It is hard to find an adult who is unaware that the world needs to find alternative fuels for the future. Many alternatives to foreign oil exist, including drilling in previously restricted areas, a return to developing nuclear energy, wind power, and biofuels. Each of these solutions comes with its own set of issues and may take years before they have an effect on the price of oil or gasoline. In addition, some solutions come with their own safety or environmental concerns.
Biofuels, while they do not appear to have safety issues beyond those of any other combustible fuel, they may have a significant impact on the environment and on the economy of California. One global issue with biofuels is that a common alternative, corn ethanol also comes from a food source. This issue is already having a wide-ranging effect, potentially in world-wide food shortages. Jose Manuel Barroso, the European Commission president, launched an investigation of the role that biofuels have in rising food prices, on agriculture, and development (Oates, 2008).
Food price riots have occurred in several countries; rice exports have been halted in others (Oates, 2008). Although this investigation has revealed no results yet, if food grains are being diverted into ethanol, then it is possible that this assumption has some bearing in fact. The cost of biofuels also has an impact on California. Up to five gallons of water is needed to grow the corn to produce a gallon corn ethanol fuel. Even more water is required to produce a gallon of cellulosic ethanol (Anthony, 2007).
This great water cost has an even higher price in California, which depends on irrigation to supply water to crops. The cost of irrigation will only increase as farms continue to convert from producing multiple crops to mono-cropping of corn, such is already seen in some California counties (Anthony, 2007). In addition, when the roughly 350 plants that have been built or are being built in this country go into operation, there will not be sufficient corn to keep them running–ensuring that even more land will be converted into corn producing fields.
And yet, despite its consumption of our resources, corn ethanol will not have a large impact on the cost of fuel. According to Anthony (2007), the impact of even widespread use of ethanol would have little effect. Anthony states that: If all the vehicles in California operated on E85 [the policy of the Governor and Legislature], the ethanol required would consume 70 percent of the entire U. S. corn crop, but only 13. 6 percent of the energy in the fuel would be renewable because of the heavy use of fossil fuel.
(2007, par. 7) Clearly, the cost effectiveness of such a program would be inadequate, especially when other prices continue to rise–such as the prices of animal feed, bread, cooking oils, and more. In addition to these disadvantages, corn ethanol is not as non-polluting as once thought. The fuel actually releases nitrogen oxide emissions and ground-level ozone into the atmosphere; therefore, the contribution that corn ethanol use makes to reducing greenhouse gasses is minimal (Anthony, 2007).
In California, where poor air quality already forces stringent control over fuel emissions and emissions from other sources, this difficulty could be considerable. A laboratory in the San Francisco Bay area is investigating cellulose-based ethanol fuels; however, technology for their productions is lagging behind the science of the potential production (Rogers, 2008). However, by using grasses that do not use fertilizers and that grow in prairie lands, the face of California agriculture can remain largely unchanged from its current crop production.
The theory behind alternative fuels is a good one: it is necessary to find alternatives to the increasingly expensive fossil fuel upon which the nation currently depends. However, the cost of corn ethanol in terms of higher food prices, water consumption, and nitrogen oxide emissions makes that particular fuel a bad bet for California and for the rest of the nation. Alternative fuel must be found; unfortunately, that alternative has not been found in corn ethanol.
References Anthony, J. (2007).Corn ethanol & its unintended consequences for California. Retrieved July 5, 2008 from http://www. renewableenergyworld. com/rea/news/reinsider/story? id=49878 Oates, J. (2008). Do biofuels cause famine? EU president opens probe. Retrieved July 5, 2008 from http://www. theregister. co. uk/2008/04/25/eupresident_biofuel/ Rogers, M. (2008). High fuel prices to make cellulosic biofuels increasingly competitive with gas. Retrieved July 5, 2008 from http://news. mongabay. com/2008/0602-ucsc_rogers_biofuels. html
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