Everyone talks about using corn as the source for ethanol, why? There are dozens of alternatives, why is corn being pushed so hard? Why not sugar beets, algae, sweet potatoes, sugar cane (Cuba's a possible supplier once Castro and his family go away - Cuba will need industry to fill in the vacuum), ANYTHING ELSE. Ethanol is one of the most common byproducts of natural fementation, and general decay of biological matter. Why this fixation with corn?
Just to be conspiratorial, is the government/oil lobbies using corn as the sticking point in order to blunt enthusiasm for it? Are corn growers jockeying for position as the next energy barons? Heck, if we're gonna use vegetables as the source, sugar beets would seem the most logical choice - they grow everywhere, they are the primary source of sugar in this country, and they aren't useful as a food source.
You are absolutely right that there are other sources. Any starch/sugar can be fermented into ethanol. From reading I've done on ethanol energy balances, other crops would be better to grow for ethanol purposes, especially switchgrass for cellulose ethanol production. However, the details of that process are still being worked. In the meantime, corn is one of our biggest food crops here in the US (and the US is the biggest worldwide producer since it grows so well in the plains) and the technology to make ethanol from it is well understood.
Also, I think from a marketing perspective, it is an easier sell. Imagine GM's "Live Green, Go Yellow" campaign with Sugar Beets instead. "Live Green, go dirty brown". Maybe you'll get some real alternative energy freaks on board, but good luck getting John Q. to buy a "sugar beet" powered car.
I think ultimately, we'll see a switch to other crops and possibly other alcohols besides ethanol (butanol, etc) that wouldn't require a specially modified car. What that would require is legislation that doesn't single out "corn ethanol" for benefits, but "biofuels" instead so that the market forces (price, technical merit) can decide which alternatives will win. Unfortunately, we may just see lobbies push in corn ethanol. Though with BP/Dupont in the biobutanol market, there could be some force there too.
That's what I'm thinking is happening. I suspect that politicians work best when given discrete goals to shoot for. So I think as soon as someone shouted out the word "corn" suddenly that was the answer - regardless of whether or not it was the best answer.
I sincerely hope that a solution is not overlooked just because it isn't corn. I also hope that in finding other alternatives we don't delay the introduction of those alternative fuels. I'll buy E85 or E100 even if it is made from corn.
I like the sugar beet idea. Have you ever seen a sugar beet? I have. They are a really nasty plant. People won't eat them, even though you could. They stink, and have no value except for sugar, or ground up cattle feed. I am from Idaho, and heck if they grow well in Idaho, they can grow darn near anywhere. And the waste of the plant to usable mass is much less than corn. Ya ever seen a corn stalk? Lotta mass there for so little fruit. Sugar beets are about 70% usable, to 30% waste. Corn is also about that ratio, except the waste is 70%. So you can get much more pounds per acre from sugar beets than you get from corn.
Not as a pretty of plant though!
Well, it isn't as well known, but sugar beets and potatoes are already being used to make ethanol. Corn is plentiful and reasonably cheap to produce, and can be raised in every state in the union, so that is why it is largely associated with ethanol production. Other crops are being looked at, but some are a matter of being able to process, others are a matter of feasability of production. It isn't reasonable to grow sugar beets or sugar cane in Iowa, but western South Dakota and North Dakota excel at it. Corn isn't as productive in those same areas. Potatoes also are not a good crop for hardcore production in the midwest, but do well in the Northwest.. Potatoes are already used in Idaho, wouldn't be the least bit surprised to find sugar beet ethanol plants out in North Dakota. Sugar cane is used in Brazil, but it isn't as readily available in the US. Alternatives are coming that are more effective and efficient, it's just getting the processes down. Stills are easy and relatively cheap to build...
Some interesting reading, NOT American only view... world view. http://www.distill.com/World-Fuel-Ethanol-A&O-2004.html
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