Sugar, Sugar

Should the Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit (VEETC) be allowed to expire at the end of 2011, the scientific and economic consensus is that Brazilian sugarcane ethanol will be able to outcompete corn in the marketplace.

“Everything that is good about sugarcane ethanol is bad about corn ethanol,” Iowa State economist David Swenson said.

Dr. David Pimentel

Dr. David Pimentel of Cornell, a leader in the field of biofuels energy research, has a consistent track record of findings that claim most biofuels are “energy negative” in their production.  He credits this record to the fact that he doesn’t turn a profit or have any huge industrial grants, suggesting ulterior motives for those who do.

“Fourteen energy inputs typically are required for corn production,” Pimentel says. “Then nine more energy inputs are invested in fermentation and distillation operations… about one and a half times more energy is expended to produce a gallon of corn ethanol than is in the ethanol itself.”

Let us not forget than a gallon of ethanol has only two thirds the energy of a gallon of gasoline, Pimentel and Swenson urge.

Pimentel claims that some investigators omit several of the fossil fuel energy inputs required in corn production and processing, such as energy for farm labor, farm machinery, production cost of hybrid corn-seed, irrigation, and processing equipment.  Other studies may therefore suggest that a corn ethanol production system provides a positive energy return.

“Select states producing large quantities of corn cheaply are often the only areas accounted for (in some studies),” Pimentel added.

Under the Carter Administration, Pimentel chaired a study by the U.S. Department of Energy in 1980 finding that corn ethanol had this negative energy return.

“It only took two congressmen to call for a GAO (Gov’t. Accountability Office) to investigate our findings,” Pimentel said.  The study’s recommendations were essentially shelved after the years-long investigation.


About Joe Doolen

I am a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison's School of Journalism and Mass Communication. My aim is to write on science and international issues with a focus on environmental policy and justice. Topics range from local and domestic politics to international communications and culture, and anything cool about science really!!
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