• Mar 1st 2007 at 2:06PM
  • 8
Tom DeLuca is an expert in land and forest ecology for the Wilderness Society. He joins a growing chorus of critics that caution against too much enthusiasm in developing corn-based ethanol. Specifically, he wants his home state of Montana to weigh all the facts and possibilities in making its contribution to reducing dependence on foreign oil and promoting good environmental practices.
DeLuca is not impressed with the production efficiency of corn-based ethanol. One of his arguments states that the amount of corn needed to produce a tankful of ethanol could feed a person for year. I've seen that statement many times before, and I'm hoping someone knows where it originated and can explain it to me. Is that the amount of corn an average person uses annually in all food products? Or is it the amount of straight corn an average person eats at the dinner table? Or is it enough corn to actually keep a human alive for a year? Anybody know where this often-repeated fact comes from?

Even looking at the more-promising cellulosic ethanol, DeLuca again worries that too much land is required to produce enough significant amounts of ethanol. And he doesn't like the water requirements or impact on the soil.

"Yet in a nation that insists on driving large vehicles that average less than 21 miles per gallon," says DeLuca, "the production of grain ethanol at the expense of soil resources and in the face of increasing global populations is, at best, irresponsible."

So he proposes more conservation to reduce dependency.

"As a society, it is our responsibility to learn to conserve fuel before we are entitled to the consumption of soil degrading fuels produced from food of fiber resources," concludes DeLuca.

[Source: Tom DeLuca/New West]


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  • 8 Comments
      • 8 Years Ago
      I dont think there should be any bashing on the new cellulosic ethanol. Its to early in research stages to be saying it will either yeild less energy then we put in or that it ruins the soil. The part I find amazing is that we are able to use switchgrass, which is a plant we can produce in the middle of a dry texas sun where nothing else grows. Not to mention pretty much ever plant has cellulose in it. Grow the corn and give the cellulosic researchers the stalk! Its very exciting Cellulosic Ethanol Development and Implementation Act of 2007 is a bill I have been following that will increase research for this cellulosic development. I hope to see gains from it
      • 8 Years Ago
      While Mr. Harkness may have sworn off all grains, the fact remains that corn and other grains are a major source of cheap highly nutritious food, and have long been the main food source for most of the human population. Diverting a substantial portion of grains from food into fuel production could result in mass starvation, particularly in poor regions.

      While it is possible that Mr. Harkness may have some rare allergy to certain grains, most people do not. I eat a wide variety of grains, as does my 87 year old mother and the rest of my extensive family. We are all in excellent health.
      • 8 Years Ago
      DeLuca's central point is correct, conservation is the only way to deal with the environmental issues being faced. Ethanol, particularly corn-based, is a snare and a delusion offered up to the masses as a way to meet a problem with out too much inconvenience.
      • 8 Years Ago
      "DeLuca is not impressed with the production efficiency of corn-based ethanol."

      Neither am I.

      "One of his arguments states that the amount of corn needed to produce a tankful of ethanol could feed a person for year."
      "Anybody know where this often-repeated fact comes from?"

      While I am not a fan of ethanol, I don't consider corn to be food. I haven't eaten any grain since December of 1999, and I'm MUCH healthier as a result. Among other improvements, my arthritis disappeared completely. So I don't really care if the corn food-for-a-year is fact or fiction.
      • 8 Years Ago
      Let's use math. We can define "tankful" as a 2007 Chevy Impala; 17 gallons. Modern conversion gives 2.8 gallons of ethanol per bushel, but for the moment let's use the more conservative 2.7 gallon / bushel from iowacorn.org. That would be about 6.3 bushels to fill the tank ( this would also produce 113 lbs of livestock feed as a co-product ).

      That same 6.3 bushels if just feed directly to cattle would yield about 35.2 lbs of retail beef. That would be about 1.4 oz of beef per day if you stretched if out over a year... not much to "feed a person for year". Of course, the corn in question is field corn and not eaten directly by humans.

      Just for Howard, I'll through in a link to "Grains for Life": http://www.grainpower.org/
      • 8 Years Ago
      Field Corn is 2400 calories per pound with 56 pounds per Bushel.

      134,400 cals/bushel

      Average person needs less than 2000 calories per day or 712,000 calories per year.

      Also note that Cows are not efficient users of Cornas their stomach is not designed for it. Chickens, fish and pork are much better and yeild 13 pounds of Pork,28 pounds of catfish and 32 pounds of Chicken per bushel.

      Source http://www.iowacorn.org/cornuse/cornuse_20.html

      Stedwoo
      • 8 Years Ago
      "While it is possible that Mr. Harkness may have some rare allergy to certain grains..." -- Chris M

      Grain intolerance of the type I have is quite common. And not 'certain' grains -- all grain. The common estimate is that it affects around 3% of the population, but there is some evidence that it is typically under- or mis-diagnosed, and may affect as much as 25-35% of the population in various forms. One of the reasons it tends to be mis-diagnosed (as it was in my case) is the prevalence of the nutritional superstition that grain is healthy, so it can't possibly be the problem.

      But, glad to hear that you and your mother are doing well, despite your consumption of grain.
      • 6 Years Ago
      A review of the math from previous posts:

      17 gallons of fuel per tank / 2.7 gallons per bushel = 6.3 bushels of corn / tank

      Field Corn is 2400 calories per pound with 56 pounds per Bushel. = 134,400 cals/bushel

      134,400 cals/bushel x 6.3 bushels of corn / tank = 846,720 calories / tank

      An average person needs less than 2000 calories per day x 365 days per year = 730,000 calories per year.

      So, even for a mid sized car like a Chevy Impala, one thankful of E85 uses as much corn as would feed one person for a year!

      No one would WANT to just eat corn every day for a year, but land used for growing corn is land not available for growing other crops. Didn’t the American Indians eat a lot a corn?

      When people are starving to death each day, it doesn’t make sense to use food to make fuel for cars.

      It is more efficient for us to eat the corn than for us to feed the corn to animals and then eat the animals.

      But then, this is not about efficiency or about logic. It’s about lifestyle choices.

      We could effectively reduce fuel usage by 50% in American tomorrow if people would carpool. My 1993 Dodge Grand Caravan gets 168 mpg per person with 7 people in it! In my opinion, heavy taxes on fuels would help drive us to a cleaner and more peaceful future. I would recommend a $.50/gallon tax increase every 6 months until the price of fuel is somewhere around $6/gallon. This would cause people to start carpooling and investing in wind and solar energy production.

      It’s also worth noting that cars get a lot fewer miles per gallon on E85 than gasoline. For example, EPA Fuel Economy Statistics for 2009 http://www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/bymodel/2009_Chevrolet_Impala.shtml

      Chevy Impala Fuel economy using Gasoline = 18 city / 29 hwy
      Chevy Impala Fuel Economy using E85 = 14 city / 20 hwy