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Re: E-M:/ RE: / green plants, fossil fuels, biofuels

Enviro-Mich message from Sarah Alexis Westerman <sarah78@wayne.edu>

I read this article with great interest because I have heard the article against corn many times.  My question is, isn't corn supposed to be a small step toward lessening our oil dependency?  I never assumed it to be "the answer," as we have just now begun to make advances and increase our consciousness of the issues.  Is it really necessary to totally shun corn, when we could at least make minimal use of it while we continue on our search for better energy?

That being said, the article was very well-written, one of the most thorough arguments against corn I've read yet.

---- Original message ----
>Date: Wed, 22 Nov 2006 13:00:56 -0500
>From: "Link, Terry" <link@mail.lib.msu.edu>  
>Subject: E-M:/ RE: / green plants, fossil fuels, biofuels  
>To: "ted schettler" <tschettler@igc.org>, "hcwhplan" <hcwhplan@email.sparklist.com>, "SustainBio" <SustainBio@yahoogroups.com>, <enviro-mich@great-lakes.net>
>   Link: File-List
>   Ted,
>   Thanks for sharing this. I think the science is
>   still not convincing in this area one way or
>   another(although I'm no scientist!!). I base this on
>   both an article in the latest Union of Concerned
>   Scientists newsletter and on review of a study that
>   reviewed numerous studies on ethanol Ethanol's
>   energy return on investment: A survey of the
>   literature 1990 - Present 
>   MAR 15 2006, including Pimentel's. Seems like there
>   are differences in assumptions that drive results of
>   the research. MSU's Bruce Dale's research seems to
>   suggest that there are particularly good
>   possibilities for cellulosic ethanol if some of the
>   technical efficiencies can be improved (worth
>   working on). UCS position seems to suggest that we
>   need some of this as a bridge to cellulosic future
>   and other renewables.
>   Terry Link, Director
>   Office of Campus Sustainability
>   Michigan State University
>   106 Olds Hall
>   East Lansing, MI 48824
>   1-517-355-1751 (Phone/fax)
>   link@msu.edu
>   www.ecofoot.msu.edu
>   One planet, one family, one future
>   -----Original Message-----
>   From: owner-enviro-mich@great-lakes.net
>   [mailto:owner-enviro-mich@great-lakes.net]On Behalf
>   Of ted schettler
>   Sent: Monday, November 20, 2006 9:00 AM
>   To: hcwhplan; SustainBio;
>   enviro-mich@great-lakes.net
>   Subject: E-M:/ green plants, fossil fuels, biofuels
>   Editorial: Green Plants, Fossil Fuels, and Now
>   Biofuels 
>   BioScience  Volume 56: 875.  November 2006 
>   For 700 million years, green plants contributed to
>   the formation of soil, oil, natural gas, and coal.
>   As the human population increases, so too does the
>   consumption of soil and fossil energy. If this trend
>   continues unabated, humans will consume most of
>   these precious resources within the next few hundred
>   years.
>   By 1850, when wood accounted for 91 percent of US
>   energy consumption and the US population was less
>   than 10 percent of the current 300 million, serious
>   wood shortages already existed. Now, with only about
>   4.5 percent of the world population, the United
>   States accounts for a quarter of total fossil fuel
>   use, the largest per capita consumption of any
>   country. Between 1850 and 2000, 90 percent of the US
>   oil endowment was mined. 
>   Converting grain or other biomass into ethanol is
>   currently a popular idea, but it is not a new one.
>   It requires fertile soil, large quantities of water,
>   and sunlight for green plant production. Green
>   plants in the United States collect about 53
>   exajoules of energy per year from sunlight.
>   Americans consume slightly more than twice that
>   amount, however. Enthusiasts suggest that ethanol
>   produced from corn and cellulosic biomass could
>   replace much of the oil used in the United States.
>   Yet the 18 percent of the US corn crop that is now
>   converted into 4.5 billion gallons of ethanol
>   replaces only 1 percent of US petroleum consumption.
>   If the entire corn crop were used, it would replace
>   only 6 percent. And because the country has lost
>   over a third of its agricultural topsoil, no large
>   increase in the corn crop is possible. 
>   Our up-to-date analysis of the 14 energy inputs that
>   typically go into corn production and the 9 invested
>   in fermentation and distillation operations confirms
>   that 29 percent more energy (derived from fossil
>   fuels) is required to produce a gallon of corn
>   ethanol than is contained in the ethanol. Ethanol
>   from cellulosic biomass is worse: With current
>   technology, 50 percent more energy is required to
>   produce a gallon than the product can deliver.
>   Investigators differ over the energy value of the
>   by-products of making corn ethanol, but the credits
>   range only from 10 percent to 60 percent. In any
>   event, biomass ethanol is a bad choice from an
>   energy standpoint. 
>   Moreover, the environmental impacts of corn ethanol
>   are enormous. They include severe soil erosion,
>   heavy use of nitrogen fertilizer and pesticides, and
>   a significant contribution to global warming. In
>   addition, each gallon of ethanol requires 1700
>   gallons of water (mostly to grow the corn) and
>   produces 6 to 12 gallons of noxious organic
>   effluent.
>   Using food crops, such as corn grain, to produce
>   ethanol also raises major ethical concerns. More
>   than 3.7 billion humans in the world are currently
>   malnourished, so the need for grains and other foods
>   is critical. Growing crops to provide fuel squanders
>   resources; better options to reduce our dependence
>   on oil are available. Energy conservation and
>   development of renewable energy sources, such as
>   solar cells and solar-based methanol synthesis,
>   should be given priority. 
>   David Pimentel
>   College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Cornell
>   University 
>         Tad Patzek
>        Department of Civil and Environmental
>   Engineering,
>        University of California-Berkeley 

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