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Saturday, January 22, 2011

Imagine no fuel from food - I wonder if you can

The Wall Street Journal this morning notes that 39.4% of US corn went for ethanol in 2010, up from 7% in 2001. Corn prices are up 67% from a year ago.

US corn growers account for 39% of the world's corn production. Converting all the country’s corn to ethanol would replace 4% of US oil consumption. As a fuel, corn ethanol is distinctly inferior to gasoline: it creates more smog, is a less efficient fuel and damages car engines.

Even Al Gore has sworn off ethanol pandering to farm state voters. But this didn’t dissuade the lame duck Congress last month, when it extended the $5 billion tax subsidy by a year.

[Harris cartoon]It would be nice to think we could end the lunacy of converting fuel to food — either based on economic logic, or as other biofuels (such as cellulosic ethanol or algae-based fuels) take off.

Instead it appears the corn subsidy won’t end until the politicians can replace it with some other gift to farm state voters. Perhaps the Feds can overcome Eastern opposition to Midwestern exports of wind-generated electricity, which would certainly be popular in Iowa. (Or maybe the two parties can just move the date of the Iowa presidential primary.)

Cartoon Credit: Science Cartoons Plus by S. Harris

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