The Conquest for Fuel: Should We Tap into Corn Crop to Fuel Our Cars?

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corn as fuel pros

Across the country, ethanol plants are consuming more and more of the nation's corn crop, connecting food and fuel prices just as oil is rising to new records. Corn ethanol is ethanol formed from corn as a biomass through manufactured fermentation, chemical processing and refinement. It is chiefly used in the United States as a substitute to gasoline and petroleum. It is the most familiar type of Ethanol in the United States, but is deemed less efficient than other varieties of ethanol (sugar cane, etc.) Corn ethanol has become popular in the United States recently because it's renewable, domestically produced and burns more cleanly than gasoline.


Ethanol does not release the types or quantities of polluting particulates and air emissions that other fossil fuels, such as petroleum and coal, emit when combusted. Ethanol can be mixed with biofuels to produce an even cleaner transportation fuel. What's not to love?


Corn ethanol is often seen as a striking alternative because it is thought to be a cleaner option over gasoline. The question concerning whether it is a good choice to make it a foundational combat weapon against global warming. Numerous questions arise from this topic. Will corn ethanol help lower emissions? Does corn ethanol release considerable measures of greenhouse gases? Does it have an impact on our air supply? How much land is needed to produce corn ethanol? Will it put pressure on the agricultural production? Will food prices be raised? The list of concerns goes on.

Those who stand for burning shelled corn as a fuel believe it is a feasible option. They state that using corn as fuel does not compete with the food supply. They state that the world is not experiencing a food shortage but more a food distribution and food storage problem. Shelled corn can be produces within 180 days compared to fossil fuels which take seemingly forever to produce. Farmers of corn are excited at the need for more corn for fuel grows. "This is a fantastic time to be farming," Johnson says. "I'm 65, but I can't quit now." The new ethanol distillery plant is paying him $5.50 or more a bushel, more than twice as much as Johnson could get just a couple of years ago. (By Steven Mufson Washington Post Staff Writer

Wednesday, April 30, 2008; Page A01) The corn as fuel issue is bringing new hope to this generation of farmers. "I felt like the farming community was pretty dormant. I have a son that I would like to get back in the farm, and there just wasn't enough income to support two families," says Mark Seward, who raises corn on a farm near Steamboat Rock. May 7, 2006 (By Daniel Schorn 60 Minutes CBS News The Ethanol Solution May 7, 2009)

This option provides a new financial backing for those who have been farming long enough to see the prices go lower than they could endure. Political leaders love the idea because it means they wouldn’t have to rely on the Middle Eastern Oil. The automotive manufacturing enjoys the idea of exchanging the consumption of oil to the green fuel since it will reduce the global-warming issues cars get hit with so frequently.

With so many loving the idea we can not forget there are those who are against this idea. They state that the use of corn to make ethanol biofuel will drive up the price of corn. As more and more land is needed to grow corn for the ethanol other crops will also be on the rise. The price of meat will go up because corn is used to feed the animals. “The food supply is being diverted to feed the United States' hungry cars.” (Corn-based ethanol not cheap, not green, April 11, 2007 THE ECONOMIST)


Tax payers do not realize that the cost they will be paying is somewhere between $5.5 billion and $7.3 billion per year. (, THE ECONOMIST) The farmers may be making money but will there be enough land to provide enough biofuel for the country? One expert says no. “Already, 14.3 percent of corn grown in the United States is converted to ethanol, replacing just 1.72 percent of gasoline usage. Even if all the remaining corn were converted to ethanol, the total ethanol would only offset 12 percent of gasoline.” says David Tilman, a coauthor of the study and Regents Professor of Ecology.

Another problem would be converting our gas stations. Out of about 170,000 gas stations in the U.S., only 650 sell E85. And, the engines in conventional cars may not perform as well with E85, and could be damaged by it. It will cost an average of $35,000 for each gas station to change over to ethanol-dedicated pumps.

Something I do not see much in the way of research is how we would be affected if we switch over to corn as fuel if Mother Nature happened. What if a drought or flooding happened? Would we be stranded without transportation? Anyone who commutes to work or pays attention to the news knows that transportation has become the lifeblood of the modern economy.

I don’t think that ethanol is a viable fuel of the future unless huge, unlikely technological advances are made. But if we absolutely had to use ethanol, corn is not the biomass we should be using to produce it. First, corn farming is very hard on soil. It requires nitrogen fertilizer, petroleum-based pesticides, and is very energy intensive. Secondly, it also requires a lot of water, water that is in scarce supply in the Midwest, where a lot of corn is grown. Finally, because corn is food, and is an input in the production of many other types of food, ethanol production is driving up food prices all over the US and the world.

1 comment

Sam Montana
Posted on Jul 16, 2009