Corn wrong route for biofuels claim scientists and NGOs

The American love affair with ethanol derived from corn will ultimately be bad for farming and bad for the environment, according to scientists, campaigners and industry insiders.

A study looking at the potential benefits – and negative impacts – of different sources of biofuel concluded that corn-based ethanol was far less attractive than cellulosic ethanol which can be harvested from a wide range of sources including waste from households, agriculture and forestry.

The report, The Rush to Ethanol: Not all BioFuels are Equal has been produced by the Vermont Law School Institute for Energy and the Environment, NGO Food & Water Watch, and the Network for New Energy Choices.

According to the study, corn based ethanol won’t significantly help the US wean itself off oil without unacceptable environmental and economic costs.

“Rural communities won’t benefit from the Farm Bill becoming a fuel bill. In the long run, family farmers and the environment will be losers, while agribusiness, whose political contributions are fuelling the ethanol frenzy, will become the winners,” said Food & Water Watch executive director Wenonah Hauter.

Corn – now used to produce 95% of US ethanol and the only commercially-viable ethanol feedstock prepared to capitalize on refinery subsidies in the Farm Bill – is the least sustainable biofuel feedstock of all raw materials commonly used, according to the report.

Dedicating the entire US corn crop to ethanol production would only offset 15% of gasoline demand and the most favourable estimates show that corn ethanol could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 18 to 28% while cellulosic ethanol is estimated to offer a reduction of 87%.

Producing marginally more efficient petrol engines would, according to the report, make more significant reductions in emissions overall and investment would be better spent in this area than ploughing it into farming subsidies.

“As long as we spend more on subsidizing energy suppliers than we do on investments in energy efficiency, we are on a path to pain,” said Michael Dworkin, of the Vermont Law School Institute for Energy and the Environment.

“We are already subsidizing corn-ethanol with more money than we spend on high-mileage cars or on quality mass-transit. That’s good for some companies and some politicians, but it’s bad for our nation and our world.”

Sam Bond

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