The way we grow corn in this country consumes tremendous quantities of fossil fuel. Corn receives more synthetic fertilizer than any other crop, and that fertilizer is made from fossil fuels — mostly natural gas. Corn also receives more pesticide than any other crop, and most of that pesticide is made from petroleum. To plow or disc the cornfields, plant the seed, spray the corn and harvest it takes large amounts of diesel fuel, and to dry the corn after harvest requires natural gas. So by the time your “green” raw material arrives at the ethanol plant, it is already drenched in fossil fuel. Every bushel of corn grown in America has consumed the equivalent of between a third and a half gallon of gasoline.
And that’s before you distill the corn into ethanol, an energy-intensive process that requires still more fossil fuel. Estimates vary, but they range from two-thirds to nine-tenths of a gallon of oil to produce a single gallon of ethanol. (The more generous number does not count all the energy costs of growing the corn.) Some estimates are still more dismal, suggesting it may actually take more than a gallon of fossil fuel to produce a gallon of our putative alternative to fossil fuel.
The Great Yellow Hope
He does tend to repeat himself a bit, but Michael Pollan is dead-on about the grotesqueries of industrial agriculture (including industrial organic). Unfortunately you'll need someone's borrowed password for TimesSelect®™, but he's worth reading if you have one.
Posted by Michael Malecki at 10:29 AM