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Saturday, October 27, 2007

Ethanol, A Crime Against Humanity?

Perusing the news on Yahoo this morning, I came across this article, where UN expert on "the right to food" Jean Ziegler calls the use of biofuels "a crime against humanity". He's calling for a five year moratorium on the production of ethanol and biodiesel from food crops.

His suggestion is that in that time we should be able to come up with better ways to make biofuels from crop waste, instead of the crops themselves. He also suggests more research into using crops such as Jatropha Curcas, a shrub that grows well in arid areas and has a heavy oil content in it's beans.

While I won't go as far as Ziegler and say ethanol is a crime against humanity, I will say that we need to look at it's actual cost in terms of use of foodstuffs, and water, when pinning our anti-oil hopes on it.

He points out that you can feed a person for a month on the amount of corn needed for 1 gallon of ethanol.

Water is the other part of the equation, it takes 2000 gallons of water for irrigation to grow one bushel of corn in most areas. If you aren't getting enough rain, that water comes from local sources. It ends averaging out to about 785 gallons of water used per bushel of corn grown.

On top of that, water use in production of the ethanol ranges from 3-6 gallons of water per gallon (pdf link) of ethanol (50-300% higher than for gasoline).

What that means is that we need, to meet the goal of 35 billion gallons of ethanol per year to find a minimum of 100 billion gallons of water per year just to make the stuff.

Considering the amount of fighting that's already going on over Great Lakes water, and Colorado River water, increasing the demands of each of those sources by that amount will cause even bigger fights.

Again, I don't necessarily agree with Ziegler's "crimes against humanity" assertations, hower I do believe that a lot of folks don't understand the overall impact of biofuel production when it comes to food and water supplies.

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