magazine: "Opponents of corn ethanol in California achieved a small victory on April 25 after the state assembly natural resources committee approved a bill that would make corn ethanol ineligible for state funding and would repeal the California Ethanol Producer Incentive Program."
    • "Supporters of the measure claim that ethanol production is to blame for higher corn prices, which in turn directly affects Californians through higher food prices. The state’s poultry, dairy and cattle producers are at the top of the list of the bill’s supporters. Many attended the committee hearing and told legislators that high corn prices are 'killing' their businesses and eliminating support for corn ethanol will help to reduce corn prices."[19]
  • U.S. Ethanol Boom Fuels Farmland Price Spike, and Some Fear a Bubble, 24 April 2011 by Midwest Energy News (via Solve Climate News): "Midwest farmers — and the land on which they rely — have prospered in recent years, even as the U.S. endured a financial crisis and economic recession."
    • "While rising global demand for food — particularly from densely populated and growing countries such as India — gets a chunk of the credit, this newfound prosperity is closely linked to the U.S. government's backing of corn-based ethanol. Farm incomes and farmland values have surged as the ethanol industry emerged and then swelled in the past decade, creating a new form of steady demand for corn and hastening the rise in value of the soil in which it grows."
    • "But the conditions also may be inflating a bubble, which if bursts could drag farm country into a recession, regulators and policy analysts have begun to warn."
    • "Analysts and others now say that the ethanol industry could either advance to other, less costly sources than corn or — perhaps sooner — key government subsidies for ethanol will get crimped as lawmakers in Washington look to curtail spending. This could affect demand for grain — and the cash markets."[20]
  • National Wildlife Federation Launches Lawsuit to Protect America’s Vanishing Grasslands, 22 April 2011 by National Wildlife Federation: "The National Wildlife Federation is suing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in a bid to protect America’s vanishing grasslands. The EPA is ignoring laws designed to protect the fragile ecosystem from harmful and unnecessary agricultural production. The Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) created by Congress and implemented by the EPA requires a certain amount of transportation fuel sold in the United States to contain renewable fuel, such as corn ethanol. In crafting the RFS, Congress clearly recognizes the need to protect America’s grasslands by limiting biofuel feedstock production and harvesting to agricultural lands. In other words, natural ecosystems, like grasslands, are not supposed to be converted for agricultural uses. However, the EPA is flaunting this important provision by adopting an 'aggregate compliance approach', which allows protected ecosystems to be destroyed for biofuels production."
    • "'Plowing up our nation’s last remnants of native grasslands to grow more corn for ethanol is like burning the Mona Lisa for firewood,' said Julie Sibbing, Director of Agriculture programs for the National Wildlife Federation."
    • "The National Wildlife Federation’s goal in this lawsuit is to ensure that the federal renewable fuel requirements are met in a way that protects natural ecosystems from environmentally damaging conversion to agricultural land."[21]
  • USDA gets it right by changing corn for ethanol category, 21 April 2011 by Delta Farm Press: "USDA has changed a reporting category in its monthly supply and demand estimates to better clarify how corn is being used for ethanol."
    • "When USDA first started reporting corn used for ethanol in May 2004, it listed the gross corn bushels as simply 'ethanol for fuel,' giving the impression that 100 percent of each bushel is used for fuel ethanol."
    • "U.S. corn farmers produced 12.5 billion bushels of corn in 2010-11 and USDA projects that 5 billion bushels will be used by the ethanol industry. Without the clarification, a layman would figure that 40 percent of the U.S. crop went into ethanol production."
    • "But the real story is that one-third of every bushel used in the ethanol process returns to the animal feed market in the form of distillers grains, corn gluten feed or corn gluten meal. When you consider this, corn used for ethanol drops to 23 percent of U.S. corn production, a big difference."
    • "In USDA’s April 8 World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates, USDA changed the category from 'ethanol for fuel' to 'ethanol and byproducts,' and included a footnote explaining that corn used for ethanol also produces distillers grains, corn gluten feed, corn gluten meal and corn oil."[22]
  • Relax biofuel laws says World Bank as millions face food poverty, 20 April 2011 by TheGreenCarWebsite.co.uk: "The World Bank is calling on Governments around the world to relax laws requiring biofuels to be mixed with conventional fuels for road transport use as global food prices remain volatile."
    • "Driven in part by higher fuel costs connected to events in the Middle East and North Africa, global food prices are 36 per cent above their levels a year ago new World Bank Group numbers released this week reveal."
    • "The bank is calling on governments to divert more crop production away from biofuel use and ease export controls to prevent even more people falling below the extreme poverty line."
    • "While not suggesting that biofuel laws should be abolished altogether, the organisation is concerned that many of the greatest food price increases link to plants commonly used as biofuel sources. Crops such as maize show a 74 per cent increase in price, while other biofuel crops such as wheat show a 69 per cent increase and soybeans show a 36 per cent increase, although rice prices have been stable."[23]
  • Corn’s biofuel role in question, 10 April 2011 by Star Tribune: "Attempts to dethrone King Corn in the renewable fuels market are more frequent and forceful than they used to be. Corn ethanol no longer qualifies as an innovative technology that garners broad federal subsidies."
    • "Al Franken, one of Minnesota's senators, said his bill safeguards the utility and availability of ethanol from any source. In fact, there is not enough productive capacity in corn ethanol to meet the country's long-term goals for renewable fuels."
    • "In the world of renewable energy, cellulose means whatever grows naturally in renewable supplies. Theoretically, this is the 50-state solution to American energy independence -- biorefineries that convert anything from sawdust to saw grass into alternatives to gasoline."
    • "The problem, say guys like Kelly Nixon, is turning theory into practice. 'We looked at the cost, and it was too expensive without millions from [the federal government],' Nixon said. 'I think the little guys are probably out [of the cellulosic conversion business].'"[24]
  • Impacts of Biofuel Targets on Land Use and Food Supply, 6 April 2011 by Journalist Resource: "The increased global production of biofuels such as ethanol has become a subject of controversy, as land formerly dedicated to the growing of food crops is repurposed to meet energy needs. Each year, more crops such as sugar, palm oil, corn and cassava are diverted for these purposes."
    • "A paper by the World Bank, 'The Impacts of Biofuel Targets on Land-Use Change and Food Supply,' uses land-allocation information from the biofuels production sectors to determine the levels of competition between biofuels and food industries for agricultural commodities. The authors model the potential effects of increased biofuels production to meet current national targets."
    • "The paper’s findings include:
      • Expanding global biofuels production to meet current national biofuels targets would generally reduce global GDP between 0.02% and 0.06%, with the national GDP impacts varying across countries.
      • Significant Expansion in biofuels production would necessitate substantial land re-allocation, resulting in as much a 5% decreases in forest and pasture lands.
      • The expansion of biofuels would likely cause a 1% reduction in global food supply.
      • The magnitude of the impact on food costs is not as large as perceived earlier — sugar, corn and oil seeds would experience 1% to 8% price increases by 2020 — but increases would be significant in developing countries such as India and those in Sub-Saharan Africa."[25]
  • High Prices Sow Seeds of Erosion, 12 April 2011 by New York Times: "Long in decline, erosion is once again rearing as a threat because of an aggressive push to plant on more land, changing weather patterns and inadequate enforcement of protections, scientists and environmentalists say."
    • "Erosion can do major damage to water quality, silting streams and lakes and dumping fertilizers and pesticides into the water supply. Fertilizer runoff is responsible for a vast 'dead zone,' an oxygen-depleted region where little or no sea life can exist, in the Gulf of Mexico. And because it washes away rich topsoil, erosion can threaten crop yields. Significant gains were made in combating erosion in the 1980s and early 1990s, as the federal government began to require that farmers receiving agricultural subsidies carry out individually tailored soil conservation plans."
    • "...[G]overnment biofuels policies that have increased the demand for corn have encouraged farmers to plant more."
    • "More than anything else this year, farmers are making decisions based on how they can best take advantage of corn and soybean prices, which have soared in recent months."[26]
  • Poplar trees useful in biofuel development, 4 April 2011 by Highlander News: " The Bourns College of Engineering's Center for Environmental Research and Technology at the University of California Riverside, a research team from Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and UC Riverside calls into question the assumption that high amounts of lignin in plants is the reason why it is so difficult to convert some plants into biofuels."
    • "Researchers discovered that this was not always the case. High amounts of lignin only affected plants with low contents of syringyl and guaiacyl, which are two major building blocks of lignin. Researchers were also excited to discover some hidden secrets of poplar trees."
    • "The research team also noticed that some poplar samples produced extraordinarily high amounts of sugar even without pretreatment."
    • "Poplar trees are considered good candidates for future biofuels productions. Eventually, they could take the place of food crops such as corn as a biofuel product."[27]
  • China biofuel policy may be in conflict with food security objectives, 28 March 2011 by Platts.com: "The United States Department of Agriculture says China's food security objectives may clash with its energy independence and environmental objectives, limiting the development of biofuels, according to the latest publication by the US International Trade Commission."
    • "Like wheat, the Chinese government views corn as important for national food security and provides support for domestic corn growers by guaranteeing prices for domestic corn from state-owned enterprises and by providing subsidized seed, while controlling exports to ensure that corn is available for domestic use. But strong demand, coupled with poor production in 2009-2010 led China to import around 1.5 million mt of US corn and in 2010, China became a net corn importer."
    • "According to the report, China has been making an effort to move away from grain-based ethanol production and into alternative feedstocks. Until May 2006, government subsidies were limited to fuel ethanol, at which time the central government outlined the creation of a special fund to encourage the development of renewable energy resources, including ethanol and biodiesel."
    • "China's National Reform and Development Commission asserts that targeted biofuel production will not threaten China's grain security, but feedstock sources may be expanded to include sugar, oilseeds, sweet sorghum, wheat, and cassava, resulting in higher imports of these feedstocks."[28]
  • Midwest senators strike back with pro-biofuels bill, 11 March 2011 by Ethanol Producer Magazine: "Two Midwest senators proposed legislation March 10 favoring the build-out of biofuels infrastructure and continued federal support of ethanol and biodiesel. The Securing America’s Future with Energy and Sustainable Technologies Act, introduced by Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Tim Johnson, D-S.D., would establish incentives for biofuels infrastructure and deployment, develop a 'more cost-effective' tax credit program for ethanol and biodiesel, establish a renewable energy standard and encourage greater production of hybrid, electric and flex-fuel vehicles (FFVs)."
    • "The bill immediately received widespread support from renewable fuels and agriculture groups."
    • "The 117-page SAFEST Act covers a wide spectrum of renewable fuels interests and contains several important provisions related to the ethanol industry. It amends the definition of 'advanced biofuel' to include corn starch-derived ethanol....It attempts to eliminate liability concerns related to the use of ethanol in combustion engines. It also provides subsidies for the installation of blender pumps and requires any entity that owns or manages 10 or more retail fueling stations to install a blender pump at each station."
    • "The legislation also includes text that would prevent the U.S. EPA from considering international indirect land use changes when calculating biofuels’ lifecycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and calls for the National Academies of Science to conduct a review of methodologies used to project indirect GHG emissions relating to transportation fuels."[29]
  • Bioenergy crops could lower surface temperatures, 11 March 2011 by R&D Magazine: "Converting large swaths of farmland to perennial grasses for biofuels could lower regional surface temperatures, according to a recent Stanford [University] study."
    • "The study, published online in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), comes on the heels of federal initiatives to wean the United States off fossil fuels by mandating significant increases in ethanol production. The Department of Agriculture forecasts that by 2018, more than one-third of the country's corn harvest will be used to produce ethanol."
    • "But concerns about the impact of corn ethanol on food prices, deforestation, and global warming have raised interest in the cultivation of perennial grasses—such as switchgrass—as alternative sources of biofuel."
    • "'We've shown that planting perennial bioenergy crops can lower surface temperatures by about 2 degrees Fahrenheit locally, averaged over the entire growing season,' said study co-author David Lobell, assistant professor of environmental Earth system science and a center fellow at Stanford's Program on Food Security and the Environment."
    • "In the study, Lobell and his colleagues used a computer simulation to forecast the climatic effects of converting farmland in the Midwest from annual crops—like corn and soybeans—to perennial grasses. The results showed that large-scale perennial cultivation in the 12-state area would pump significantly more water from the soil to the atmosphere, producing enough water vapor to cool the local surface temperature by 1.8 F."[30]
  • Feinstein introduces bill repealing VEETC for corn-based ethanol , 10 March 2011 by Oil Price Information Service: "In a move that she believes would save taxpayers $3 billion in the first six months of implementation, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) introduced legislation on Wednesday that would repeal the 45ct/gal ethanol tax credit for corn-based ethanol and lower the 54ct/gal ethanol import tariff to match the tax credit."
    • "'Ethanol is the only industry that benefits from a triple crown of government intervention: its use is mandated by law, it is protected by tariffs and companies are paid by the federal government to use it,' said Feinstein. 'It's time we end this practice once and for all."
    • "The bill takes a different direction than the proposal introduced yesterday by Sens. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.), which would immediately repeal the ethanol tax credit. Feinstein's bill (S.530), co-sponsored by Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.), would eliminate the ethanol tax credit by June 30 only for corn-based ethanol. According to the bill text, after June 30, the tax credit would only be available to ethanol which qualifies as an advanced biofuel as defined by section 211(o) of the Clean Air Act."
    • "Ethanol groups roundly criticized Feinstein's bill. 'This does nothing to help our nation reduce its dependence on foreign oil,' said Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis."
    • "U.S. ethanol advocates have always described the 54ct/gal import tariff as essential to offset the U.S. ethanol tax incentive, otherwise foreign producers could bring in product and take advantage of the same tax incentive as U.S. producers. However, that description no longer jibes, as the tax credit was reduced in the 2008 farm bill from 51cts/gal to 45cts/gal, but the import tariff was kept at the same amount."[31]
  • The energy emperor's ethanol wardrobe looks mighty bare , 6 March 2011 by Washington Examiner: "Anyone looking at the ethanol subsidy program should be reminded of the childhood story of the emperor's new clothes."
    • "While those who support the program put forth various reasons for their support -- that ethanol will reduce greenhouse gases or curb our reliance on foreign oil -- in reality, it is merely a wealth transfer program from the general taxpayer to corn producers."
    • "If we admitted that, and just gave corn producers a check, we would be better off. We would avoid the misallocation of resources and the unintended consequences of the current program, such as higher food prices, that are a result of making the subsidy indirect rather than direct."
    • "The environmental reasons for using ethanol are at best controversial. Former Vice President Al Gore has recently said about the ethanol subsidy, 'It is not good to have these massive subsidies.' Producing ethanol from corn and distributing it emits more greenhouse gases than producing gasoline from crude oil and distributing it."
    • "If the use of corn ethanol were economically efficient, the ethanol industry would not need subsidies, taxes on the use of competitive fuels, and a government requirement that its product be used."[32]
  • Overfertilizing corn undermines ethanol, 25 February 2011 by Rice University News and Media Relations: "Rice University scientists and their colleagues have found that liberal use of nitrogen fertilizer to maximize grain yields from corn crops results in only marginally more usable cellulose from leaves and stems. And when the grain is used for food and the cellulose is processed for biofuel, pumping up the rate of nitrogen fertilization actually makes it more difficult to extract ethanol from corn leaves and stems."
    • "This happens because surplus nitrogen fertilizer speeds up the biochemical pathway that produces lignin, a molecule that must be removed before cellulosic ethanol can be produced from corn stems and leaves."
    • "Lignin breaks down slowly via bacterial enzymes, and it is expensive to remove by chemical or mechanical processes that create a bottleneck in cellulosic ethanol production."
    • "'What we want is a low lignin-to-cellulose ratio,' said co-author Bill Hockaday, a former Rice postdoctoral researcher and now an assistant professor at Baylor University."
    • "Reducing fertilizer to the bare-bones minimum serves that purpose."[34]
  • The Corn Ultimatum: How long can Americans keep burning one sixth the world’s corn supply in our cars?, 24 February 2011 by Climate Progress: "In a world of blatantly increasing food insecurity — driven by population, dietary trends, rising oil prices, and growing climate instability — America’s policy of burning one third of our corn crop in our engines (soon to be 37% or more) is becoming increasingly untenable, if not unconscionable."
    • "Reuters has a good article which notes, 'U.S. ethanol production this year will consume 15 percent of the world’s corn supply, up from 10 percent in 2008.'"
    • "The only reason environmentalists and clean energy advocates even tolerated energy deals with corn ethanol mandates is the hope that jumpstarting the infrastructure for corn ethanol would pave the way for next-generation cellulosic ethanol."[35]
  • Biowaste briquettes fuel drive to save trees, 22 February 2011 by SciDev.Net: "Banana stems, maize and other crop waste will be turned into charcoal briquettes in Uganda in an effort to reduce the number of trees chopped down for cooking fires."
    • "A lack of modern and affordable fuels, such as gas, electricity and solar power, makes wood charcoal and firewood the preferred sources of domestic cooking fuel, but this is damaging the environment through deforestation and soil degradation, said Onapa."
    • "But Jane Nalunga, a senior training officer at the National Organic Agricultural Movement of Uganda, said that removing agricultural waste and turning it into energy will reduce soil nutrition."[36]
  • NASCAR goes 'green,' enters biofuel debate, 20 February 2011 by Daytona Beach News Journal: "Every car and truck in NASCAR's top three series in 2011 will use Sunoco Green E15 -- a blend of gasoline with 15 percent corn ethanol. NASCAR, the federal government and corn ethanol producers say the biofuel reduces emissions and decreases American reliance on foreign oil."
    • "Many environmental advocates are dubious about corn ethanol's benefits, and some people think governmental support for ethanol is largely to blame for soaring food prices."
    • "Mike Lynch, NASCAR's managing director of green innovation, and ethanol advocates question the impact of expanded ethanol use on corn prices, though, and point out the federal government is solidly behind ethanol, dating back to the 1970s."
    • "The U.S. churned out more than 13 billion gallons of ethanol in 2010, more than four times the amount produced in 2000. The percentage of U.S. corn crops used for ethanol has grown from about 5 percent in 2000 to 39 percent in 2010, and recent reports that America's corn reserves are at an all-time low has food industry leaders concerned."[37]
  • High Per-Acre Productivity of Giant King Grass Promises 40% Reduction in Biofuel Feedstock Costs, 14 February 2011 by PR Newswire: "Test data shows that VIASPACE's proprietary Giant King Grass has essentially the same properties as corn stover and wheat straw, which are current leading candidate feedstocks for making not only cellulosic biofuels but also a wide range of biochemicals."
    • "VIASPACE Chief Executive Dr. Carl Kukkonen commented: 'These initial results show that a ton of Giant King Grass can yield as much bio ethanol as a ton of corn stover. This validates Giant King Grass, a nonfood dedicated energy crop, as a competitive feedstock for producing cellulosic biofuels.'"
    • "'Most importantly, an acre of Giant King Grass yields up to 10 times greater tonnage than an acre of corn stover, which is the stalk and leaves leftover from harvesting an acre of corn,' Kukkonen continued, 'With our high yield, we believe that Giant King Grass can reduce biofuel feedstock costs by up to 40%, even when compared to projected prices for corn straw as agricultural waste.'"[38]
  • USDA Approves Use of Genetically Engineered Corn for Ethanol, 11 February 2011 by Friends of the Earth: "The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced today that it has approved a form of genetically engineered corn created by the biotechnology corporation Syngenta Seeds, Inc. for use in ethanol production."
    • "The USDA deregulated the crop, meaning it is not subject to a comprehensive Environmental Impact Statement or any restrictions on where and how it can be planted."
    • "Eric Hoffman warned, “This new strain of genetically engineered corn is not meant for human consumption, but... contamination is bound to happen."
    • "The Renewable Fuel Standard, the law passed by Congress in 2007, requires the consumption of 36 billion gallons of ethanol by 2022, 15 billion gallons of which is projected to be met with corn ethanol. The Environmental Protection Agency recently released a report detailing the harmful impacts that this law continues to have on water, soil and air quality."[39]
  • U.S. Corn Reserves at Lowest Level in More Than 15 Years, 9 February 2011 by The New York Times: "Reserves of corn in the United States have hit their lowest level in more than 15 years, reflecting tighter supplies that will lead to higher food prices in 2011."
    • "The Department of Agriculture reported Wednesday that the ethanol industry’s projected orders this year rose 8.4 percent, to 13.01 billion bushels, after record-high production in December and January."
    • "That means the United States will have about 675 million bushels of corn left at the end of the year. That is about 5 percent of all corn that will be consumed, the lowest surplus level since 1996."[40]
  • Biofuel debate unlikely to end, 7 February 2011 by PJStar.Com: "The rise in corn prices - and the continued increase in how much corn is used in the production of ethanol - fuels an ongoing debate pitting biofuels against food production."
    • "In 2001, only 7 percent of the nation's corn crop went for ethanol. Last year, ethanol production took almost 40 percent of the crop."
    • "'With corn ethanol now taking 40 percent of the U.S. corn supply, enormous pressure is being placed on the corn supply and price as well as other commodities. This pressure is being felt all throughout the supply chain and right to the consumer,' said Tom Super, spokesman for Washington, D.C.-based American Meat Institute."
    • "Michael Doherty, senior economist for the Bloomington-based Illinois Farm Bureau, said that, while higher corn prices have an impact on livestock producers, it's not the only factor."
    • "He called ethanol 'a pin cushion' - a target for critics who seize on instability around the world to focus on biofuels."[41]
  • Inhofe's new allies on ethanol issue surprising, 30 January 2011 by Tulsa World: "WASHINGTON - U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe's efforts on ethanol have provided unlikely allies for the Oklahoma Republican perhaps best known to such groups for calling man-made global warming a hoax."
    • "Kate McMahon, the biofuels campaign coordinator for Friends of the Earth, was not reticent about discussing the matter publicly and even complimented Inhofe for having a good staff to work on such issues."
    • "'Simply put, in this city, there are no permanent friends and no permanent enemies,' McMahon said."
    • "McMahon said her concerns over corn ethanol are directly related to its impact on the issue of global warming. Ethanol, she said, has more global-warming impact than gasoline in many ways."
    • "Clearly Inhofe, who dismisses global warming, carved out his stance on ethanol for other reasons."
    • "Concerns over ethanol include potential damage to certain engines, confusion at the pump, lack of availability for 'clear' gasoline, lower mileage for fuel with ethanol and higher feed stock prices for farmers."[42]
  • Biofuel grasslands better for birds than ethanol staple corn, 6 January 2011 press release by Michigan State University: "Developing biofuel from native perennials instead of corn in the Midwest’s rolling grasslands would better protect threatened bird populations, Michigan State University research suggests."
    • "Federal mandates and market forces both are expected to promote rising biofuel production, MSU biologist Bruce Robertson says, but the environmental consequences of turning more acreage over to row crops for fuel are a serious concern."
    • "'Native perennial grasses might provide an opportunity to produce biomass in ways that are compatible with the conservation of biodiversity and important ecosystem services such as pest control,' Robertson said...."
    • "In the first such empirical comparison and the first to simultaneously study grassland bird communities across habitat scales, Robertson and colleagues found that bugs and the birds that feed on them thrive more in mixed prairie grasses than in corn. Almost twice as many species made their homes in grasses, while plots of switchgrass, a federally designated model fuel crop, fell between the two in their ability to sustain biodiversity."
    • "The larger the plot of any type, researchers found, the greater the concentration of birds supported. But if grasslands offer conservation and biofuel opportunities, Robertson said, the biodiversity benefits could decrease as biofuel grass feedstocks are bred and cultivated for commercial uniformity."[43]
    • Read the paper, Perennial biomass feedstocks enhance avian diversity (PDF file)

2010

  • Tide turns against corn ethanol, 20 December 2010 by Jeff Tollefson: "Buffeted by the economic crisis and a drop in the oil price, US producers of corn ethanol are encountering increasing scepticism from the legislators on Capitol Hill even as producers of the 'greener' cellulose-derived ethanol struggle to move beyond basic research and development."
    • "The tax package brokered by US President Barack Obama... included a host of incentives for energy development. Among them was a one-year extension of a tax credit giving refiners nearly 12 cents of federal cash for every litre of corn ethanol they blend into gasoline. A tariff of more than 14 cents per litre on imported ethanol was also extended through 2011."
    • "These are shorter times than industry wanted, marking a victory for environmentalists and budget hawks who see the roughly US$6-billion-a-year benefit as wasteful spending on a mature industry. Critics say the corn ethanol credit eats up scarce federal resources and puts cellulosic ethanol at a competitive disadvantage."
    • "The mandated levels of biofuel production in the United States will increase to 53 billion litres in 2011 — about 8% of the country's total fuel consumption — and will ramp up to more than 136 billion litres by 2022. Around 90% of the biofuel will come from conventional corn ethanol next year, with the remainder coming from biodiesel and other "advanced biofuels". Last month, however, the US Environmental Protection Agency pulled back the 2011 requirement for cellulosic biofuels from 946 million to 25 million litres, citing delays in scaling up production."
  • While Tax Package Richly Rewards Corn Ethanol, Senate Appropriators Propose Pulling Rug Out from Under Next Generation Bioenergy, 15 December 2010 by the National Wildlife Federation: "While the Senate approved a tax package today that includes a $5-billion subsidy for corn ethanol, five lines buried within the almost 2000-page Senate Omnibus appropriations bill unveiled yesterday sound a death knell for next generation bioenergy crops at a critical time for the industry. The omnibus bill proposes to zero out funding for a key program to support development of the next generation of biofuels and bioenergy based on grasses and trees."
    • "The Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP), enacted as part of the 2008 Farm Bill, has been eagerly awaited by the next generation bioenergy industry as a critical link in making biomass based energy a reality by helping with the “chicken and the egg” problem of ensuring an adequate supply of tree and grass crops to fuel biomass energy facilities. The program would provide annual payments for five years to offset the risk to the landowner of trying these new crops, as well as assistance with the cost of establishing the new crops."
    • "While Senate appropriators claim that it was their intent to deeply cut, rather than to eliminate the BCAP, the language included in the bill would eliminate all funding for the program in Fiscal Year 2011."
  • Left-Right Coalition Responds to Senate Vote on Ethanol Tax Credit, 6 December 2010 by BeforeItsNews: "On Saturday (December 4, 2010), the Senate defeated a package of tax policy extensions, including a year extension of the Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit (VEETC) at $.36 per gallon, a 20 percent reduction from current levels. In response, a diverse coalition of organizations issued a joint press release applauding the vote on the VEETC and explaining why the tax credit should not be renewed."
    • "Here’s what the participants said:
    • "'A reduction in the corn ethanol tax credit is a small step in the right direction for animal agriculture and America's taxpayers. Burning a substantial portion of our food and feed as fuel is not a sustainable answer, in the long term, to solving this nation’s fuel needs....' - J. Patrick Boyle, President and CEO, American Meat Institute"
    • "'The blender’s credit and import tariff on foreign ethanol have distorted the corn market, creating needless volatility in the cost of animal feed....' - Joel Brandenberger, president of the National Turkey Federation"[44]
  • Some GOP Senators Become Unlikely Allies Of Green Groups In Fight To Gut Ethanol Subsidies, 23 November 2010 by the Huffington Post: "After being elected with a strong mandate to cut spending, all Republicans don't agree on how best to rein in the deficit -- and some have become unlikely allies with green groups in the fight to gut federal subsidies of ethanol."
    • "Nathanael Greene, director of renewable energy policy at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the issue is beyond left and right."
    • "Greene said that the money being spent on corn ethanol is money that can't be invested in other clean energy technologies, noting 75 percent of the money the federal government spends on renewables goes to corn ethanol."[45]
  • U.S. corn ethanol "was not a good policy" -Gore, 22 November 2010 by Reuters: "Former U.S. vice-president Al Gore said support for corn-based ethanol in the United States was 'not a good policy', weeks before tax credits are up for renewal."
    • "'It is not a good policy to have these massive subsidies for (U.S.) first generation ethanol,' said Gore, speaking at a green energy business conference in Athens sponsored by Marfin Popular Bank."
    • "A food-versus-fuel debate erupted in 2008, in the wake of record food prices, where the biofuel industry was criticised for helping stoke food prices."
    • "Gore said a range of factors had contributed to that food price crisis, including drought in Australia, but said there was no doubt biofuels have an effect."
    • Gore also stated, "'I do think second and third generation that don't compete with food prices will play an increasing role, certainly with aviation fuels.'"[46]
  • Researchers Debate Whether Biofuels Are Truly Greener Than Fossil Fuels, 21 November 2010 by Loren Grush: "The ETC Group, an international organization supporting sustainability and conservation, has just published its newest report, an 84-page document that presents a lengthy criticism of "the new bioeconomy." In it, principal author Jim Thomas argues that using biofuels for energy and resources isn't green -- in fact, he says, in certain ways they can be more harmful to the environment than coal."
    • "But other scientists say the biofuel economy is complex, and they note that it's hard to lump absolutely everything labeled biomass together."
    • "'One needs to recognize that all biofuels are not the same. The current generation is based on corn in the U.S., based on wheat and rapeseed in Europe,' Dr. Madhu Khanna, a professor of agriculture at the University of Illinois, told FoxNews.com."
    • "But even among the first generation, there is also sugarcane, which is a much cleaner fuel, and Brazil has a lot of available land for sugarcane production. You're able to expand without coming into conflict with food production. So you don't hear the same criticism necessarily about sugarcane."
    • "Thomas is adamant that land use will become a massive issue for the biomass industry. "This isn't a switch, it's a massive grab on land," he said. "This movement to a plant-based, or so-called green economy, will throw a lot of people off their land in the developing world."[47]
  • Grasses Have Potential as Alternate Ethanol Crop, Illinois Study Finds, 1 November 2010 by Science Daily: "Researchers at the University of Illinois have completed the first extensive geographic yield and economic analysis of potential bioenergy grass crops in the Midwestern United States."
    • "[F]ederal regulations mandate that 79 billion liters of biofuels must be produced annually from non-corn biomass by 2022. Large grasses, such as switchgrass and miscanthus, could provide biomass with the added benefits of better nitrogen fixation and carbon capture, higher ethanol volumes per acre and lower water requirements than corn."
    • "Switchgrass is large prairie grass native to the Midwest, and Miscanthus, a sterile hybrid, is already widely cultivated in Europe as a biofuel crop."
    • "The team published its results in the October issue of the journal Global Change Biology Bioenergy."
    • "The researchers found that, in general, the yield is very high for miscanthus -- up to three times higher than switchgrass in the Midwest. Even through switchgrass is native to the region, it doesn't grow well in higher latitudes like Minnesota or Wisconsin because it has poor tolerance for cold temperatures."
    • "Most notably, for the southernmost counties -- much of southern Illinois and nearly all of Missouri -- the model predicts greater production of grasses than of current corn and soy crops. This could be a key factor in farmers' decisions to cultivate biofuel crops."
    • "Unlike annual crops that provide a farmer with a crop every year, miscanthus and switchgrass require a lag of at least two years before harvesting."[49]
  • The only thing ‘green’ about NASCAR’s switch to corn ethanol is the cash, 29 October 2010 by Donald Carr: "In a move that USA Today says "could be regarded as economically motivated as well as environmentally aware," NASCAR will adopt an ethanol blend of fuel beginning with the 2011 Daytona 500."
    • "This bit of news was welcomed heartily by the corn ethanol lobby, which is facing the prospect of the ethanol tax credit subsidy expiring at the end of the year as well as consumer confusion at fueling stations across the country, as ethanol blends increase only for specific model-year vehicles."
    • "Here at the Environmental Working Group, we are certain that using corn ethanol as an alternative to gasoline is hardly a sustainable solution to our energy needs. We know that between 2005 and 2009, U.S. taxpayers spent $17 billion to subsidize corn ethanol blends in gasoline, an outlay that produced a paltry reduction in overall oil consumption equal to a 1.1 mile-per-gallon increase in fleetwide fuel economy."
    • "We're sure that corn ethanol production pollutes fresh-water sources in the Midwest. We know that there are serious concerns about ethanol plants and their impact on the environment. We know corn production for ethanol expands the dead zone in the Gulf. We also know it has led to obliteration of wildlife habitat."
  • A wiki for the biofuels research community, 29 October 2010 by PhysOrg.com: "Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) have created a technoeconomic model that should help accelerate the development of a next generation of...biofuels....This on-line, wiki-based model enables researchers to pursue the most promising strategies for cost-efficient biorefinery operations by simulating such critical factors as production costs and energy balances under different processing scenarios."
    • "'The high production cost of biofuels has been the main factor limiting their widespread adoption,' says JBEI's Daniel Klein-Marcuschamer. 'We felt that a model of the biorefinery operation that was open, transparent about the assumptions it uses, and updatable by the community of users could aid in guiding research in the direction where it is most likely to reduce the production cost of biofuels.'"
    • "Klein-Marcuschamer, a post-doctoral researcher in JBEI's Deconstruction Division, was the lead author of a paper describing this research that was published in the journal Biomass and Bioenergy. The paper is titled "Technoeconomic analysis of biofuels: A wiki-based platform for lignocellulosic biorefineries (PDF file).'"
    • "The initial JBEI technoeconomic model is formulated to simulate a lignocellulosic ethanol biorefinery that uses corn stover feedstock. Model input factors include the cost of transporting the stover to a refinery, the use of acid pre-treatments to break down lignin and enzymes to break down cellulose into simples sugars, and the fermentation of these simple sugars into ethanol using yeast. From such inputs, users can calculate the resulting energy and greenhouse gas output."[50]
Quoted from Bioenergy choices could dramatically change Midwest bird diversity: "In a 2010 article published in PNAS, Claudio Gratton and Tim Meehan of the University of Wisconsin-Madison calculated the impact on bird biodiversity of planting millions of acres of marginal land with biofuel feedstock. Left: Brown shows areas with species declines of up to 50 percent on marginal land planted with corn for biofuels. Right: Blue shows species increases of up to 200 percent if marginal lands are planted with diverse grasslands as biofuel feedstocks. Graphic: courtesy Claudio Gratton and Tim Meehan"
  • Bioenergy choices could dramatically change Midwest bird diversity, 8 October 2010 by David Tenenbaum: "Ambitious plans to expand acreage of bioenergy crops could have a major impact on birds in the Upper Midwest, according to a study published today (Oct. 4) in the online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS)"
    • "The study compared two approaches to bioenergy feedstocks: monocultures of annuals, such as corn, or perennial cultures of prairie plants and grasses."
    • "The computer model that Meehan and Gratton developed showed that planting almost 21 million acres of perennial crops for bioenergy could increase bird biodiversity by 25 percent to 100 percent in some locales. The increase would be especially high in places like central Illinois and Iowa, where row crops are now dominant."
    • "Land-use decisions are typically made based on a single factor such as crop productivity or profitability, Gratton says, but in fact, changing how land is used usually has multiple impacts. As a result, he says, 'People are starting to think about bundles of effects, on water quality, greenhouse gas emissions, or on beneficial insects that need certain habitats to survive.'"[51]
  • Despite Billions in Subsidies, Corn Ethanol Has Not Cut U.S. Oil Imports, 7 October 2010 by the Manhattan Institute: "In the next few weeks, the Environmental Protection Agency is expected to rule on a proposal to increase from 10 percent to 15 percent the amount of ethanol that may be blended into gasoline."
    • "Since the 1970s, Congress has justified subsidies to the corn ethanol industry with the oft-repeated claim that boosting domestic production of ethanol will increase America's energy security by reducing U.S. oil imports."
    • "That claim has no basis in fact."
    • "Between 1999 and 2009, U.S. ethanol production increased seven-fold, to more than 700,000 barrels per day (bbl/d). During that period, however, oil imports increased by more than 800,000 bbl/d. ...Ethanol production levels had no apparent effect on the volume of oil imports or on consumption."
    • "Corn ethanol has not reduced the volume of oil imports, or overall oil use, and likely never will, because it can replace only one segment of the crude-oil barrel. Unless or until inventors come up with a substance (or substances) that can replace all of the products refined from a barrel of crude oil — from gasoline to naphtha and diesel to asphalt — this country, along with every other one, will have to continue to rely on the global oil market — the biggest, most global, most transparent, most liquid market in human history."[52]
  • Fungus Genes Help Turn Grass into Ethanol, 10 September 2010 by Technology Review: "Genes copied from a common fungus could simplify the production of ethanol from abundant materials such as grass and wood chips, a development that could one day help ethanol compete with gasoline."
    • "Scientists have taken genes from a fungus that grows on grass and dead plants, and transplanted them into yeast that is already used to turn sugar into ethanol. The genes let the yeast ferment parts of plants that it normally can't digest, potentially streamlining the production of ethanol."
    • "Most ethanol is produced using simple sugars, like the glucose derived from corn kernels or sugar cane. Ethanol producers would like to use glucose from more abundant sources, such as corn husks and stalks, switchgrass, wood waste, and other tough plant materials. But those plant parts are made of cellulose, a carbohydrate built from long chains of sugars. For yeast to produce ethanol from these materials, the complex carbohydrate has to first be broken down into very simple sugars, a process that takes time and normally requires the addition of expensive enzymes."
    • "With the new technique, ethanol makers would no longer have to break cellulose down into simple sugars. Instead, they would only need to break down cellulose into an intermediate material called cellodextrin."[53]
  • Call to ban corn-based ethanol production, 10 August 2010 by Zhang Ming'ai: "Zhao Youshan, chairman of the Oil Flow Commission of the China General Chamber of Commerce, told the Beijing Times that they have submitted a letter to the NDRC in an attempt to ban corn-based ethanol production, because it has pushed up corn prices at home and turned China into a corn-importing country in the first half of this year from previously a corn-exporting country."
    • "In 2004, in order to promote the development of renewable energy and new energy, the NDRC and the Ministry of Finance jointly put forward a policy, under which testing programs were launched in Heilongjiang to produce ethanol fuel from corn. Factories could get a subsidy of 1,880 yuan and be exempted from all taxes by producing one ton of ethanol fuel."[55]
  • New Perspectives on the Energy Return on (Energy) Investment (EROI) of Corn Ethanol: Part 1 of 2, 26 July 2010 by The Oil Drum: "The following is the first of two posts based on a recent paper published under the same title in the journal Environment, Development, and Sustainability."
    • "Over the past decade there has been considerable debate on corn ethanol, most focused on whether it is a net energy yielder. The argument is generally that if the Energy Return on Investment (EROI) of corn ethanol is positive then it should be pursued. On one side are Pimentel (2003) and Patzek (2004) who claim that corn ethanol has an EROI below one energy unit returned per energy unit invested, and on the other side are a number of studies claiming that the EROI is positive, reported variously as between 1.08 and 1.45....Even with numerous publications on this issue, disagreement remains as to whether corn ethanol is a net energy yielder."
    • "[M]ost analyses to date...use optimal (i.e. Iowa) values for corn yield, fertilizer, and irrigation, despite the fact that each of these have large geographical (as well as other) variation. Because of this they fail to represent the variable nature of corn production across space, and by extension the subsequent variability in the EROI of corn ethanol."
    • "The results from our meta-error analysis indicated that the average EROI for corn ethanol was 1.07 with a standard error of 0.1....EROI values calculated in the spatial analysis ranged from 0.36 in less optimal corn-growing areas, for example southern Texas, to 1.18 in optimal areas, for example Nebraska...If we apply the same confidence calculated in the meta-error analysis to the results of the county EROI analysis, we find that none of the counties had an EROI that was high enough (1.20) to conclude that corn ethanol was produced at an energy profit."[57]
  • New CBO Report Examines Biofuels Tax Incentives, 16 July 2010 by Mackinnon Lawrence: "CBO releases report this week assessing biofuel incentives. Study finds that biofuel subsidies, costs associated with reducing petroleum use and GHG emissions vary by fuel."
    • "First, after making adjustments for the different energy contents of the various biofuels and the petroleum fuel used to produce them, the report finds that producers of ethanol made from corn receive 73 cents to provide an amount of biofuel with the energy equivalent to that in one gallon of gasoline. On a similar basis, producers of cellulosic ethanol receive $1.62, and producers of biodiesel receive $1.08."
    • "Second, the report finds reducing petroleum use costs taxpayers anywhere from $1.78 – 3.00 per one gallon of gasoline, again, depending on the type of fuel."
    • "Third, the costs to taxpayers of reducing greenhouse gas emissions varies from $275 per metric ton of CO2e for cellulosic, $300 per metric ton for CO2e for biodiesel, and about $750 per metric ton of CO2e for ethanol . NOTE: the CBO estimates do not reflect any emissions associated with land use change (direct or indirect)."
    • "Domestic Fuel reports this week that the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) asserts the report provides no comparison to other technologies or types of biofuels against the destruction that goes hand in hand with fossil fuel production."[58]
  • Growth Energy proposes shift in fuel policy, 15 July 2010 by Ethanol Producer Magazine: "With the Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit, set to expire at the end of the year, Growth Energy is calling for a change in the way ethanol tax incentives are used and an eventual phase out of governmental support of ethanol."
    • Growth Energy’s "Fueling Freedom Plan calls for, ideally, a five-year extension to VEETC. However, rather than provide the all incentive money to blenders, the oil industry, Growth Energy is advocating that some of that tax money go to installing 200,000 blender pumps and ethanol pipelines."
    • "Another part of the plan would require that all automobiles sold in the U.S. be flex-fuel vehicles (FFVs)."
    • "Currently, the ethanol industry is supplying about 10 percent of the U.S. fuel needs."
    • "Ethanol tax incentives cost the U.S. about $5 to $7 billion a year, said Growth Energy co-chair Ret. Gen. Wesley Clark."
    • "On the same day as Growth Energy’s announcement, RFA [the Renewable Fuels Association] joined with the American Coalition for Ethanol, the National Corn Growers Association and the National Sorghum Producers to lend its support to the current tax incentive legislation" that would "extend ethanol tax incentives through 2015."[60]
  • Klobuchar bill: trojan horse for bad biofuels, 14 July 2010, Nathanael Greene’s Blog/NRDC: "It should come as no surprise that the first copy of the full text of Sen Klobuchar's energy bill was found on a corn ethanol industry association website; the bill reads like the industry's wish list."
    • "Today's corn ethanol is mature and mainstream and, unfortunately, generally causes more global warming pollution than gasoline. Klobuchar's bill would lavish over $30 billion on the ethanol and oil industries, it would pull the rug out from under entreprenours trying to develop cleaner, advanced biofuels, and it would threaten forests across our country..."
    • "Here are some of laundry list of bad biofuel provisions:
  • "5 year extension of the corn ethanol tax credit (which mostly enriches oil companies such as BP)."
  • "Legislating away the science of lifecycle GHG accounting for ethanol. Using lots of land to make ethanol instead of food means that food production moves to new land and that leads to deforestation."
  • "Defining mature and mainstream corn ethanol, which has been commercially produced for well over 30 years as an 'advanced biofuel' under the RFS2."
  • "Huge give aways for building corn ethanol pipes to the coast so that we can ship our 'home grown energy' overseas."[61]
  • Researchers propose movable biofuel center, 8 July 2010 by UPI.org: "If agricultural waste can't go to a biofuel processing center, then the processing center should go to the agricultural waste, U.S. researchers theorized."
    • "Researchers at Purdue University propose creating mobile processing plants that would roam the Midwest to produce biofuels using a technique called fast-hydropyrolysis-hydrodeoxygenation, the West Lafayette, Ind., university said this week in a release."
    • "'What's important is that you can process all kinds of available biomass -- wood chips, switch grass, corn stover, rice husks, wheat straw,' said Rakesh Agrawal, the Winthrop E. Stone distinguished professor of chemical engineering."[62]
  • Ethanol Credits Have A Major Beneficiary In Big Oil Firms, 2 July 2010 by National Journal/Congress Daily: "BP could stand to reap [U.S.] federal tax credits approaching $600 million this year for blending gasoline with corn-based ethanol, making the British oil and gas giant one of the largest beneficiaries of the 45 cents-per-gallon ethanol incentive."
    • "The credit expires Dec. 31, and the House Ways and Means Committee is preparing as early as next month to debate a 'green jobs' bill eyed as a vehicle for an extension."
    • "'Generally, we feel that after 30 years, it's finally time for ethanol to stand on its own,' said Dusty Horwitt, senior counsel at the Environmental Working Group. 'These massive handouts flow to oil companies like BP and only cement our dependence on environmentally damaging sources of energy'."[63]
  • New Federal Policies Needed to Jump-Start Clean Advanced Biofuels Industry, 14 June 2010 by The Union of Concerned Scientists: "The federal government needs to adopt a suite of new policies to spur production in the stalled advanced biofuels industry, according to a report, The Billion Gallon Challenge, released today by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).
    • "Advanced cellulosic biofuels – made from grasses, woodchips, wastes and other non-food sources – release dramatically less pollution than gasoline or corn ethanol. Reforming production tax credits for biofuels and providing new loan guarantees, investment tax credits and other financial incentives would spark investment in cellulosic biofuels, cut oil consumption, reduce global warming pollution, and ultimately save taxpayers money, the report found."
    • "Currently, cellulosic biofuels are falling far short of the mandated levels. In 2010, the standard requires fuel suppliers, largely oil companies, to purchase 100 million gallons of cellulosic biofuel, but the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had to lower this target to just 6.5 million gallons due to a lack of supply."[66]
  • Surging costs hit food security in poorer nations, 6 June 2010 by Associated Press: "With food costing up to 70 percent of family income in the poorest countries, rising prices are squeezing household budgets and threatening to worsen malnutrition....Compounding the problem in many countries: prices hardly fell from their peaks in 2008, when global food prices jumped in part due to a smaller U.S. wheat harvest and demand for crops to use in biofuels."
    • "In Argentina, soy production has taken over more than 32 million acres (13 million hectares) of grassland once used to raise cattle and replaced less profitable wheat and corn as well, driving up prices in supermarkets."[67]
  • Cars and People Compete for Grain, 1 June 2010 by Earth Policy Institute: "At a time when excessive pressures on the earth’s land and water resources are of growing concern, there is a massive new demand emerging for cropland to produce fuel for cars — one that threatens world food security."
    • "Historically the food and energy economies were separate, but now with the massive U.S. capacity to convert grain into ethanol, that is changing....If the fuel value of grain exceeds its food value, the market will simply move the commodity into the energy economy."
    • "The grain required to fill an SUV’s 25-gallon tank with ethanol just once will feed one person for a whole year."
    • "Suddenly the world is facing an epic moral and political issue: Should grain be used to fuel cars or feed people?"
    • "For every additional acre planted to corn to produce fuel, an acre of land must be cleared for cropping elsewhere. But there is little new land to be brought under the plow unless it comes from clearing tropical rainforests in the Amazon and Congo basins and in Indonesia or from clearing land in the Brazilian cerrado."[68]
  • DOE, USDA Announce Funding for Biomass Research and Development Initiative, 6 May 2010, press release by the Department of Energy: "The U.S. Departments of Energy (DOE) and Agriculture (USDA) today jointly announced up to $33 million in funding for research and development of technologies and processes to produce biofuels, bioenergy and high-value biobased products, subject to annual appropriations."
    • "DOE also released today a new video which showcases how cellulosic biofuel technologies can help decrease U.S. dependence on foreign oil, spur growth in the domestic biofuels industry, and provide new revenue opportunities to farmers in many rural areas of the country."
    • "The video, shot at a harvesting equipment demonstration in Emmetsburg, Iowa, highlights a new way of producing ethanol from the cellulose fibers in corn cobs, not from the corn kernels. The technology generates a new opportunity for farmers to harvest and sell the cobs that they’d normally leave in the field."[69]
  • Meat Producers Oppose Ethanol Tax Incentives, 29 April 2010 by Cindy Zimmerman, DomesticFuel: "Major livestock and poultry trade associations sent a letter to the House Ways and Means Committee this week asking that they allow the blenders’ tax credit and associated tariff for ethanol to expire at the end of this year."
    • "'The blender’s tax credit, coupled with the import tariff on foreign ethanol, has distorted the corn market, increased the cost of feeding animals, and squeezed production margins — resulting in job losses and bankruptcies in rural communities across America,' the groups wrote."
    • "The ethanol industry begs to disagree and contends that the livestock industry just wants cheap feed."
    • The Renewable Fuels Association in a statement responded with, "Ethanol is not the major driving force behind corn prices, whether they are rising or falling. Oil prices, speculation, weather, and a host of other factors have far more to do with the price of corn than ethanol production."[70]
  • Will Extending the Ethanol Tax Credit Slow Progress Toward Advanced Biofuels?, 25 April 2010 by Solve Climate: "The federal tax credit for ethanol is among the most controversial energy- or environment-related policies in the country. The volume on all sides of the issue is increasing, with some shouting down ethanol’s claim to lower greenhouse gas emissions, others touting the tax credit’s job-creation capabilities and still others lamenting the diversion of farmland for fuel."
    • Autumn Hanna of Taxpayers for Common Sense was quoted in the article as saying, the tax credit "does little more than pad the pockets of big oil companies like Shell. The ethanol tax credit has already cost taxpayers more than $20 billion in the last five years and, if extended, taxpayers stand to lose billions more. Since the 1970's, taxpayers have heavily subsidized corn ethanol. It’s time this mature energy industry stand on its own two feet."
    • "Legislators from agricultural states claim that ethanol won’t prosper on its own yet, and that more than 100,000 jobs would be lost if the credit were allowed to lapse."
    • Craig Cox, the senior vice president for agricultural and natural resources at the Environmental Working Group "argues that extending the ethanol tax credits now will only divert resources from much-needed research into those second-generation fuels."[71]
  • EDITORIAL: Stop 'Big Corn', 5 April 2010 by the Washington Times: "The Environmental Protection Agency wants to dump more corn into your fuel tank this summer, and it's going to cost more than you think."
    • "The agency is expected to approve a request from 52 ethanol producers known collectively as "Growth Energy" to boost existing requirements that gasoline contain 10 percent ethanol to 15 percent. The change means billions more in government subsidies for companies in the business of growing corn and converting it into ethanol. For the rest of us, it means significantly higher gasoline and food prices."
    • "It's time that this shameless corporate welfare gets plowed under....Big Corn's advocates claim that forcing Americans to use this renewable fuel would reduce dependency on Mideast oil and lead to cleaner air. It's just as likely, however, that they want to get their hands on the $16 billion a year from the 45-cent-per-gallon "blender's tax credit" - in addition to the various state and federal mandates giving us no choice but to pump their pricey product into our fuel tanks."
    • "According to the University of Missouri's Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute, the ethanol tax credit increases corn prices by 18 cents a bushel, wheat by 15 cents and soybeans by 28 cents. That means higher prices for most food items at the grocery store and restaurants."[73]
  • The Case Against Biofuels: Probing Ethanol’s Hidden Costs, 11 March 2010 opinion piece by C. Ford Runge in Yale environment360: "Despite strong evidence that growing food crops to produce ethanol is harmful to the environment and the world’s poor, the Obama administration is backing subsidies and programs that will ensure that half of the U.S.’s corn crop will soon go to biofuel production. It’s time to recognize that biofuels are anything but green."
    • President Obama "and his administration have wholeheartedly embraced corn ethanol and the tangle of government subsidies, price supports, and tariffs that underpin the entire dubious enterprise of using corn to power our cars. In early February, the president threw his weight behind new and existing initiatives to boost ethanol production from both food and nonfood sources, including supporting Congressional mandates that would triple biofuel production to 36 billion gallons by 2022."
    • "Yet a close look at their impact on food security and the environment — with profound effects on water, the eutrophication of our coastal zones from fertilizers, land use, and greenhouse gas emissions — suggests that the biofuel bandwagon is anything but green."
    • Due to fertilizer usage, "loadings of nitrogen and phosphorus into the Mississippi and the Gulf of Mexico encourage algae growth, starving water bodies of oxygen needed by aquatic life and enlarging the hypoxic 'dead zone' in the gulf."[74]
Change in Corn Plantings as Percent of County Area, 2004-2007 in the U.S. Prairie Pothole Region.

See the archive of past corn-related news


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