Think ethanol is environmentally friendly? Think again

March 13, 2013 5:00 pm Published by

 

According to South Dakota State University research, passing of the Renewable Fuel Standard Mandate in 2005 has encouraged U.S farmers to convert more than 1.3 million acres of grassland into corn and soybean fields from 2006 to 2011.  The major part of cellulosic ethanol production was made from grass, wood chips and other plant materials by 2010. It is anticipated that the ethanol production will ramp up from 13 billion gallons this year to 36 billion gallons by 2020. Due to the success of the biofuel mandate the US has succeeded in replacing 40% of the total American oil with ethanol made from corn. Therefore, American oil imported was dramatically decreased from 60% in 2005 to 40% throughout adoption of the renewable fuel standard.  We know today, America has abundant oil and natural gas at home that can be exploited by new technology such as hydraulic fracturing and deep water drilling. Using land to produce biofuel may cause more trouble for needy people in poor countries and increase the price of beef and milk. Moreover, converting of cropland to ethanol production reduces cattle ranchers and dairy farmers access to pastureland especially during severe droughts.

From an environmental perspective, grassland soil naturally captures more carbon than cropland. So, digging up the grassland for growing corn causes it to lose its carbon advantage. Furthermore, growing corn require more use of fertilizers and pesticides which seep into groundwater systems.  We can only hope to find a way to compromise and develop a solution for decreasing the environmental impact of human activity on our prairie lands, while also protecting the poor from increasing food costs due to use of food crops for biofuel.

 

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