Written by Prognog Staff

Most experts agree at this point that ethanol--at least that which is derived from food products such as corn--is simply not a viable alternative to gasoline as a fuel source for vehicles.  Of course the corn industry, especially giants like Archer Daniels Midland, the country's largest producer of ethanol, would have us believe that ethanol is still a legitimate product, but, according to this article, even they are moving away from corn as the feedstock for fuel.

Jenna Scatena, over at Alternet.org, writes about the ethanol disaster, noting that "critics have argued that corn ethanol's "green" image is only a façade and the conviction that it can alleviate our energy problem is a false hope, blown out of proportion by the media and America's eager desire for a cure-all." 

We don't really need to repeat the score of reasons why ethanol from corn is not a good idea, in fact we've already covered why ethanol is a scam, but it's worth repeating that the production of corn for ethanol use has a host of environmental problems.  Namely, as Scatena point out, "the monoculture corn is cultivated in requires immense amounts of herbicides, fungicides, pesticides and petrochemicals. And the fertilizers used contains high levels of nitrogen, contributing to mass soil erosion and 'dead zones.'" 

Additionally, the harvesting of the corn requires a great deal of energy, and then transporting ethanol causes further problems.  All told, we need to look beyond ethanol if we want anything approaching a "green" fuel.  Of course, electric vehicles have a lot of potential, although unless renewable resources are used in the production of electricity, this alternative has it's own negatives.

We have previously discussed some viable alternatives to corn produced ethanol, namely a produce derived from a cellulosic material such as switchgrass.  Scatena, quoting Larry Walker, the director of Biofuels Research Laboratory, notes that "Cellulosic ethanol emits 82 to 85 percent fewer greenhouse gases than gasoline (compared to 12 percent fewer with corn ethanol). It also doesn't harm the soil or interfere with the food market as much as corn does."

The recent decline in gas prices has certainly reduced the urgency we felt this past summer for a solution in replacing fossil fuels, but these low prices will be most likely short-lived.  The lull, however, does afford us the chance to step back from our fascination with ethanol from corn and explore more viable, long-term solutions.  It's likely that a better biofuel--perhaps one derived from a cellulosic material or, moving towards a diesel alternative, algae and the like--will appear shortly on the horizon.