Monday, May 6, 2013


                                                 The Debate Over Corn based Ethanol
When it comes down to the debate about ethanol a lot of people have different opinions on what should be going on. Some say we shouldn’t use it; others are giving all effort into wanting it to be used. Within the debate people branch off into different subjects that are about ethanol in general. One of the things is on the impact of ethanol. People out there want to know what is ethanol and what does it do. Well in fact it has enough impact on the people that they want to debate about it. Ethanol has impact in many general areas. It impacts farmers and everyday people. The main debates deal with corn, food, and fuel.

Ethanol has been a topic of discussion for many farmers lately, especially when it comes time to selling the crops. The 10.7 billion bushels of corn produced last year has to go somewhere (USDA 2012). As a farmer’s daughter I hear the talk all the time. At the moment farmers have to choose whether they want to sell to the elevators or to the local ethanol plant. There is a constant price check between the 2 places. Currently the price of corn is $6.78 (Agweb) and the price for taking it to the ethanol plant is $6.95 (Iowa Ethanol Plant Report). That difference is enough to change a farmers mind. For most farmers they want the higher price, but they have to make sure that making a trip to the plant is worth it. Most famers haul their corn in semi-tractor and trailers and diesel fuel isn’t cheap; so is the roughly 20 cent difference worth the trip. Farmers are trying their hardest to make money to keep producing and so if they decide that an extra 20 cents is worth it, then the corn is going to end up at the ethanol plant. Most farmers don’t care where the corn goes as long as they get paid because it is how they survive.



Talking about people who survive the livestock owners are survivors of this back and forth war. As the prices of corn shifts, so does the price of feed. Livestock owners have to look at the prices to decide on what they want feed their livestock, because they just are like farmers they have to make a profit to continue on with next year. It is just like a person going to work for a month, they put hard work into their job and not getting paid makes it hard to continue their job. With the prices flexuating the ethanol plants try to help out in selling the by-products from making ethanol. The by-products are called distillers or DDG (dry distilled grain). These are a corn based by-product. They are good to feed to animals like cattle. In a study done by American Society of Animal Science (1994) that compares DDG to the corn fed in regular in a feed ration. The study showed that the cattle gained faster and more efficiently on DDG verses dried rolled corn. This is very good for the cattle livestock producers considering there are a lot of ethanol plants out there. A benefit to using the DDG is that it is cheaper to feed than the dried rolled corn. Livestock producers have now been using DDG for a while. they have found a way to survive this rise and fall of corn prices.

A fact people really don’t know when they debate about ethanol is where all the corn really is going. Most just say that it is going to the ethanol plants, so they blame ethanol. It is true that corn does go towards making ethanol, but only 40% of every years crop goes there. 40% is roughly 5 billion bushels corn (EcoWatch 2012). People can debate that it is a lot, but doing simple math there is still 60% of crop left out there to be put into everything else. Considering this past years drought that number going toward ethanol was decreased because the percentage of corn left over would not be enough for the back-up supplies (Al Swanson 2012). This perfectly exceptable because just like humans we have bad days and so do ethanol plants, they took a hit to production. As an industry they have to be understanding that things like this happen. People still don’t understand this. They think corn should strictly go into making food. They believe that the 5 billion bushels that is going into ethanol should be used to feed the hungry. That amount could roughly feed 412 million people for an entire year (Max Frankel 2012). This point is very true that it should happen that way, but at the very moment ethanol is the only viable biofuel for gasoline engines in the U.S.  Sometimes people think one sided because the biofuel industry is working on other biofuels so that we can feed those people. At the moment Brazil has the only other viable biofuel, which is made out of sugar cane. The U.S. is working on finding other options. So far they have done research on switch grass, cellulosic biomass (plant fibers) and algae (Future Ethanol sources 2009). In all perspective the ethanol industry has made advances form when it has started. In fact they have found cellulosic biomass to be the most promising. In the video below it shows 40 facts about ethanol. These are the facts people aren’t realizing when they have debates.  

It is amazing when people can go on debating when sometimes they really don’t know the facts. The other side to this is that yes some do know there facts but they don’t imply it. Ethanol only affects food prices a little bit. When everything is looked at from a broad perspective it has some impact but it is just like people at the stock market trying to make money. For an example people debate that ethanol affects the price of food. Well in fact food prices did jump last year, they went up 6% (Alvaro Garcia 2012). Yes that does seem like a lot and it was but ethanol did not cause that jump, the factors of the drought and corn prices did this. Corn prices affect food prices because it had a 23% jump. The prices topped $8 a bushel. For a farmer that is amazing but if they didn’t have anything to sell yet it wasn’t good. It comes to show that yes ethanol is involved but it doesn’t have direct impact on food prices. Anything that happens will affect food prices, especially anything that impacts the ingredients in our favorite foods.

Ethanol Cartoon

We all have favorite food but in order to get or make our favorite food we have to have transportation to get to the store. Gas prices have been a talk for many years. To watch the prices vary over the years has been an interesting thing to watch and listen to people complain about it. Many people hate spending so much money on fuel but it is needed to get us place to place. One way to cut back on spending is by putting an ethanol based gas in the vehicles. It is a great thing to have an alternative fuel option but there are many debates about that. Some people have it in their minds that ethanol is a terrible thing. They get poor gas mileage, the food prices are going up, and life is just not working out for them. Money is getting tight and people are looking for something to blame. The thing they go to is ethanol. It is new to the system, it has disrupted there normal oil fuel life. Gasoline today is a mixture of about 10% ethanol (EIA 2013). This has become a mandate because it helps with the emissions. There are other options out there like a blend of 15% and 85% (E15 and E85), these can only be used in newer vehicles (EIA 2011). This does mean that if a person wanted to save some money on gas, because the E15 and E85 are cheaper, they have to get a car that is at least 2001 or newer. Usually newer the better, there are new flex-fuel cars that allow people to use the E85 all the time. Ethanol is blended into more than 97% of U.S. gas. This causes the U.S. to use less crude oil. We usually import a lot of crude oil but we have cut out 462 million barrels because of ethanol.  That is more than the amount of oil we import from Saudi Arabia. The U.S. oil dependence dropped 41% last year (RFA).  This is very good because we keep the money that we usually spend on that within our own economy. These are facts that people don’t realize.

When a conversation on the street happens to be about ethanol there will always be a debate about it. Now if a person was going to research about the topic so they could do a good job debating the topic they are going to find lot information that has many different sides. If the debate happens to be about the production of ethanol a lot of information is going to say that it is not very good. This is very true a corn based ethanol does not have very good outputs for the amount of inputs (Jessica Zhang, Sarah Palmer, and David Pimentel 2011). A university in New York did an analysis on energy that goes into production of ethanol from corn. From the article they talk about that yes there can be good aspects, but a main aspect that they were reinforcing was that it takes more fossil fuel to produce corn based ethanol than it produces (Jessica Zhang, Sarah Palmer, and David Pimentel 2011). One thing to remember is that the fact may be true then but now it isn’t. They based this off of the idea of the whole production of corn to the final stage of ethanol. So if corn wasn’t going to the ethanol plant it still using fossil fuel to be produced. It is just like if someone was hungry it takes fuel to go get food and it takes fuel to make the food. It all evens out. There are positive aspects about ethanol. When comparing ethanol to its past. The industry has made changes to make the production of ethanol more efficient. Today one gallon of ethanol delivers more energy than it did in the past (Iowa Corn). All the aspects to make ethanol has decreased. They use less energy, less water, less corn per gallon made, and much more. For 1 unit of oil used it produces 2.3 units of ethanol (RFA). Ethanol industries are trying their hardest to make progress and it shows.

There are many debates to pick and choose from and there are many sides to pick from as well. For must debates a person is either going to be for it or against having ethanol. All in all the debates are going to range around the impact it has on the person. That can be about corn, fuel, or food. They are going to put their opinions in and usually they stick to it. The one thing is that people don’t know there facts and so sometimes they just go out on a limb and then they inform other people with the wrong information. This is a problem; people should know their facts before they debate about something, especially considering it could lead to better innovations.



Works Cited
Ham, Klopfenstein, Larson, Shain, and Huffman. "Wet Corn Distillers Byproducts Compared with

          Dried Corn Distillers Grain with Solubles as a Source of Protein and Energy for Ruminants."

          Journal of Animal Science 72 (1994): 3246-257. American Society of Animal Science.

         American Society of Animal Science, 6 May 2013. Web. 6 May 2013

Zhang, Jessica, Sarah Plamer, and David Pimental. “Energy Production from Corn.”

14.2 (2012): 221-231. Springer. Web. 9 Apr. 2013. <>.

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