Bio-fools; the US is putting grain into the wrong ‘tank’

July 16, 2008

ENGLISH POET, William Blake once said that ‘A fool sees not the same tree that a wise man sees’. I say that biofuel advocates look not to a tree, but to corn and sugarcane, and their hungry eyes see only money.

The World Bank just released a report that places the blame for rising food prices squarely on the biofuel industry.

While American drivers drool over lower fuel prices, remember that the counterbalance is higher supermarket prices — not just corn, wheat, bread, and other grain related products, but oils, cheeses, and even meat. A rise in feedstock prices translates to higher production costs to dairy, cattle, and poultry farmers. The end result: everything in your pantry costs more.

The grain required to fill the tank of a sports utility vehicle with ethanol (240 kilograms of maize for 100 liters of ethanol) could feed one person for a year; this shows how food and fuel compete. Rising prices of staple crops can cause significant welfare losses for the poor, most of whom are net buyers of staple crops. — World Bank 2008 Report

The irony of biofuels is that a gallon of ethanol requires 70% more fuel to make than it produces. The more you use it, the greater the energy deficit.

Adding up the energy costs of corn production and its conversion into ethanol, 131,000 BTUs are needed to make one gallon of ethanol. One gallon of ethanol has an energy value of only 77,000 BTUS. Thus, 70 percent more energy is required to produce ethanol than the energy that actually is in it. Every time you make one gallon of ethanol, there is a net energy loss of 54,000 BTUs. — Health and Energy Report.

Instead of extolling the alleged virtues of filling our tanks with corn, why doesn’t the US government exhort consumers to use less? What happened to the calls to carpool, ride bicycles, consolidate errands into one trip, and drive only when really necessary? Instead, we are told to consume — spend that rebate check — buy, buy, buy!

The cold hard fact is this: the days of cheap gas are over no matter how much petroleum lies beneath the earth’s crust. However, demand for food continues to rise — people need to eat. In a pinch, we CAN reduce the amount of gasoline we buy, but our bodies require a minimum daily intakes of calories, or else we die. Period.

Which tank should we fill today and tomorrow? The guzzling maw of a Hummer or the rumbling belly of a child? I vote for the child.


  1. I agree, Sharon–and, as for alternative fuels–who’s kidding who here, when the Japanese are about to begin assembly-line producing a car which runs on water, and emits water vapor as exhaust?![ ] Why, oh why, can’t we see the reality of what we are literally being spoon-fed, not only at our own expense, but at the expense of starving men, women and children across the globe?!

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