Friday, January 05, 2007

Starve Some, Feed Legislators

Ethanol continues to be interesting--and problematic.

Soaring demand for corn to make ethanol could trigger higher U.S. food prices and riots in low-income countries as grain supplies tighten, according to a report released Thursday.

You could say that the author(s) of the report are trying to get attention.

The government has vastly underestimated the amount of corn needed to fuel the demand for ethanol, according to the report from Lester Brown, a researcher and president of the Earth Policy Institute, an environmental think tank in Washington.

In 2008, U.S. ethanol production will consume 139 million metric tons of corn, roughly half the nation's corn crop, the report notes

But USDA isn't quite on the same page:

The U.S. Agriculture Department has estimated that 60 million tons of corn will be needed for ethanol in 2008, less than half the amount that Brown said would be needed.

There are consequences, of course:

With corn supplies tightening quickly, rising prices will affect not only products made directly from the grain, such as breakfast cereals, but also grain-fed animal products, including beef, pork, poultry, eggs and dairy items. "The risk is that soaring food prices could generate a consumer backlash against the ethanol industry," Brown said.

If you've paid attention to your grocery receipts, you have noticed an up-trend in prices. That's not a co-incidence, although there are a lot of factors besides the price of corn.

The JSOnline also ran a sidebar article which is interesting but very short on critical facts:

Professors at the University of California-Berkeley and Cornell University have published studies suggesting that ethanol production results in a net energy loss.

But things have changed, magically:

In July, after more than three years of analyzing dozens of published reports and doing their own research, scientists at the University of Minnesota published a report concluding that ethanol produced from corn results in a 25% positive return on energy.

Hmmmmm. Minnesota, eh?

Even more interesting is this:

Much of the positive return comes from the byproducts of ethanol production, such as high-protein distiller grains for animal feed, Hill said. Without the co-products, ethanol would roughly break even in energy spent on production compared with energy gleaned.

I'd like to know if the Minnesota study counted the cost of demolished 2-cycle engines and the "lost gasoline" one encounters when you try to keep that Corn-A-Hole over the summer.

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