There has been a lot of talk this election season about the need for alternative fuels and offshore drilling in the wake of insanely high gas prices. However, despite all the talk, there seems to be one solution that has gotten most of the glory thus far: ethanol.
So what exactly is this stuff?
According to the American Coalition for Ethanol, ethanol is basically “grain alcohol, produced from crops such as corn.” It is used as an additive in about 70 percent of American gas. It is mostly found in a form known as E10, which is a mixture containing 10 percent ethanol and 90 percent unleaded gas. In theory, it is supposed to “reduce America’s dependence upon foreign sources of energy,” since the crops from which ethanol is derived are grown here.
In the public’s debate on alternative fuels, one thing seems evident despite the hype. Ethanol from corn is not the answer.
Sure, we saved money on that gallon of gas we didn’t have to buy. And the use of ethanol likely reduces America’s dependence on foreign oil. But at what cost to our vehicles and equipment?
According to a news report by television station KHOU in Houston, mechanics have attributed “carbon deposits,” “vaporous residue” and “sludge buildup” on engine parts to the use of ethanol gas.
I will stop short of saying that ethanol is the cause of my troubles, but I can attest to the cost of this type of maintenance. I recently had a fuel-injection cleaning along with a routine oil change to improve the performance of my car that set me back $226.64. If ethanol was the culprit, I would imagine that any gas savings over time would be washed away in car repairs.
An article published in The Ledger claimed that ethanol is “corrosive to plastic parts, especially those found in lawn mowers, chain saws, gas-powered weed trimmers and leaf blowers.”
In addition to these problems, ethanol also played a role in creating a food shortage earlier this year. This is partly due to the U.S. government giving farmers 51 cents for every gallon of ethanol they produce as an incentive to use corn as fuel rather than food, according to Time. With a reduced supply of edible corn, corn prices have shot up considerably this year.
One of the biggest selling points for ethanol is that it reduces carbon emissions. What people are not taking into consideration, however, is the production factor and the amount of energy in ethanol.
Accordingto businessweek.com,some skeptics believe that it requires more energy from fossil fuels in the growing and transporting processes than ethanol would yield when burned alone. Ethanol also “contains less energy than gas,” which results in “more frequent trips to the pump.”
Given these claims, one would think that we should take a moment to pause and reflect to see if the advantages outweigh the consequences.
Unfortunately, the opposite is true. Instead of reflecting, ethanol manufacturers are lobbying to mandate the use of E20, which would increase the amount of ethanol added to our fuel supply, according to the U.S. News and World Report.
It takes away from food production. It breaks down machines.And we might not even be getting the environmental or monetary payoff we expected. With recent reports that gas prices are on their way down for a while, I cannot help but question why ethanol is still being considered a viable gas substitute.
Americans are innovative people who can come up with a more effective solution to meet our energy needs.
Countries such as France and Israel are gearing up their infrastructure to support electric and hydrogen cars within the next decade. Japan has been using Maglev trains for quite some time. Other options are out there, but for some reason they are drowned out in America by calls for more drilling and ethanol usage.
America needs to change its thinking and start supporting alternative fuels and methods of transportation.
Any use of ethanol from this point forth should be seen only as a temporary solution, not a new standard.
Jeremy Castanza is a junior majoring in economics.