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If you haven’t heard the hubbub about renewable fuels, you’ve probably been living in a remote cave somewhere just northwest of Nowheresville. Renewable fuels are supposedly the promise for everything that ails humanity and the earth. They are touted as being the next best thing to sliced bread . Or at least to those nasty fossil fuels, like the much-maligned “black” oil. Yet, there are plenty of fallacies and misconceptions that are often repeated about these “wondrous” sources of energy.
Corn for Ethanol
The first fallacy is related to the use of corn to produce ethanol. While it’s true that corn can be used to make ethanol, it doesn’t make it a carbon neutral product. Carbon emissions expelled from vehicles and machinery using ethanol are indeed a bit lower than those that use fossil fuels. However, those aren’t the only carbon considerations.
Corn takes real estate to grow and not all parts of the corn can be used to make ethanol. Therefore, the stalks wind up rotting into the field and they leave off carbon that gets absorbed into the atmosphere. If we backtrack and take into account all the carbon emissions and footprints that corn production produces, we have hefty numbers on our hands.
As a side note, some scientists have gone so far as to add that corn shouldn’t be used for ethanol at all, but rather for food production. Ethanol can be made from other items, like sugar cane, which is more eco-friendly. There’s a debate on the table as to the true value of using corn instead of other crops.
Here’s the kicker, though: corn that is grown for ethanol production is strongly subsidized at the government level. This means that farmers can get federal monies for planting and harvesting corn that will never make it to the dinner plate. But will wind up becoming “renewable” fuels instead. These types of subsidies are tough for farmers to turn down. Plus, when a percentage of a farmer’s corn crop is mandated to be used only for ethanol, instead of human or animal consumption, disregarding that percentage is anathema to treason.
Another fallacy is that it’s somehow less expensive to create renewable fuels. On the contrary, the reason that so many renewable fuels seem relatively inexpensive, or at least comparable with prices associated with fossil fuels, is that taxpayers are already paying for them through government funding. Certainly, fossil fuels also get subsidized, but not to the extent in America that renewable fuel sources do. We’re talking about dollars in the billions range, so the stakes are high.
Finally, let us not forget that ethanol simply doesn’t have the efficiency that fossil fuels do. It just can’t live up to politicians’ green “hype”. In other words, regardless of the vehicle that’s being driven, if ethanol is used as the primary fuel, the gas mileage is going to be lower than it would be if it were running on gasoline. That doesn’t mean someone couldn’t choose to use a biofuel in an effort to be more eco-conscious, but their efforts may wind up being sabotaged by the nature of the fuel.
All these factors illustrate the importance of being very careful to make blanket statements when it comes to renewable fuels. Certainly, there is nothing wrong with trying to conserve and protect natural resources. That’s something every human should strive to do in his or her own way. However, it doesn’t mean that we can turn a blind eye to reality. Doing so would only leave us in the dark and allow myths regarding renewable fuels to perpetuate.