Study finds: Corn better used as food than biofuel

From the UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS AT URBANA-CHAMPAIGN and the “don’t burn your food” department.

Corn is grown not only for food, it is also an important renewable energy source. Renewable biofuels can come with hidden economic and environmental issues, and the question of whether corn is better utilized as food or as a biofuel has persisted since ethanol came into use. For the first time, researchers at the University of Illinois have quantified and compared these issues in terms of economics of the entire production system to determine if the benefits of biofuel corn outweigh the costs.

Civil and environmental engineering professor Praveen Kumar and graduate student Meredith Richardson published their findings in the journal Earth’s Future.

As part of a National Science Foundation project that is studying the environmental impact of agriculture in the U.S., the Illinois group introduced a comprehensive view of the agricultural system, called critical zone services, to analyze crops’ impacts on the environment in monetary terms.

“The critical zone is the permeable layer of the landscape near the surface that stretches from the top of the vegetation down to the groundwater,” Kumar said. “The human energy and resource input involved in agriculture production alters the composition of the critical zone, which we are able to convert into a social cost.”

To compare the energy efficiency and environmental impacts of corn production and processing for food and for biofuel, the researchers inventoried the resources required for corn production and processing, then determined the economic and environmental impact of using these resources – all defined in terms of energy available and expended, and normalized to cost in U.S. dollars.

“There are a lot of abstract concepts to contend with when discussing human-induced effects in the critical zone in agricultural areas,” Richardson said. “We want to present it in a way that will show the equivalent dollar value of the human energy expended in agricultural production and how much we gain when corn is used as food versus biofuel.”

Kumar and Richardson accounted for numerous factors in their analysis, including assessing the energy required to prepare and maintain the landscape for agricultural production for corn and its conversion to biofuel. Then, they quantified the environmental benefits and impacts in terms of critical zone services, representing the effects on the atmosphere, water quality and corn’s societal value, both as food and fuel.

In monetary terms, their results show that the net social and economic worth of food corn production in the U.S. is $1,492 per hectare, versus a $10 per hectare loss for biofuel corn production.

“One of the key factors lies in the soil,” Richardson said. The assessment considered both short-term and long-term effects, such as nutrients and carbon storage in the soil.

“We found that most of the environmental impacts came from soil nutrient fluxes. Soil’s role is often overlooked in this type of assessment, and viewing the landscape as a critical zone forces us to include that,” Richardson said.

“Using corn as a fuel source seems to be an easy path to renewable energy,” said Richard Yuretich, the NSF program director for Critical Zone Observatories. “However, this research shows that the environmental costs are much greater, and the benefits fewer, than using corn for food.”

###

The National Science Foundation supported this research through the Grants for Intensively Managed Landscapes Critical Zone Observatory.

 

The paper “Critical zone services as environmental assessment criteria in intensively managed landscapes” is available online

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/2016EF000517/full

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123 thoughts on “Study finds: Corn better used as food than biofuel

  1. ‘the question of whether corn is better utilized as food or as a biofuel has persisted since ethanol came into use.’

    False dichotomy.

    ‘For the first time, researchers at the University of Illinois have quantified and compared these issues in terms of economics of the entire production system to determine if the benefits of biofuel corn outweigh the costs.’

    The hundredth ‘first time.’

    • Right, this is the first time in the same way that this morning’s sunrise was a new and novel event. Perhaps it is the first time this basic calculation was done using “social cost” calculations and imaginary enviro speak terms that don’t relate to normal agriculture.

      • Well, it was the First time the Sun arose today so, for this particular day, the sunrise was new
        Interesting fugures though
        As Food, corn has a Positive value of $1492 per hectare
        As Fuel, corn has a Negative value of $10 per hectare

    • “the total net energy for ethanol production demonstrates how this process is merely a transfer of mechanical and chemical energy associated with the refinery inputs, mainly natural gas and coal, to potential chemical energy stored in ethanol [Pielou, 2007].”
      ==================
      so in reality, they are not converting corn to ethanol. they are converting coal and natural gas to ethanol, using corn subsidies to make it profitable.

      • Same situation with wind and solar. If they were net positive on there own, electricity would be less expensive.

      • Excellent paper!. In essence, in the area of biofuels, the DOE has been trying to make water run up since since its inception.

    • It certainly is a false dichotomy. The question should be, “is corn better used as food or as liquor?”

      Bourbon. Breakfast of Champions.

    • This is not a false dichotomy at all. It’s not a dichotomy of any kind. A dichotomy is something like, “When you grow corn you must use it either as food or fuel.” This is not the statement being made. The question being asked is “Which is more expensive/profitable, corn as food or corn as fuel?” The answer (statement being made) is that raising corn for food is far more profitable than raising corn for fuel. Such a statement does not preclude the possibility of other uses for corn (like, perhaps, decoration, or turning it into textiles, alcoholic beverages, biodegradable utensils, etc….). There IS an implied dichotomy here that assumes you cannot use the same corn for both food and fuel. But that is not a false dichotomy. You cannot take the same corn and use it as both fuel and food. Well actually you CAN if you are willing to take what comes out your back end after eating corn and burning that… but then that’s not the kind of fuel we are talking about here.

      • @Sam That still does not make it a false dichotomy. I have not read the full paper, but I would assume that the ‘fuel’ side of their study considered the value of both the ethanol and the cattle feed produced by that processing pathway.

      • “is that raising corn for food is far more profitable than raising corn for fuel.” This is true, which is precisely why those in USG who pushed through ethanol mandate placed rather substantial(initially) tax dollar subsidies for growers to put more of their corn crop into the ethanol production stream. I personally watched farmers I know switch much of their acreage over from hay, grain, alfalfa and soybeans to corn for sale into ethanol production so they could qualify for the government subsidies attached to it. 4 years later most had gone back to their original crop plan, the government monies had fallen off each year and were far lower than what they were making from growing hay, grain, alfalfa and soybeans and selling it mainly as livestock feed. The ones who mainly grow sweet corn never made the switch, they already knew they would continue to make much more money from that than switching to corn for ethanol. This is in Pennsylvania, the pattern was different in other states, the overall results are much the same.

      • ‘A false dichotomy or false dilemma occurs when an argument presents two options and ignores, either purposefully or out of ignorance, other alternatives.’
        “When you grow corn you must use it either as food or fuel.” This is not the statement being made.”
        The statement made:
        ‘the question of whether corn is better utilized as food or as a biofuel has persisted since ethanol came into use.’
        The question made is a false dichotomy.

      • Here, I’ll clear up the confusion. Ethanol is a piss poor internal combustion engine fuel. See? That is why farmers should concentrate on growing corn for food instead of corn for stupidity.

    • One could always burn dried corn and stems and run a steam generator.
      Might be sustainable as well ;)

      Cheers

      Roger

      • People have been using corn in pellet type stoves for heating homes. Most have gone back to processed wood pellets. At least those still using pellet stoves.

    • Yep … complete load of hooey. Since corn used for ethanol is NOT food corn.

      And every bushel of corn used for ethanol creates appx 2.7 gals of ethanol AND appx 17lbs of Distillers Dried Grains, a high quality animal feed that is better than the corn itself – enough to replace nearly 50% of the corn used for ethanol.

      And most importantly becasue there is no demand for more corn for food.

      The US is the worlds corn supplier – and has been for more than a century. The US provides more corn exports than all other corn exporters combined. The US corn industry meets 100% of domestic food, feed and fuel demand. The US corn industry meets 100% of the export demand. And the US corn industry still contributes corn to the US corn reserves every year.

      Corn used for fuel does NOT increase the cost of food. Corn used for fuel supplies over 10% of US transportation fuel needs. Corn used for fuel significantly reduces US tail pipe emissions – both airborne particulate matter and greenhouse gases. Corn used for fuel LOWERS US gasoline prices for all.

      • Acreage converted from food/livestock feed crops to corn for ethanol is the problem. And no, ethanol has not helped any of that list, it is a piss poor internal combustion engine fuel. It draws moisture, fouls engines and exhaust systems internally and damages fuel storage and transfer systems. Never accept as fact anything said by the “people” pushing this piss poor excuse for a fuel.

      • Your argument only makes sense if you assume all those acres can ONLY be used to grow field corn; which is of course ridiculous. The truth is that growing corn for ethanol production displaces other potential food crops, like sweet corn, beans, grain, etc.

    • If you want to run a successful business, you have to have successful accounting. It seems to me that this paper is closer to accounting than it is to something more theoretical and contentious like, for instance, minimum wages.

    • Step Two, which is a college-degree stuffed with absolutely nothing at all. Smoke that and it’ll really get you out there!

      “Dummy Up”
      Frank Zappa Lyrics

      • My education equipped me to do real useful stuff that I couldn’t do without it. Ditto for my students. Not all education is wasted.

    • net social benefit would result from burning every economics degree ever awarded

      The study of real world economics is just fine. One of the big problems of the present age is that so few people understand supply and demand. Another difficulty is that many people think that Marxism and persons like Paul Krugman have any legitimate connection with reality.

    • They do perform some useful tasks, but this involves so many assumptions, abstractions, and quantification of intangibles that it can be easily twisted to show whatever answer you want it to show. It’s little better than a crystal ball.

      Even if I agree with its conclusions, I cannot support this paper.

  2. Why burn hydrocarbons that can be readily converted into food when we can burn hydrocarbons that are inedible? This question never mattered to environmentalists, who are still hell-bent on “sustainability”, no matter how much it may cost the environment when all the costs are tallied.

    The hard truth is that a single gram of matter, when converted to energy in a nuclear reaction, produces 25 MILLION kilowatt hours of energy. We should be focused on creating the safest form of nuclear power for every energy use where it is suitable.

    I think that some future generation will spend billions of dollars restoring “pristine vistas” by tearing down the broken and unusable wind turbines that clog up so much our open spaces and kill so many of our birds. Abandoned wind turbines will be this generation’s legacy just as abandoned open pit coal mines were several generations ago. When government eventually requires wind power companies to set aside monies for “vista restoration” when their wind turbine fields are no longer used, it will impair the economic performance of wind power so much that no subsidy could help a company stay in business.

  3. It actually took a Scientific Study to decide this?
    What ever happened to just good old common sense?

    • What ever happened to just good old common sense?

      The simple answer is, ……. parents and guardians have been “brainwashed” into believing that academia and/or government agencies are the only ones capable of “teaching common sense thinking” to their adolescent and/or school-age children.

      Only problem is, “common sense thinking” is not a “teachable” attribute, ……. but is in fact a “self nurtured” attribute that must be acquired during one’s young formative years when they are subject to parental or guardian influence and/or control.

      • I took a class in 1975 (college freshman) called “Critical Thinking” It was a general studies psych course. We were taught Karl Popper etc. and learned to recognise thought control tactics in advertising, political campaigns, cults and religions, etc.
        I got a new sense of being “street smart” for life from it.

        Years later, employed by the same school, I found out the class was discontinued sometime in the “Silent Majority” era because the materials were “socially obsolete”.

      • don’t you just love the term brainwashed? it totally relieves the owner of the brain of any responsibility for its contents.

        among the erroneous beliefs is that reason is too mystical to be expressed in words so that it may be taught (by a teacher) and learned (by a student).
        reason, however, is a habit which is learned and then reinforced by rehearsal.
        it’s that habit, once acquired, which makes it possible for a man to claim self possession and his title H. the sapiens.

        reason is a habit. it is learned. or did you imagine it comes from performing some magic?

      • gnomish June 21, 2017 at 7:27 pm

        don’t you just love the term brainwashed?

        it totally relieves the owner of the brain of any responsibility for its contents.

        Gnomish, thanks for your response ……. but I am quite sure that you do not realize the “extent of the truth” of what you stated in your 2nd sentence above.

        gnomish also stated:

        reason is a habit. it is learned. or did you imagine it comes from performing some magic?

        gnomish, when talking about the brain/mind, it is better to use the word “nurtured” rather than the word “learned”.

        To “nurture” sensed info/data means that said info/data is recorded in the DNA of a brain neuron or neurons.

        To “learn” something means that you are capable of “recalling” the info/data from said neuron(s) to the attention of your conscious mind. No recall = No learn, ….. even though info/data remains permanently stored in said neuron(s).

        And given the fact that us humans have not quite figured out exactly how the brain/mind is nurtured with the sensed environmental data/info (meaning the storing/recording of said data/info in the DNA of the brain’s neurons) …… or the mechanism/process of how said data/info is recalled by the subconscious mind and presented to the conscious mind, etc., etc., …. then the best we can say right now is that our brain/mind is …… “performing some sort of magic” …. that neuroscientists are working feverishly to understand.

        Gnomish, iffen you want to know a few of the many, many thing that YOU DON’T KNOW ABOUT YOUR OWN BRAIN/MIND …….. then “click on” the following url link …… and read the commentary that I am the author of, which is titled ….. “A View of How the Human Mind Works”, to wit:

        http://snvcogar.newsvine.com/_news/2010/11/04/5408053-a-view-of-how-the-human-mind-works

      • Samuel C Cogar said:
        “Gnomish, iffen you want to know a few of the many, many thing that YOU DON’T KNOW ABOUT YOUR OWN BRAIN/MIND …….. then “click on” the following url link …… and read the commentary that I am the author ”

        you make some bold claims, but i’ll give it a fair shot.
        (although, ‘Sam. C, telepathic psychoanalyst’ (you don’t know what i may know – so it’s terribly unwise to shout about how you do.) is definitely not a hallmark of perspicacity- but i have fair warning, right?)

      • running commentary on your article, Sam:

        that ‘interrupt’ in the first paragraph is called the N400- just fyi. the n400 pulse is visible on EEG and can be elicited experimentally exactly the way you did it.

        it seems you are attempting to distinguish between sensory, perceptual and conscious processes – but you left out the perceptual, where senses are sampled as ‘frames’ of simultaneous stimuli. it’s the percepts that are passed to the brain after being coded at a reduction of about 100 to 1 (100 million neurons of the retina sends 1 million neurons down the optic fibers that encode intensity, extensity and juxtaposition (lines, edges, shapes) (which is how it comes to pass that there are ‘optical illusions’)

        using the language of computer science to discuss psychology is totally legit because the vocabulary is there for so much of the subject matter – better than psychologists have developed for anything to do with information theoretical topics like thinking…lol

        by golly, you’ve almost got a perfect definition of human nature- bravo for that! it’s one of the pons asinorae that keeps the mob on the other side of the moat.

        you’re fairly confused about the nature of dreaming. there is a reason nature finds it economical to shut down a chordate’s voluntary functions for 1/3 of its life, though- do you want the answer or would you rather figure it out so you can call it yours?

        = so not bad, mr sam. it may have helped to have missed out on any formal ‘nurturing of the academic kind’ on this topic because it’s so horribly mystical in so many ways.
        you might check out what mr crick (of watson & crick) had to say about dreaming- he had a big clue, although lacking in detail.
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reverse_learning
        kurt vonnegut called it ‘the forgettery’…lol

        congratulations on your hike up learning curve hill- you got somewhere and your reward is a better view of the mindscape. you got yourself a big clue.
        if you look around, you’ll find there are plenty of beer cans and candy wrappers littering the summit of your achievement. they were left by previous visitors. some of those visitors have ascended to further heights since then. that said, to go further, they had to get to where you did. take it as a sign you’re on the right path.

      • errata:
        sensory, perceptual, conceptual = the 3 levels of consciousness
        pons asinorA (declension of neuter nouns: um, i, o, um, o, A, orum, is, a, is)

      • oh, hell. i plead ‘no covfefe’ and ‘wakin up is hard to do’.
        pons asinorum is correct. that’s what i get for not double checking my work.

    • Although not recommended:

      Petroleum Jelly meets FDA requirements for being safe for human consumption

    • I kind of chuckle at the whole situation.
      Isn’t food just another synonym for fuel? We merely use it to “fuel” biologic entities. Don’t we “feed” fires?

      So this study has merely concludes that corn conversion to energy is best handled by biologics, as there are more limited supplies of edible (biologically agreeable) “fuels” while there is an abundance of inedible fuels.

  4. Ethanol was pushed as a fuel as early as the 1930’s – though without sucess.

    Due to the two arab oil embargo’s, the Carter administration pushed corn ethanol as an alternative fuel.
    Subsequently, in the late 1980’s/early 1990’s, it got pushed as a gas additive to reduce various types of polluting auto emmissions (thanks AMD).

    Though the science behind the cleaner burning fuel was dubious – less pollution per gallon, yet lower gas mileage resulting in equal or greater pollution per mile. ( cost benefit is beyond the EPA’s pay grade)

    • I think you mean ArcherDanielsMidland, ADM, a very large ag products company that has made bags of money playing the subsidy game, both for ethanol and farm subsidies.

      • correct – ADM – my appologies to AMD – advanced micro devices.
        ADM sucking on the government TEET

      • The Archer Daniels Midland Company (ADM) is an American global food processing and commodities trading corporation, headquartered in Chicago, Illinois.[2][3][4] The company operates more than 270 plants and 420 crop procurement facilities worldwide,” [From Wikipedia] and so on.

        The point is these large public companies (also non-public ones such as Cargill and Koch Ind.) mostly respond to markets, government regulations, and -yes, try to influence the regulations. This is what they are supposed to do. If the governments offer subsidies, many must respond because it is part of their “fiduciary duty” to do so.

        Many people directly benefit from these companies, including those of us that have retirement funds invested in stocks and bonds.
        For homework, look up all 3 of the companies mentioned above and see what they do, and how much wealth and taxes are generated. “Real Americans” should be proud of these companies.

    • less pollution per gallon, yet lower gas mileage resulting in equal or greater pollution per mile.

      YUP, I never could figure out how it was possible to forcefully demand that automobile engines be burning twice as much gasoline in order to generate half as much pollution?

      During my last two years of college I owned and drove a 1951 Henry J, …… which was a godsend for a poor boy like myself because it averaged 42 mpg …… and the cost of gasoline was like $0.40/gal.

      And now to the present day, after 66+- years of government enforced mandates, vehicle mpg ratings are still mostly 32 mpg or less …… and the cost of gasoline is like $2.50/gal.

      • The EPA really sucks at basic cost benefit and marginal cost vs marginal benefit
        Though There is a congressional mandate that is forcing the EPA to require 15% ethanol even though the likelihood of engine damage is greatly increased going from 10% to 15% – which will create more pollution and hit the poor hardest since they have the lease amount of money to fix what the EPA breaks

      • The purchasing power of 1.00 USD in 1951 corresponds to USD 37.00 in 2016, according to the CPI(consumer price index). Gasoline is cheaper nowadays than it was back in the 1950s. The good old times were way more expensive than we tend to believe.

      • I have to apologize, my calculation went off the rails. USD 0.40 of 1951 has turned into USD 3.70 in 2016 (CPI). There are some other ways to calculate this (by income value, labor value etc), and I mixed things up a bit.

      • I bought my first house in 1980 for $27,000 and gasoline was about $1.20/gal. The same house would sell today for about $200,000 while gas is currently at $2.30. Thanks should go to “big oil” for keeping fuel affordable.

      • Michael darby

        Rick C PE, too bad you bought gasoline in 1980 for $1.20 a gal. If you had waited a couple of years, you could have gotten it for less than $1.00 a gal.

        And so we MUST buy “solar” or “renewables” or windmills and biologic and burn food for ethanol economy now – when they do not work and waste purchasing power, are not needed and are not efficient and will not change the world’s CO2 levels – and will not affect the world’s global average temperatures by 0.05 …. By your own question, energy is NOT transferable. When needed NOW it must be available NOW and delivered and USED immediately. Gasoline purchased next week cannot get me to work this week, electricity generated next week cannot process my food this week.

    • And very soon thereafter it was discovered that the components of several automobile fuel pumps were incompatible with ethanol.
      All this “green” materials technology is interesting but not very will though through. New cars have had their electrical systems insulated with soy-based plastics, which (DUH!!) is edible, and now are embroiled in class action laws suits because rodents are eating the systems bare.
      If this current “green” lunacy persists future forms of transportation will be plagued by termites, and we’ll have regressed back to wagons and buggies, when life was more “green”, but “nasty brutal and short.”

  5. I think they totally missed the mark….
    They can use a whole bucket load of chemicals on corn that’s not used for food…

  6. https://wattsupwiththat.com/2012/01/22/weekly-climate-and-energy-news-roundup-38/#more-55226

    Nick Shaw says: January 23, 2012 at 11:44 am
    Allan MacRae says:
    “I think overconsumption of water from the Ogallala aquifer due to corn ethanol overproduction is a much greater environmental threat.”
    – appears to have uncovered one of those pesky unintended consequences, no?
    ______________________

    Actually Nick, I wrote this.

    I “inherited” a corn ethanol plant in Wyoming in 1998. Despite good local management and huge federal and state subsidies, it was a break-even business, another way of saying it was so energy-inefficient that its life-of-project energy balance was probably negative – it consumed more energy than it created. Grid-connected wind power is no better, and solar power is much worse.

    Since then I’ve learned that the vital Ogallala aquifer is dropping at an alarming rate in some locations, due to excess withdrawal of water for irrigation – much of it for corn ethanol.

    If the environmental movement truly had the interests of America and the world at heart, they would abandon their fascination with wasteful, inefficient corn ethanol, wind power and solar power, and focus on real environmental problems like vital groundwater conservation.

    However, if one analyses their actions, it is clear that the “greens” are not interested in the environment or the wellbeing of humankind. Rather, the environment is merely a convenient smokescreen for their far-left political objectives.

    Regrettably, Obama is in bed with these radicals. It is immaterial if he shares their views or is merely a fool, duped by their rhetoric.

    My poor, dear America – my neighbour – my friend.

    You are governed by scoundrels and imbeciles.

    What will become of you?

    Post Script:

    The above was written in 2012 – fortunately, America elected a President who gets energy right. Whether you like Trump or not, he is adopting sensible energy policies and so he will be good, and possibly even great , for America. Cheap, abundant reliable energy is the lifeblood of society – it IS that simple.

    • The answer it seems is to slash and burn millions of acres of rain forests to plant sugar cane and palm for ethanol and palm oil diesel, respectively. All in the name of environmentalism.

    • “What will become of you?”

      I plan to be dead. Seriously. This whole thing is just too screwed up to fix. How can any rational person that actually gives a hoot live with any of it? 9 billion morons led by a few tens, maybe hundreds, of thousand pit vipers, all of whom have an army of useful green idiots that can’t even fix their own cars much less understand advanced technology? Bring on Superman vs. Batman. Pop the corn.

      There really isn’t any hope.

      • Hi Bart,

        I do have hope, especially for America. You have elected a President who gets energy right, and that is critical to success. If Hillary had been elected, I would share your pessimism.

        But when the USA gets energy right, many good things can happen: You can recover your manufacturing base and good-paying jobs and rebuild your economy. The very low cost of energy allows you to compete with Chinese labour, especially since you also have a huge transportation advantage and can use automation to further offset you higher labour costs.

        I see a rebirth of the American economy and jobs, based on primarily on sound energy policies.

        I am more concerned about Canada, where we have elected a naïve young Prime Minister and several provincial Premiers who still believe in the CO2 bogeyman and have adopted dysfunctional energy policies that are sure to cost us jobs and prosperity.

        But there IS hope, especially for America.

        Best, Allan

  7. Isn’t it likely that a bushel of corn fed to your horse would take you much further than it would if the same bushel of corn is converted to ethanol and used to propel your car? Or, maybe, just eat the corn and then when metabolized use the energy to pedal your bicycle? Besides, neither of those alternative uses is likely to cause terminal damage to your car engine.

    • Oops — ‘scuse, please — I skipped over the part where the corn is converted into corn meal then made into corn pone bread and hushpuppies, then eaten. But then there is the additional heat energy that is used to bake or fry the final product that has to come from somewhere. Electricity generated by burning coal or gas and made available to your wall sockets, maybe? Would that coal usage be considered a “subsidy” for renewables, I wonder?

    • Isn’t it likely that a bushel of corn fed to your horse would take you much further than it would if the same bushel of corn is converted to ethanol and used to propel your car?

      Actually I seem to remember a study that proved the exact opposite: Machines were more efficient than living organisms at processing carbohydrate energy.

      • I think you missed a point there. You don’t get much ethanol out of a bushel of corn. That small amount might be converted more spontaneously into energy, but will the car go a mile? If you fed your horse part of that bushel of corn, you could ride the horse quite a few miles. See, the horse will only be adding your weight to movement process, but the ethanol needs to add the weight of the vehicle as well. Now that doesn’t mean the machine is less efficient, just less practical.

      • Just a quibble; some of us use saddles. And saddle packs… Hard to carry groceries in your hands while riding a horse. Serious hauling still requires a cart.

  8. Another example of how simple-minded renewability claims really usually are. “Wind and solar energy are free” was another false but seemingly true claim. Never a mention of the need for duplicative, backup generation capacity that is anything but free, or the massive apparatus that’s required to cultivate that “free energy.” Simple minded, always simple minded are the renewable arguments.

    • A careful and detailed systemic fact-based evaluation will inform you that governments are very silly institutions who thrive on their own intrinsic ignorance — But then they rely on the intrinsic and many times profound ignorance of the governed. So, how do you win?

    • “Wind and solar energy are free”
      =================
      so are coal and oil. it is the conversion to useful work that costs the money.

      few people stop to think that coal lying in the ground is free, exactly the same way that wind and solar are free. coal is simply solar energy that mother nature has concentrated into a reasonably convenient energy source.

  9. There is an index number that summarizes all the social benefits of a product. It is called the “price”. If corn is more desirable as food, the willing buyer for corn as food will bid up the price to shift the use of the product that direction. if it is more useful as ethanol, the ethanol producers will bid up the price to shift use of the product that direction.

    Whatever these “researchers” of the relative values of inputs is irrelevant.

    • …..But what happens when the willing buyer for corn as food is competing with his own money that was paid to governments in taxes and fees to then be paid on to the “see-through whiskey” ethanol distillers to subsidize their operating costs? There really are such things as market price distortions when governments involve themselves in what should be private sector economy free markets, you know.

    • ‘In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem, government IS the problem.’ – Ronaldus Magnus

  10. As Ristvan and other farmers have noted, corn ethanol production also yields distillers grain, which is useful feed, so it is not that simple. Alcohol in gasoline does bugger carburetted engines, though, and subsidy/tax schemes with energy are mostly a bad idea.

    • Not all that great for fuel injected engines either. Alcohol is much better at absorbing water than gasoline. Once that gets into the injectors – bad things happen. Terrible for high compression engines too.

  11. Actually, I think about the only virtue fuel alcohol has is the humor derived from trying to run the country on corn likker:

    My father, he was a moonshine man,
    A reg’lar sort of feller.
    He kept Ma plastered forty years
    Off the still he ran in the cellar.

    The government now buys his stuff for use at Cape Canaveral. ;);)

  12. No shit, Dick Tracey! Ethanol is a STUPID idea. Ruins engines, gas mileage and raises price of gas in summer. Three time loser. Only good it does is fund the large farmers!

  13. Kumar said. “The human energy and resource input involved in agriculture production alters the composition of the critical zone, which we are able to convert into a social cost.”…. I stopped reading at that point. As soon as you get to the point of even contemplating calculating a “social cost”, it’s no longer science.

  14. What would be ‘A First’ is when they, someone/anyone starts accounting for the organic matter in the dirt – the dirt that those corn plants are growing out of.

    We ourselves should not be eating corn. It is carbohydrate and rots our bodies and brains in roughly equal measure.
    We could grow a modicum of corn and feed to chickens and other livestock. BUT, beef eaters here and there are a few, consider what happened when you next throw a juicy beef steak into the grill. A beef steak with all that lovely (natural haha) marbling. Veins of fat running through it.
    Marbling is a sure sign that that the animal that steak came from had diabetes. It sis not natural or healthy or anything else. Would you personally enjoy a bout of diabetes and just try shake it off.
    Neither did or does the cow.
    And that diabetes came from eating far more carbohydrate (corn, rolled barley, distillers waste) than the cow would ever normally come across.
    Just like it does in humans. Except we call it bread, pasta, tortillas, bagels, cornflakes, pizza, spaghetti etc etc etc.

    Growing large amounts of corn is destroying the dirt we all depend upon.
    Growing corn is releasing vast amounts of organic matter (in the form of CO2) from the soil that would normally stop the soil washing away after rain events and hence effectively causing the floods everyone thinks there are more of. Yes there are but also more people getting in the way of them. Same thing really innit?
    That CO2, hugely important plant food and how many times do we hear that around here, dissolves into falling rain, all of which goes (back) into the ocean from which the CO2 never returns.

    The tall corn plants absorb solar heat radiation and because the are (fairly) widely spaced, give that heat to the air around them. Temps go up – Willis explained about it recently with his grass-cutting vultures.
    the corn plants are grown on plowed and tilled land. Its has low albedo. Temps go up.

    After harvest a lot of trash and straw is left lying under a still strong sun. The same solar radiation that created the sugar and cellulose in the plants then starts destroying those compounds. Regard Chlorophyll as a sort of sun-screen. CO2 that was captured in June & July is thus released.

    Once the corn has died and is harvested, the soil bacteria are still working – AND working faster/harder than ever because the soil temp reaches its peak (Aug Sept) after the corn plants are dead & gone and not absorbing it.
    More CO2 goes up into the sky. Check out Allan Macrae round here, Salby, the Keeling curve and do it yourself. Detrend the Keeling Curve across 12 months and plot it against the temperature record for the same 12 months. Perfect fit. Consider when the plants die, when soil temp is at its peak and you will see the 9 month lag. It all fits so well.

    And in a nutshell, there you have it. Growing corn (and wheat, rice, potatoes, barley or any annual plant) for food explains the twitching thermometers, the rising CO2, towns washed away in torrents of mud that rise within minutes and are all gone just hours later.
    Fossil emissions have diddly squat to do with and btw, has ANYONE satisfactorily explained how this GHGE actually works?
    I saw Mosher round here recently, how doers his elevator speech go?

    Or will we be subject to another droning about is the supposed size of his computer, proxy for his willy, as boys of world all know. Girls also but they’re more diplomatic.
    Only the truly dumb don’t know.

    • Nice rant, really. Eat what you like, I’ll eat what I like. Don’t thank me for my permission, and I won’t thank you for yours.

    • * don’t eat corn …. check
      * be nice to cows … check
      * need to use better farming practices to protect soils … check
      * CO2 cycles are related to natural conditions & vegetative cover moreso than fossil fuel use … check
      * Moshers a goof with some sort of complex … check

    • add this- and I hope GNOMISH happens to read it.
      Oz cottonseed rejected
      Export markets for Australia’s record 2017 harvest of 1.455 million tonnes of cottonseed are in doubt. Almost 100% of the cotton crop is Monsanto/CSIRO’s Bollgard III now but China, our biggest cottonseed buyer for animal feed, has not approved the variety. Monsanto promised growers market security.
      ===================same as ith the gmo maize
      monmongrels promise a lot
      doesnt deliver

      • So, China, who is trying to undercut Monsanto and other GM crop producers and steal their products at the same time are using this tactic to further their little scheme. And please don’t try to tell me China is NOT using Genetically Modified everything, those governing China have the morals of a cat in heat. At least Monsanto wants their customers to continue living so they can by Monsanto products.

  15. Here’s the link to the study summary:
    Critical Zone services as environmental assessment criteria in intensively managed landscapes
    http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/2016EF000517/full
    It’s a whole lot of modeling, combined with cost estimates for CO2 emissions, etc. The cost estimates for CO2 emissions from ethanol production are a large driver of their conclusions.

    From their conclusions:
    “Thus, according to the findings of this study, biofuels, derived for the purpose of producing energy with little environmental impacts, actually use more energy at a higher environmental cost than the alternative crop use. As technology stands now, in terms of energy and environmental sustainability, the benefits of switching land uses to the production of corn-based transportation biofuels are not as favorable as continuing to produce corn for feed/food consumption.

    Additional major findings of this study indicate how environmental impact deriving just from the cropland is significant when compared with total CO2 emissions typically estimated for ethanol production. We demonstrate how the inclusion of CZ regulating services modeled throughout the soil system, such as carbon respiration, carbon storage, and nitrate leaching, results in over five times the cost of previous emissions estimates. Therefore, atmospheric stabilization and water quality CZ services derived from the cropland are vital in understanding the long-term effects industrial agricultural practices have on the CZ.

    CZ defined: The Critical Zone (CZ) refers to the section of Earth’s surface stretching from the top of the vegetation canopy to the weathering zone below ground [National Research Council, 2001]. It includes the complex interactions between the myriad of processes associated with its hydrologic, pedologic, geologic, biogeochemical, biological, ecological, and geomorphic systems, among others. The notion of CZ services encompasses the benefits that the CZ produces through these processes for humans and the surrounding environment, such as productive soil and clean water [Field et al., 2015]. “

  16. OK. Said it before and apparently it has to be said yet again, still. Ethanol is a piss poor internal combustion engine fuel. Period.

  17. Fidel Castro commented that when the USA embarked on using corn to produce Ethanol it would starve 500,000 people the first year. He was right, as a result of using corn to produce Ethanol, millions have been starved :-(

  18. Study finds: Corn better used as food than biofuel

    Jeezus Gawd I hope we dint fork out millyons to find out wut it iz that we already knows.

  19. Although the report does not comment directly on this, it does inadvertently illustrate the point that farmers selling corn for ethanol production and the primary ethanol producers as well are ‘farming’ the government mandated and subsidized ethanol-for-fuel market. Without the government mandates and subsidies, there is unlikely to be a viable business model for corn conversion to ethanol-as-fuel.

    This is very much akin to producers and consumers alike ‘reaping the harvest’ from the government mandated and subsidized EV and Hybrid vehicle market. Yes, the US tax payers can choose to buy or not buy these products ….but they have no choice but forced participation in paying for all of the subsidies and government bureaucrats that support and enforce these government mandated markets and products.

    Is this ‘legal’? Yes, markets and products created by government mandates and subsidies are legal.
    Is it ethical? Each consumer demonstrates their personal ethics by their market choices.

  20. The best and fastest path to starvation is to take agricultural control out of the hands of free enterprise and free markets and put it under the control of economic and environmental planners who haven’t a clue about any practical agricultural application. The impact would be catastrophic and devastating for millions of people.

    • Max,
      I’m good for about a half gallon to a gallon of fresh popcorn, with garlic butter and salt (of course!), when the mood and munch strike me…. Cold water or beer to wash it down!

      • I’ll give garlic butter a try next time. I just tried popping the corn using coconut oil for the first time, which turned out really well. I’m starting to think that the water in butter contributes to the popcorn getting a big soggy.

      • Use LouAna Coconut Oil, widely available and one that is non-hydrogenated. I use it for all manner of cooking and recipe substitutes.

  21. At the Armstrong clan reunion around Elmira Illinois last week , I learned our old neighbor contracted their entire 3000 acre corn crop to a nearby distillery altho they didn’t argue that it was all stupid .

    We were appalled by the vista of turbines we east of Wyoming Il around 41.09058 -89.63981 which turn out to be the Camp Grove wind farm . You have to be a fan of 1950s “Amazing Stories” sci-fi landscapes to like what these monsters do to the landscape . About 10% were not turning . The old tenant who farmed our acreage before we sold it to a 22,000 acreage operation backed by UBS was all for them — as long as the rental for the transmission lines that cross some of his property keep coming . He commented that those concrete bases are never coming back out having seen and been startled how deep they were excavated .

  22. In Michael Pollan’s excellent book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, he write about the corn cycle. If I remember correctly, it goes like this:

    * Farmers use ammonium nitrate fertilizer and get huge corn yield increases.
    * Some of the corn is converted to ethanol.
    * Production of ammonium nitrate consumes lots of energy
    * Ethanol is used to fuel the production of ammonium nitrate.

  23. My irrigated corn growing friends realize how absurd the ethanol program is, but take advantage of it anyway.

    • The very thought of irrigating corn makes me cringe. What a vast amount of water to move.

  24. I am not sure what the author’s point is. I would like to see him eat an ear of corn that is used to make ethanol. The corn used to make ethanol is called dent corn or field corn; it is nothing like the sweet corn we eat from the can or off the cob. Next, the corn used to make ethanol is not entirely consumed in the process. The leftovers are called “distillers grains.” These leftovers are much better animal feed than the original dent corn was in the first place. The weight gain off of it more than makes up for the loss of carbs that went into the making of the ethanol. The merits of the value of the fuel value of ethanol I will leave to others.

    • And yet all the things you list are true for corn used as food/alcohol. Government mandating that ethanol WILL be produced and used, then giving out millions upon millions of tax dollars in subsidies to entice people into this stupidity is the problem, not what corn is or may be used for. And yes, ethanol is a piss poor internal combustion engine fuel. THAT is the primary point. Ponder why anyone in government would force Americans to use, and subsidize the manufacture of, a poor and destructive fuel? What do they personally gain from this action?

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