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It seems that the production of ethanol drives up food prices and contributes to starvation in poorer nations. Others argue that the main cause of food shortages are droughts, overpopulation, improved living standards, and the soaring demand for meat in China and India. This is because it takes seven calories of corn to produce one calorie of meat. When the ethanol is made from agricultural waste or algae, the side effects are more favorable than if it is made from corn, but the refining process can still be a source of pollution. For quantitative data the reader can access za/index. php?set_id=1&click_id=143&art_id=vn20080210085730876C308900.

The U.S. bioethanol industry is growing rapidly. Production in 2007 was 6.5 billion gallons from 139 bioethanol refineries. A further 4 billion gallons of capacity are expected to come online by the end of 2008. In 2006, 14% of the corn crop in the United States was used to produce ethanol and probably as a result, corn prices increased by 25% in 2007. In the United States 90 plants operated in 2006 and 160 in 2007. Just in Iowa, 42 ethanol and biodiesel plants are in operation and an additional 18 are under construction. A study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development calculated that in order to meet 10% of the fuel requirements of the United States, Canada, and the EU, 30% to 70% of their crop area would have to be devoted to biofuels.

The use of ethanol reduces the dependence on oil, but it does not reduce CO2 emissions; it also increases the health risks due to ozone emissions. Ethanol from corn also increases the use of nitrogen-based fertilizers, which cause water pollution. Ethanol production from corn is inefficient: 80% of the ethanol energy content is used up in making it (its "energy balance" is 1.3:1). Often, the energy source for making the ethanol is imported oil. In addition, ethanol cannot be transported by pipeline, because it absorbs water and other impurities; it is also corrosive and cannot be distributed through gasoline pipelines, trucks, railcars, or barges. In addition the overwhelming majority of cars cannot use gasoline blends in which ethanol exceeds 15%.

In contrast to the 1.3:1 energy balance of corn ethanol, sugarcane-based ethanol has an energy balance of 8:1. Cellulosic ethanol made from prairie and switchgrass has an energy balance of 6:1, and even gasoline has an energy balance ratio of 5:1. Therefore, the overall environmental impact of corn ethanol can be worse than that of gasoline. One advantage of cellulosic ethanol is that it can come from perennial plants and also from whole plants, not only from the seeds. Algae or switchgrass does not require large amounts of energy to grow or to convert to ethanol and therefore its net energy gain is better. On the other hand, non-food grasses and reeds can also be harmful, because they can overrun adjacent farms or natural lands, can be toxic or drain wetlands, and clog drainage systems. The United States places a tariff of 54^ on each gallon of Brazilian ethanol, while American ethanol producers receive a tax break of 51^/gal.

The farm industry supports the production of corn-based ethanol, although the food industry opposes it, because the increased demand for corn is raising the cost of animal feed and, therefore, the cost of dairy, poultry, and other products.

Sugarcane- or cellulose-based ethanol has less of an effect on food prices, but its expanded production can end up destroying wildlife habitat and forests, threatening the survival of the rainforests, and polluting water supplies. The DOE is establishing three bioenergy research centers in order to evaluate the various processes of turning cellulose into fuel.

Ethanol can also be produced from "non-food" materials, such as garbage or wastewater sludge, which are "negative-cost" feedstocks. If all American wastes (industrial and municipal) were converted to biofuels, not only would some 50 to 100 million gallons of fuel be obtained, but the emission of methane from landfills and other wastes would also be eliminated. Plasma gasification, a commercially available process, can also simultaneously increase the fuel supply and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

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Guide to Alternative Fuels

Guide to Alternative Fuels

Your Alternative Fuel Solution for Saving Money, Reducing Oil Dependency, and Helping the Planet. Ethanol is an alternative to gasoline. The use of ethanol has been demonstrated to reduce greenhouse emissions slightly as compared to gasoline. Through this ebook, you are going to learn what you will need to know why choosing an alternative fuel may benefit you and your future.

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