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Debate: Corn ethanol

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Revision as of 02:26, 4 December 2007

Is corn ethanol a good energy source?

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Contents

Background and Context of Debate:

Net energy: Does corn ethanol have a net energy gain?

Yes

Ethanol energy involves a net energy gain This argument takes the position that corn ethanol provides more energy for consumption than it takes to make the ethanol itself. This is important because if it takes more energy to actually make a fuel than energy is received out from that fuel, then what is the point of making the fuel in the first place? Numerous studies and camps support this claim that ethanol energy is a net energy gain. It would appear that more studies support this side of the argument, than the counter claim that ethanol is a net energy loss. See this list of supporting studies and claims in this argument's page.

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No

Ethanol energy involves a net loss of energy A number of studies indicate that ethanol energy involves a net energy loss. See the list of studies in this argument page.

  • Corn ethanol cannot compete with oil: Tad Patzek, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Cal Berkley says it takes three to six gallons of ethanol to replace one gallon of gasoline

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Oil replacement: Is corn ethanol a good way to reduce oil dependence?

Yes

  • Any energy alternative to oil is good.
  • Corn can be grown in mass to substitute in greater degree for oil use.



No




Environment: Is corn ethanol a good environmental solution?

Yes

  • Corn ethanol can be used now as a cleaner alternative to oil.



No

  • Ethanol energy is a net CO2 polluter As described above, corn ethanol energy may be a net energy loss, where more energy is put in to producing it than it actually holds for consumption. The primary concern here is the amount of fossil fuels that are burned in the process of producing corn ethanol. The amount is so high, that corn ethanol production ultimately results in substantial amounts of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere. This is counter to the environmental purpose of corn ethanol, so what's the point of this energy resource? It would not appear to be environmental.
    • The other contributor is the release of carbon from the dead plant matter that is used to make ethanol.



Land-use: Does Ethanol energy use land effectively or responsibly?

Yes

No



Air and health: Would the bi-products of corn ethanol be healthier for humans than fossil fuels?

Yes

No



Economics: Is ethanol energy economical?

Yes



No

  • Argument:Corn ethanol fuel demands tougher engine materials and more advanced components Tough materials are required to overcome ethanol's corrosive nature, and the high compression ratio needed to make an ethanol engine as efficient as it would be on petrol. These parts would be similar to those used in diesel engines (which typically run at a CR of 20:1, versus about 8-12:1 for petrol engines. Diesel engines cost significantly more than similar-sized ordinary petrol engines as a result of the more advanced materials used in their construction. The same can be expected of ethanol engines.
  • Corn ethanol is dependent on government subsidies.



Power: Is corn ethanol energy very powerful/efficient?

Yes

  • Race cars run on corn ethanol: A trip to your local dirt track or drag strip will find you many cars running on alcohol generating sufficient power to burn rubber and fling mud up into the stands.



No

  • Corn ethanol is less energy efficient than regular gas: A gallon of E-85 (fuel that contains 85% ethanol, 15% gasoline) has an energy content of 80,000 Btu — compared with about 118,000 Btu for a gallon of gas.[1]




Engine compatibility: Is corn ethanol a flexible fuel compatible with multiple engine types?

Yes

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No

  • Fuels with more than 10% ethanol are not compatible with non E85-ready fuel system components
  • Argument:Ethanol fuel is bad for engines Examples of extreme corrosion of ferrous components, and internal separation of portions of rubber fuel tanks have been observed in some vehicles using ethanol fuels.



Alternatives: Is corn ethanol a good choice relative to its main alternatives?

Yes

No

  • Electrical energy
    • Photovoltaic cells photovoltaic cells (solar energy)
    • wind power.
  • Burning biomass to heat buildings.
  • Hydrogen fuel.
  • Nuclear power.
  • Cellulosic ethanol is better than corn ethanol:
    • Switchgrass. - argued as much more energy efficient.
    • Wood - argued as more energy efficient.
      • Production Using Corn, Switchgrass, and Wood; Biodiesel Production Using Soybean and Sunflower by David Pimentel and Tad W. Patzek, Natural Resources Research, March 2005




Activist groups: Where do the main activist groups stand on this issue?

Yes

  • National corn growers association.



No

References:

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