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Ethanol fuels: energy security, economics and the environment

By D. Pimentel

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Problems of fuel ethanol production have been the subject of numerous reports, including this analysis. The conclusions are that ethanol: does not improve US energy security; is uneconomical; is not a renewable energy source; and increases environmental degradation. Ethanol production is wasteful of energy resources and does not increase energy security. Considerably more energy, much of it high-grade fossil fuels, is required to produce ethanol than is available in the energy output. About 72% more energy is used to produce a gallon of ethanol than the energy in a gallon of ethanol. Ethanol production from maize is not renewable energy. Its production uses more non-renewable fossil energy resources in growing the maize and in the fermentation/distillation process than is produced as ethanol energy. Ethanol produced from maize and other food crops is also an unreliable and therefore a non-secure source of energy, because of the likelihood of uncontrollable climatic fluctuations, particularly droughts which reduce crop yields. The expected priority for maize and other food crops would be for food and feed. Increasing ethanol production would increase degradation of agricultural land and water and pollute the environment. In US maize production, soil erodes some 18 times faster than soil is reformed, and, where irrigated, maize production mines water faster than recharge of aquifers. Increasing the cost of food and diverting human food resources to the costly and inefficient production of ethanol fuel raise major ethical questions. These occur at a time when more food is needed to meet the basic needs of a rapidly growing world population.

Date 1991
Publication Title Journal of Agricultural & Environmental Ethics
Volume 4
Issue 1
Pages 1-13
ISBN/ISSN 0893-4282
Language English
Author Address Department of Entomology, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853-0999, USA.
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Corn
  2. Developed countries
  3. Economics
  4. Energy
  5. Environment
  6. Grasses
  7. Maize
  8. North America
  9. OECD countries
  10. peer-reviewed
  11. Plants
  12. pollution
  13. Production
  14. United States of America
  1. peer-reviewed