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Power Government The Almighty Buck Politics

Ethanol Demand Is Boosting Food Prices Worldwide 599

hereisnowhy writes "The rising demand for corn as a source of ethanol-blended fuel is largely to blame for increasing food costs around the world, the CBC reports. Increased prices for ethanol have already led to bigger grocery bills for the average American — an increase of $47 US compared to July 2006. In Mexico last year, corn tortillas, a crucial source of calories for 50 million poor people, doubled in price; the increase forced the government to introduce price controls. The move to ethanol-blended fuel is based in part on widespread belief that it produces cleaner emissions than regular gasoline. But a recent Environment Canada study found no statistical difference between the greenhouse gas emissions of regular unleaded fuel and 10 per cent ethanol-blended fuel. Environmental groups have argued that producing ethanol — whether from corn, beets, wheat, or other crops — requires more energy than can be derived from the product."
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Ethanol Demand Is Boosting Food Prices Worldwide

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  • Re:Corn Syrup (Score:5, Insightful)

    by geekoid ( 135745 ) <dadinportland AT yahoo DOT com> on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @05:16PM (#19227813) Homepage Journal
    remove the sugar tariff and then you will see big changes.
  • Energy? Huh (Score:3, Insightful)

    by j00r0m4nc3r ( 959816 ) on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @05:20PM (#19227905)
    But a recent Environment Canada study found no statistical difference between the greenhouse gas emissions of regular unleaded fuel and 10 per cent ethanol-blended fuel. Environmental groups have argued that producing ethanol -- whether from corn, beets, wheat, or other crops -- requires more energy than can be derived from the product.

    Who cares if it requires more energy or not? If the greenhouse emissions are equivalent, then it comes down to which is cheaper. If ethanol is less or the same cost as gasoline at the pump, then I want ethanol. I might even pay a little MORE because it gets OPEC's huge cock out of my ass. The US is one of the largest corn producers in the world. If we can make our own alcohol fuels domestically then we should pursue that.
  • First of all, pasting the entirety of the comment is not only rude, but unnecessary, and illegal (the least of the three concerns in my book, but YMMV.) Think before you do these things.

    Second, a five year moratorium on biofuels is not what is needed. A permanent moratorium on growing plants in soil as a biofuel feedstock is what we need.

  • Classic (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ErikTheRed ( 162431 ) on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @05:23PM (#19227949) Homepage
    Well, that's what we get for letting hysteria and politics shout down environmental science. And many of the more strident environmental groups have no one but themselves to blame - they embraced the politics and hysteria because (in the short term) it furthered their agendas. Politicians and the corporations (including big agriculture) that bribe^H^H^H^H^H contribute heavily to their campaigns are far from stupid, however, and will twist things to their advantage. The corporations make money and "be green", and the politicians can sucker voters by "being green" and both laugh all the way to the bank. My favorite one was how DuPont got all green over Freon - because they owned the patents on non-CFC-based refrigerants that would replace it. Nice of "t3h world is going to end!!!1!!" crowd to get the government to force everyone to replace their patent-expired Freon with something much more profitable [dupont.com], never mind that this raised the cost of refrigeration and decreased the quality of food supplies in poorer countries.

    In the long run, the most outspoken members cause the rest of the environmentalist community lose credibility (because the world doesn't end), and the politicians will just look for the next sucker cause to exploit. Too bad for the environment.
  • by TrippTDF ( 513419 ) <(moc.liamg) (ta) (dnalih)> on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @05:24PM (#19227975)
    Anything that raises the price of food means portions will need to be reduced, and farmers will be more likely to be able to support themselves by growing crops.

    In the US, sure, this could possibly lead to smaller portions, but what about people in other countries that don't have enough to eat to begin with? The price of torilla's rising 50% in Mexico doesn't mean "smaller portions" it means NO portions.
  • Re:Corn Syrup (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Garabito ( 720521 ) on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @05:32PM (#19228099)
    Yes because Cuba is the only producer of sugar cane in the world, right?
  • by MonorailCat ( 1104823 ) on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @05:34PM (#19228127)
    This isn't about the price of food in the first world, its about the stress this will inevitably place on the third world. People will starve and die because of a flawed concept being forced down our throats by politics and greed.
  • by Hoi Polloi ( 522990 ) on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @05:34PM (#19228135) Journal
    I assume you don't drive a gas guzzler then or take lots of long flights. They are only meeting a demand just like drug dealers.
  • by w.p.richardson ( 218394 ) on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @05:37PM (#19228193) Homepage
    I am afraid that this is but one of many problems that the "solutions" to so called man made global warming will spawn. It's surprising to me that anyone is surprised at this outcome. Price controls will only exacerbate the problem.

    These "solutions" will make a grand total of zero impact on anything, aside from providing an excuse for everyone to meddle in everyone else's business. I can't wait for the CFL inspector to come knocking on my door to make sure that I don't harbor any illegal standard light bulbs. Never you mind that CFLs contain toxic levels of mercury, so that whey they are tossed in a dump, the mercury can contaminate the soil and groundwater.

    Even if global warming is frighteningly real (perhaps) and man made (doubtful), the only thing we should be doing about it is learning to cope. Return to a nativist lifestyle is not an option, and these solutions cause more problems (mass starvation anyone?) than they solve.

  • by Ihlosi ( 895663 ) on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @05:39PM (#19228237)
    The move to ethanol-blended fuel is based in part on widespread belief that it produces cleaner emissions than regular gasoline. But a recent Environment Canada study found no statistical difference between the greenhouse gas emissions of regular unleaded fuel and 10 per cent ethanol-blended fuel.

    Do they need to buy a fscking clue ? Of course there's no difference. The combustion products of ethanol are pretty much the same as those of gasoline. Why do they need to do a fscking study about something that's covered in Organic Chemistry 101 ?

  • "A permanent moratorium on growing plants in soil as a biofuel feedstock is what we need."

    And the alternative is....?
  • by SydShamino ( 547793 ) on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @05:43PM (#19228295)
    But a recent Environment Canada study found no statistical difference between the greenhouse gas emissions of regular unleaded fuel and 10 per cent ethanol-blended fuel.

    No shit. Ethanol releases carbon dioxide while it burns, too. However, its carbon dioxide was already in the atmosphere, absorbed by the plants, then released again when burnt. That makes it carbon neutral*, even though the emissions are the same.

    Or, did they mean to take that into account? Who knows, the article is incomplete or misleading.

    * I'm talking about the carbon in the plant, not carbon used in production. That's next.

    Environmental groups have argued that producing ethanol -- whether from corn, beets, wheat or other crops -- takes more energy than is derived from the product.

    No shit. Unless it violates certain laws of thermodynamics, of course the energy derived is less than the energy required to produce. But they don't talk about where that energy comes from. Maybe it's all from the sun, or from other renewal resources. Do they mean that the same amount of net fossil-fuel based carbon is released? Who knows, the article is incomplete or misleading.

    Re: Food prices

    The US subsidizes farmers who grow corn, because corn prices have been historically too low to support production. Now, corn prices are higher, and we're complaining about what it does to food costs? How about we take away the subsidies - clearly no longer needed - and give the money to food programs. Then, we look into the side effects of corn being the majority of all American's diets. See some of the repercussions in the recent documentary King Corn. [kingcorn.net] Maybe we could find something else that could substitute for corn in some foods. Like, say, sugar, if we'd remove our tariffs. (Hey, if folks from other countries could sell their sugar to the US for food, they'd have more money to buy our more-expensive corn.) Then, maybe we could find something better than corn to use for ethanol. Like, say, hemp or switchgrass. I'm sure if corn gets too expensive, some entrepreneur out there will start looking for alternatives.

    But all of that would be constructive work toward making our planet a better place. It's far better to rant and rave and use single points of change as excuses to throw up our hands and give up.
  • Re:Energy? Huh (Score:2, Insightful)

    by spatley ( 191233 ) <spatley@yahoo.com> on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @05:46PM (#19228371) Homepage
    Anybody that thinks the EC study is relevant at all does not understand the first thing about the carbon cycle and the root problems with CO2 and the greenhouse effect.

    The entire point of biofuels is that they are made from plants which absorb carbon from the atmosphere. Fossil fuels release carbon that has been trapped in oil or coal for millions of years. There is likely no way to tell from tailpipe emissions the difference between ethanol, biodiesel, and petroleum derived gasoline, and those emmisions should not be considered to be any indication on the amount of effect those fuels will have on CO2 and global warming.
  • Food is too cheap (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Colin Smith ( 2679 ) on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @05:50PM (#19228455)
    Food is too cheap because farmers get big subsidies.

  • by iknownuttin ( 1099999 ) on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @05:52PM (#19228487)
    In the US, sure, this could possibly lead to smaller portions, but what about people in other countries that don't have enough to eat to begin with? The price of torilla's rising 50% in Mexico doesn't mean "smaller portions" it means NO portions.

    Ask yourself, "Why is the price so high?"

    In EVERY case of people starving on this Planet in this day and age is because of failed states. Period. Africa's food problems? Just look at their governments and how they appropriate food for their armies and buddies of the "President" (read Dictator). Sorry, the only food and starvation problems today are Government made. And no, I DO NOT mean some "evil corporation in their corporation offices being all corporaty" causing the problem. That reason is a smokescreen.

  • "A permanent moratorium on growing plants in soil as a biofuel feedstock is what we need."
    And the alternative is....?

    One option is hydroponics. The most promising crop is algae. A study done at Sandia said some years ago that growing algae in foot-deep concrete "raceway" ponds (a circular stream) agitated by paddlewheels suggested that it should be economical before diesel fuel hit $3/gallon.

    Another option is to only make the fuel out of waste oils and cellulose. Biodiesel can be made out of waste animal fat, but honestly that can only provide a small portion of the demand. Tyson Foods is currently engaging in a trial in Ireland with ConocoPhilips. Cellulosic biodiesel is rapidly approaching as a viable technology.

    You could also ignore the possibilities of biodiesel and go straight to butanol. Butanol is made by bacteria in the "ABE" process, in which a specific organism originally isolated as an aid to making TNT can be used to make fuel. ABE stands for Acetone, Butanol, and Ethanol. All three of these things can be burned in an ordinary gasoline engine, but Butanol is the most interesting compound in this regard as it is a direct one-to-one replacement for gasoline. The ABE process can be used on any organic matter.

    You could go all-electric, which would require building more nuclear plants, and building breeder reactors to supply them with fuel. Using the proper types of reactors prevents the use of the systems to produce weapons-grade materials; all breeders are not the same (no pun intended.) But this would be in many ways a more major undertaking than the other options because the infrastructure to transport and dispense biodiesel or butanol already exists - precisely the same means used to transport diesel and gasoline, respectively.

    Ultimately, the answer can only be a combination of these and other ideas. But it's easy to see that topsoil-based fuels are utterly and completely wrongheaded. They deplete soil, techniques used in mass-farming create hardpan and reduce diversity in soil, killing off the majority of organisms found there, and so on. Everything about modern farming techniques is wrong! It's simply not a sustainable activity on its own. Depending on it for fuel will cause a crisis rapidly. Certain parts of the world cannot feed themselves today because of their agricultural activities in the past. The Amazon is approaching a crisis state in which it can no longer support itself and it collapses entirely - eliminating the source of some 25% of the planet's oxygen.

    If we don't get a grip on agriculture now, it will all be a moot point soon, because we won't have oxygen to breathe.

  • by Yvanhoe ( 564877 ) on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @05:55PM (#19228553) Journal
    You mean fusion power plants ? Because trading oil dependence for uranium dependence leads nowhere.
  • by sycomonkey ( 666153 ) on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @05:57PM (#19228591) Homepage
    The sooner cars go electric and we can consolidate our energy sources at the power plant, the better, because it's much easier to make a power plant clean, than to make an internal combustion engine clean. The only thing holding us back is the pitiful state of the Battery. If we spent half the money on battery research that we did trying to make cars run on food, we'd be running silent, emissionless cars before we even ran out of oil.
  • by notque ( 636838 ) on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @05:57PM (#19228597) Homepage Journal
    Chomsky has written about it as well

    Published on Wednesday, May 16, 2007 by The International News
    Starving The Poor
    by Noam Chomsky

    The chaos that derives from the so-called international order can be painful if you are on the receiving end of the power that determines that order's structure. Even tortillas come into play in the ungrand scheme of things. Recently, in many regions of Mexico, tortilla prices jumped by more than 50 per cent.

    In January, in Mexico City, tens of thousands of workers and farmers rallied in the Zocalo, the city's central square, to protest the skyrocketing cost of tortillas.

    In response, the government of President Felipe Calderon cut a deal with Mexican producers and retailers to limit the price of tortillas and corn flour, very likely a temporary expedient.

    In part the price-hike threat to the food staple for Mexican workers and the poor is what we might call the ethanol effect -- a consequence of the US stampede to corn-based ethanol as an energy substitute for oil, whose major wellsprings, of course, are in regions that even more grievously defy international order.

    In the United States, too, the ethanol effect has raised food prices over a broad range, including other crops, livestock and poultry.

    The connection between instability in the Middle East and the cost of feeding a family in the Americas isn't direct, of course. But as with all international trade, power tilts the balance. A leading goal of US foreign policy has long been to create a global order in which US corporations have free access to markets, resources and investment opportunities. The objective is commonly called "free trade," a posture that collapses quickly on examination.

    It's not unlike what Britain, a predecessor in world domination, imagined during the latter part of the 19th century, when it embraced free trade, after 150 years of state intervention and violence had helped the nation achieve far greater industrial power than any rival.

    The United States has followed much the same pattern. Generally, great powers are willing to enter into some limited degree of free trade when they're convinced that the economic interests under their protection are going to do well. That has been, and remains, a primary feature of the international order.

    The ethanol boom fits the pattern. As discussed by agricultural economists C Ford Runge and Benjamin Senauer in the current issue of Foreign Affairs, "the biofuel industry has long been dominated not by market forces but by politics and the interests of a few large companies," in large part Archer Daniels Midland, the major ethanol producer. Ethanol production is feasible thanks to substantial state subsidies and very high tariffs to exclude much cheaper and more efficient sugar-based Brazilian ethanol. In March, during President Bush's trip to Latin America, the one heralded achievement was a deal with Brazil on joint production of ethanol. But Bush, while spouting free-trade rhetoric for others in the conventional manner, emphasized forcefully that the high tariff to protect US producers would remain, of course along with the many forms of government subsidy for the industry.

    Despite the huge, taxpayer-supported agricultural subsidies, the prices of corn -- and tortillas -- have been climbing rapidly. One factor is that industrial users of imported US corn increasingly purchase cheaper Mexican varieties used for tortillas, raising prices.

    The 1994 US-sponsored NAFTA agreement may also play a significant role, one that is likely to increase. An unlevel-playing-field impact of NAFTA was to flood Mexico with highly subsidised agribusiness exports, driving Mexican producers off the land.

    Mexican economist Carlos Salas reviews data showing that after a steady rise until 1993, agricultural employment began to decline when NAFTA came into force, primarily among corn producers -- a direct consequence of NAFTA, he and other economists conclude. One-sixth of the Mexican agricultural
  • Re:Energy? Huh (Score:2, Insightful)

    by lmpeters ( 892805 ) on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @05:59PM (#19228637)

    The greenhouse emissions of oil and biofuel are not equivalent. By far most of the mass of a plant is made of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, and oxygen that was extracted from the air. So when you burn the plant matter as fuel, you're putting a net total of ZERO greenhouse gases into the air--aside from a few trace elements, all the stuff you're putting into the air came out of the air!

    As far as I can tell, the only time this breaks down is when oil-powered farm equipment is used to grow crops for biofuel. And, of course, if the crops are grown in such a way that the soil becomes depleted, you won't be able to make more biofuel and you're pretty much just as screwed as you were with oil (probably more so, since you won't be able to grow food, either).

  • by TooMuchToDo ( 882796 ) on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @06:10PM (#19228849)
    I'd like to point out that corn produces 400 gallons of ethanol per acre, while switch grass produces 2300 gallons per acre (and that yield will increase as cellulose production methods are improved.) It's time we stop subsidizing specific crop farming, and look at farming as a whole.
  • by hildi ( 868839 ) on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @06:16PM (#19228931)
    This just hit me, with the other folks commenting on corn prices.

    Bush's support was from the red states. Not just, you know, the states. But vast rural sections of the country. If you look at the maps of the 00 and 04 elections, county by county, the country is one big red blob, with little blue spikes where all the cities are. since a vast number of the people are in cities, but the electoral system is designed to balance population vs geography (one of the original compromises of the first 13 colonies...), it means he can use this vast rural base to help win the election.

    But what are the industries out in these rural places? Growing corn is a huge one.

    Bush came out recently saying we are gonna reduce gasoline by 20 percent in such and such years. Great. He has also been pushing for ethanol production. double great.

    Now, if you are joe farmer, and suddenly you are selling your crop for twice the price you did last year, and Bush is the reason, who are you going to vote for? Bush, goddamnit!

    The republican party is bleeding , nay, hemmoraging voters. The 'base' of rural folk is disgruntled with Mr Bush's war, amongst other things. He won the election on getting out the gay haters (sorry 'marriage and family defenders') and anti-evolution nutjobs.... but also by getting out the numerous rural military bases - places like Rapid City South Dakota, the only major city in western south dakota, would not exist without airforce bases that are held over from the cold war... this situation is duplicated across rural america.

    But if those issues fall... those voters will not turn out in 08.

    Bush has to save the republicans, so hooking his wagon to ethanol, which will pour money into the corn growers pockets, is the way to do it.

    Or maybe not. But its an interesting theory, at least to me.
  • by djp928 ( 516044 ) on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @06:20PM (#19228995) Homepage
    No, other way around. Farmers get big subsidies because food is too cheap--and for some reason, the government wants them to keep producing all that food and would rather just throw away the excess rather than let the market take over and force some farmers out of business until price and demand stabalize.

  • Re:Energy? Huh (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @06:27PM (#19229081)
    "Who cares if it requires more energy or not? If the greenhouse emissions are equivalent, then it comes down to which is cheaper."

    Huh? If it requires more energy to grow the corn than is derived from the corn when converted to ethanol, then it is a complete waste of time and resources. So instead of paying OPEC, you pay a farmer, who in turn pays OPEC. Then you throw in your tax dollars to subsidize the ethanol production, and it costs you even more. Sugar cane works as a biofuel. Corn doesn't. It's a scam perpetuated by the govt. who is more interested in listening to lobbiests than finding a real solution to the problem.
  • by Loke the Dog ( 1054294 ) on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @06:27PM (#19229083)
    Maybe I'm wrong, but doesn't most third world countries depend on agriculture products as exports? So if agriculture products become more expensive, the food they buy is more expensive, but they will also have more money with which they can buy the expensive food.

    If a farmer gets 100% of his income from agriculture, and 90% of his expenses are from buying agriculture products, he will still make a bit more profit if the market for agriculture products go up.

    Anyway, this is all pointless, because in the end even the poorest country with the most infertile soil will have enough food for everyone if its a well run democracy that actually has a policy to bring food to everyone. If it isnt, well, then people might starve even if the country has both the money and soil to get food.
  • Conservation alone isn't a replacement for burning fossil fuels. Sure, it's a good idea for many reasons, but the fact remains that we need a source of energy that can maintain and improve our standard of living.

    Environmentalists argue that high standard of living and technological progress is mutually exclusive with good stewardship of the earth. They will never be taken seriously by enough people to make a difference until they abandon their pessimistic ludditism.
  • by SCHecklerX ( 229973 ) <greg@gksnetworks.com> on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @06:54PM (#19229397) Homepage
    Perhaps food companies should stop putting that crap in everything that they make. Just a thought. 2 birds with one stone. Obesity problems are likely to go down too.
  • It's the Farm Bill (Score:5, Insightful)

    by roman_mir ( 125474 ) on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @07:06PM (#19229531) Homepage Journal
    The Farm Bill subsidizes 5 commodity products, one of which is corn. This bill has far-reaching consequences, which include starvation of population in Africa (by subsidizing farmers the US competes with the 3rd world countries, who cannot compete at that level with a super-industrialized nation that only needs 1% of its citizens to work as farmers and even then it produces enough food products to feed a quarter of the planet.) Now, should the US politicians care about this or should they only work to make the US farmers happy, that is a different question. I am not a US politician or a US citizen, but I understand why a US politician would rather make a US citizen-farmer happy than think about far-reaching consequences to other countries. Other countries do not vote for this US politician, that's probably the most important point to remember.
  • by woolio ( 927141 ) on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @07:26PM (#19229757) Journal
    Who cares if it requires more energy or not? If the greenhouse emissions are equivalent, then it comes down to which is cheaper.

    Well, energy is going to be scarce in the future, right? In the recent past, energy prices were almost equal regardless of medium (cost of 1 gal of gasoline was nearly the same as the equivalent energy in electricity).

    The whole point of getting stuff from the ground is that we can do it cheaply in the sense that we get more energy out of the material than we spend extracting/processing/transporting it. That's why Oil is Big Business. If we could get the same thing from raking and burning leaves, things would be much different....

    Spending more energy than we extract from ethanol actually *increases* overall energy consumption (over something like gasoline). This transforms ethanol from an energy "source" (loosely speaking) to something more of a carrier (like an efficient battery). I don't see how this can be a viable option (in anything but a very short-term view), for both economic as well as environmental reasons.

    To me, it seems like using ethanol for cars is like running our car off non-rechargable alkaline batteries. (The require more energy to produce than they yield). It's just stupid. But right now government subsidies make "Stupid" "Profitable"... And that my friends, will be the decline of our great civilization...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @07:26PM (#19229759)
    If you are basing this discourse on the statement "Environmental groups have argued ..." note that this is a highly dubious statement. Not saying it's entirely false, but environmental interests are hardly taking the lead on this. Ethanol from corn as a fuel source is largely being promoted by agriculture. To the extent that it's promoted by a few "environmental" groups, its just political maneuvering to get an ally on other issues from agriculture.
  • Re:I call BS! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by DrEldarion ( 114072 ) <[moc.liamg] [ta] [0791uhcsm]> on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @08:14PM (#19230301)

    A dollar buys you 1200 calories of cookies or chips but just 250 calories worth of carrots.
    What does this prove? 250 calories of carrots is a huge amount of carrots, where 1200 calories of cookies is less than one bag.

    BIG NEWS! $1 gets you only 2 calories of iceberg lettuce, where it gets you 4000 calories of corn oil!
  • Re:Energy? Huh (Score:2, Insightful)

    by lmpeters ( 892805 ) on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @08:18PM (#19230341)

    Any crop produced in any kind of modern way uses enormous petroleum and natural gas inputs; pesticides, fertilizers, tractors, transportation, irrigation.

    That's a problem with how biofuels are produced, not a problem with the biofuels themselves. Here's what I think we need to do:

    • Give up on pesticides. The pests are just going to evolve resistance to the pesticides, and we'll just end up poisoning ourselves. Besides, understanding an ecological system is an incredibly complex problem--we can't wipe out all pests and expect things to be great from then on. Every time we've tried that in the past led to disaster.
    • Give up on synthetic fertilizers. Other approaches, such as biodynamic farming, provide excellent crops in a sustainable manner. And if we can't feed the world without petroleum-based fertilizers...well, we're already screwed.
    • Run the farm equipment on renewable energy sources. Obviously, if you're going to run farm equipment on biofuel, that farm needs to be able to produce more biofuel than the equipment uses. Or maybe we should bring back oxen--they are far more energy-efficient than any man-made machine in the history of the world.
    • Buy and sell locally-grown crops (and biofuel). Transportation costs will be vastly reduced if you don't have to ship over vast distances. Frankly, when I travel from California to Lousiana, and I find myself eating produce that was imported from California, something just isn't right!
    • Grow crops that are adapted to the climate of the farm. Stop trying to alter the climate to fit the crop.

    Any questions?

  • Ethanol Efficiency (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Z34107 ( 925136 ) on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @09:02PM (#19230699)

    by having more energetic mollecules -so while its true that each biofuel ton produces three times more CO2 than fossil, it will move your car three times longer too

    Are you kidding me? Ethanol doesn't have more "energetic molecules." I'm not even sure what that's supposed to mean - are you referring to temperature? Maybe net energy content?

    Regular ol' gasoline is a more efficient fuel [wordpress.com] than ethanol - 1 gallon of gasoline contains 118,690 kJ of energy, whereas 1 gallon of ethanol contains only 82,958 kJ. You car will travel almost one and a half times (1.43x) further on a gallon of gas than on a gallon of ethanol. Maybe gasoline has more "energetic molecules"?

    The problem is *big* bussiness know it's profitable... for someone else.

    Still waiting for the punchline. In the United States, Big Agriculture, especially the midwest corn belt absolutely loves biofuel in general, and ethanol in particular. A few reasons why:

    • The government pays them to grow (or not grow!) corn.
    • The government pays you more for growing more - this results in the largest, most profitable 10% of farms receiving 65% of subsidies.
    • The government "encouragement" of ethanol increases demand for corn, the key ingredient in making ethanol. This results in higher prices for corn, and more $$$ for big ag.
    • The government taxes and restricts the imports of corn, sugar, and ethanol. There are very few practical ways to make ethanol in the US apart from competing for attention from the midwest's corporate farms.

    "Big Business" makes a ton of money from this. Difference is that "Big Oil" survives despite repeated, baseless congressional investigations and windfall taxes, while "Big Agriculture" flourishes because of subsidies and protections.

    Government manded corn demand (ethanol requirements) + no other way to get corn or ethanol (tariffs and protectionism) = $$$

  • Foreign subsidization of corn crop production has also kept prices unnaturally low, as well as import barriers on U.S. product.
    Well, if foreign governments are silly enough to subsidise corn production, I say buy it off them and take advantage of their stupidity. It's hardly a reason to get into the same idiotic game.
  • Big OIl v. Big Ag (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Z34107 ( 925136 ) on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @09:30PM (#19230893)

    That demand for ethanol is raising food prices only goes to show that US sponsorship of the oil industry has to end, not that ethanol should be banned.

    I don't think anyone believes that ethanol should be banned - but this is what happens when you tinker with a perfectly functioning market for something stupid like political gain.

    The government doesn't "support" the oil industry - unless you call repeated congressional investigations, fuel taxes, and attempts to confiscate those "windfall profits" from Exxon's 10-15% margins "support."

    There are huge tracts of land in the US that could easily be used to grow good ethanol crops (i.e. not corn) that are currently paid to sit empty

    A few problems with that:

    • "Good ethanol crops" could compete with corn and reduce the profits of the average midwest corporate farm. (Don't worry - corn is subsidized, you'll never see any other crop compete with it.
    • Those plots of land are paid to sit empty in a misguided attempt by our government to raise crop prices from historic lows. Guess it's working.
  • by Solandri ( 704621 ) on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @09:32PM (#19230919)
    It's not all one-sided. There are valid reason for subsidizing food. Most importantly, unlike other markets where you want the supply and demand curves to intersect, you don't want that with agriculture. You want to insure that your supply curve is higher than what's needed to meet demand. The reason is pretty simple - there's a lot of uncertainty in agriculture. One year you'll have a bumper crop. Next year, a cold spell may wipe out half the crop. If you lose half the crop, you don't want people starving because everyone is bidding up the price of the remaining crop up to the point where only the wealthy can afford it. The demand curve is not elastic like, say, game consoles. If game consoles cost too much, people stop buying them. If food costs too much, people still have to buy it to stay alive.

    So you want to insure there's overproduction to take up the slack if there's a temporary shortfall in supply. But now that you've told all these farmers to overproduce, come harvest time there's a glut in the market. Too much supply means the price drops, often to the point where the farmers (or agribusiness) can't stay in business.

    This leads to the second reason for subsidizing food production - to maintain long-term production capability. Farming is a relatively slow process compared to other businesses. It has a very long time constant, often exceeding billing cycles by an order of magnitude. This makes farmers (or agribusiness) very sensitive to fluctuations in price. Farmer Joe puts in a half year's work raising a crop. If the price drops for a few weeks when he has to sell, that doesn't affect him for just a few weeks. It affects him until next year's crop. The money he gets from that sale has to carry him through until next season (assuming a single crop). Otherwise he goes out of business. Since most crops are harvested around the same time, a short-term price drop can cause a large portion of the nation's food-producing capability to go belly up. Not a good thing.

    So you need to insure overproduction, but at the same time maintain higher prices than free market economics would dictate. And finally you need to insure prices remain relatively stable. The solution? Subsidies. The government spends a little money to guarantee there's enough food for everyone to eat each year, and that production can remain steady year-to-year. If you can make back some of those subsidies by using the excess crop for other purposes (humanitarian aid to other countries, corn syrup, ethanol, etc), then all the better.

    The question of how much to subsidize I leave as an exercise for the reader.

  • by quantaman ( 517394 ) on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @10:21PM (#19231331)
    Most experts agree that corn ethanol isn't really useful as an enviromentally friendly fuel, but could there be a use for it in building a buffer into the food production system. Right now farms are heavily subsidized, in part to make sure that there is an oversupply of food incase of drought or other stresses on the food supply.

    However, what if instead of subsidizing farms to achieve excess food production we instead burn 10-15% of the food supply as ethanol? If there ever is a serious stress put on the food supply there's now a big buffer built into the system. Of course this additional buffer may not be necessary as there's already a buffer in place with food that's currently used to feed livestock (I don't know how much extra food we get if we start eating all this food ourselves though).
  • by Itchyeyes ( 908311 ) on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @11:34PM (#19231799) Homepage
    Wow... just wow. I don't even know where to start as you seem to have based everything you think you know about the oil industry on Michael Moore videos.
  • by asynchronous13 ( 615600 ) on Wednesday May 23, 2007 @12:07AM (#19231989)
    I'm sick of seeing links related to Paztek's paper. It's junk. Here's a link to the source that several other articles quote from: http://petroleum.berkeley.edu/papers/patzek/CRPS41 6-Patzek-Web.pdf [berkeley.edu] I agree with his bashing of corn production in the US (government subsidies, etc). But on the input side of his energy calculations, he includes: * human energy (labor), * energy for the humans to commute to the field, * energy used to make hybrid seeds, * solar energy that the field receives! Let me reiterate that last one. He adds solar energy, the entire amount of energy in the form of sunlight that fell on the plot of land during the growing season, as an input. That means that photosynthesis is part of his efficiency calculation. He completely discounts the energy that could be gained from the byproducts, and includes energy costs associated with transportation and disposal of the byproducts as if they were waste. Plus, many of the energy inputs he calculates are based on corn destined for human consumption -- many of these inputs would be left out of corn grown for ethanol. He claims that more CO2 is produced by the ethanol cycle than would be produced by burning the equivalent amount of gasoline. BUT, he doesn't discount the CO2 consumed by the corn plants! To be fair, maybe this analysis is complete and accurate. If so, I would like to see the same analysis performed on gasoline -- and please include all the solar energy that went into the biomass that eventually became petroleum, include the energy from heat and pressure from the earth, etc etc. Then one could make a fair comparison.
  • Re:Corn Syrup (Score:3, Insightful)

    by suffe ( 72090 ) on Wednesday May 23, 2007 @05:07AM (#19233471) Homepage Journal

    At $2,200 to $3,200 an acre, you cannot purchase new land and go into farming and survive, even with considerable governmental support. You have to have a base of inherited land that has nearly zero cost as a base, and even then you're dependent upon subsidized government crop insurance.

    Then you shouldn't be growing corn! (Or rather, this many people shouldn't be doing it.) There is an 'opportunity cost' to everything. If your example is true, then that means the following. If you can't buy land and plant corn and turn a profit on it because the price of land is too high, that means someone else is prepared to pay more for the land than you are. They are willing to do this because they can use that land for something that gives a higher rate of return than corn growing. Simple enough, right? Here's the kicker though. That same statement means that you are better of selling your land instead of growing corn on it (if you, as stated in your example, have less than 2000 acres). Why? Because you can use the money from the sale to do something that generates a high enough 'interest rate' to be profitable. (I say profitable, but the economist living inside of me screams that it's a break even game.)

    I understand if there are people out there that don't want to sell the land. Your family has been living on it since you kicked of the native Americans or whatever. It has sentimental value. But you can't use that as a whine-whine argument. You might use it while deciding things for yourself, but you can't use it as an argument to receive subsidises or to explain why the price of corn according to your reality is too low.
  • by donaldm ( 919619 ) on Wednesday May 23, 2007 @07:56AM (#19234273)
    One of the major problems in determining which fuel is best is getting everyone to agree. The simplest solution is to look at the energy equation and the amount of pollution the overall process produces. What I have described here applies to fossil and bio fuels as well as solar energy. Each of these have many positives and negatives so ideally you should look at something that is more positive, even this type of comparison has issues.

    I will only cover Ethanol and biodiesel and even then I can only scratch the surface because politics gets involved as well. One important thing to be aware of here is you need to grow plants to produce the particular fuel and that means land which may be of better use in growing food crops. It is a question of balance between land for fuel and land for food crop and in populous countries this is a major dilemma.

    Ethanol: Requires lots of water so countries like Brazil which have ample rainfall would find this attractive, however you have to still look at the energy equation and in Brazil's case this is positive but only just. For many countries this is not viable unless supported by politics.

    Bio-diesel: Can be obtained from any plant capable of producing an oil. One advantage of growing oil producing plants over sugar producing plants is you can do this with less water, in addition the energy equation is much more positive since biodiesel has a higher calorific factor than ethanol fuel or mixed petrol and ethanol.

    The pollution factor is important here as well since you need to look at the pollution left from growing, harvesting, distribution and consumption. Actually biodiesel has the lower pollution factor but you also need to look at the scale and technology in producing the fuels so in poor countries ethanol may be the better solution where in wealthy countries biodiesel may be better. Even the reverse can be true.

    What I am trying to get across is there is no easy one-size fits all (where have we heard that before?) solution. Each county must hopefully make the right decision with regard to energy production and consumption. Unfortunately there are many vested interests involved which makes arriving at a sustainable energy solution very difficult.
  • by Abcd1234 ( 188840 ) on Wednesday May 23, 2007 @11:29AM (#19237757) Homepage
    Why? Because you got a free ride, and now you have to pay for it. See, burning fuel results in externalities that, right now, you aren't paying for. $12/gallon gas actually begins to offset those externalities, and the result is you actually paying for your lifestyle, instead of the bill being paid by the environment, etc.

    It's called balance.

"Never face facts; if you do, you'll never get up in the morning." -- Marlo Thomas