Study: Ethanol Won't Solve Energy Problems

The Associated Press
Monday, July 10, 2006; 5:00 PM

WASHINGTON -- Ethanol is far from a cure-all for the nation's energy problems. It's not as environmentally friendly as some supporters claim and would supply only 12 percent of U.S. motoring fuel _ even if every acre of corn were used.

A number of researchers, the latest in a report Monday, are warning about exaggerated expectations that ethanol could dramatically change America's dependence on foreign oil by shifting motorists away from gasoline.

As far as alternative fuels are concerned, biodiesel from soybeans is the better choice compared with corn-produced ethanol, University of Minnesota researchers concluded in an analysis Monday.

But "neither can replace much petroleum without impacting food supplies," the researchers concluded in the paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The paper said development of nonfood materials such as switchgrass, prairie grasses and woody plants to produce cellulosic ethanol would be a major improvement with greater energy output and lower environmental impacts.

But creation of cellulosic ethanol remains in the laboratory research stage. And even nonfood sources of ethanol would fall far short of replacing gasoline, most researchers agree.

Biofuels such as ethanol are "not a practical long-term solution," and their widespread use _ even from nonfood crop sources _ could have a "devastating" impact on agriculture, two researchers at the Magleve Research Center of the Polytechnic University of New York, argued recently.

"Ethanol from 300 million acres of switchgrass still could not supply our present gasoline and diesel consumption, which is projected to double by 2025," the researchers, James Jordan and James Powell, wrote in an op-ed article in the Washington Post. "The agricultural effects of such a large-scale program would be devastating."

In addition to a reduction in soil fertility by not plowing wastes back into the ground, there is concern that using corn and soybeans for ethanol would create competition for food crops.

But Geoff Cooper, a spokesman for the National Corn Growers Association, calls suggestions that the growth of ethanol will jeopardize food supplies as "fear mongering."

"There's absolutely no shortage of corn," said Cooper. He said demand for corn for livestock feed has been flat and that increased production and expected higher yields per acre will provide plenty of corn to meet all needs.

In a frenzy to respond to public outcries about high gasoline and crude oil prices, members of Congress as well as the Bush administration have embraced ethanol as the alternative to gasoline to help move the country closer to energy independence.

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