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Can Corn Solve the Gas Crisis?

We know we have a gas crisis?one that leads to not only to global warming from auto emissions, but also to war. Some researchers think that corn can save us?and save faltering Midwestern farms at the same time. But there are a few problems to be solved along the way, and one of these has to do with water.

Producing a gallon of ethanol gas from corn uses 95% less oil than producing a gallon of gas from fossil fuels and burning it gives off fewer greenhouse gas emissions. It sounds like the perfect solution, but when officials in the state of Illinois were told that an ethanol plant would be built nearby, they calculated that it would use about 2 million gallons of water per day, draining the underground aquifer that feeds the cities of Champaign and Urbana.

New calculations show that burning ethanol will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by only about 13%, while earlier statistics predicted a reduction of 95%. While this is disappointing, it's still worthwhile. In LiveScience.com, Bjorn Carey quotes researcher Daniel Kammen as saying, "Making ethanol from corn is a good thing if you want to offset fossil fuels from overseas. On the greenhouse gas side of things, it is not clear if corn, as grown today, is a good thing. We just don't know yet, but it appears to be a mildly good thing." He thinks that greenhouse gas emissions from ethanol COULD be lowered 95% if we it was produced from "woody plants" instead of corn. We assume he doesn't mean we should cut down our forests and he doesn't specify what kind of woody plants would be effective, but farmers could certainly plant these if there was an ethanol market for them. We have a large corn surplus, which leads to corn being used for all sorts of things that are bad for our health, such as the high-fructose corn syrup which makes soft drinks so inexpensive.

What is ethanol, anyway? It's produced by bacteria that ferment and break down carbohydrate sugars, in this case, the starch from corn. We use the same process when we ferment grapes and other plants to produce wine and other alcoholic drinks.

In the coming months, you'll hear more about ethanol. What you WON'T hear about is how using plants OTHER than corn will result in a much more effective?and less polluting?form of the fuel. Why? Because the USDA lobbies mainstream media outlets and feeds them information, which they then dutifully report as fact, and the USDA desperately needs a new use for all the surplus corn farmers are growing.

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Art credit: freeimages.co.uk

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