ethanol issues

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Ethanol Issues

Ethanol is the most used and subsidized type of biofuel in the world, particularly in the U.S. and Brazil. Supporters claim it is a clean alternative to fossil fuels. However, there are several ethanol issues that detractors tend to point out to counter the supposed benefits of using ethanol as fuel.

One of the most hotly debated ethanol issues is the threat it may pose against food security, as food crops are replaced with fuel crops. Organizations have warned against higher food prices impacting the world’s poorest. The use of cereals for industrial purposes may tighten the link between food and energy markets, increasing food prices.

Other ethanol issues that have been taken into account include deforestation, especially in Brazil, where sugarcane ethanol is widely popular, and air pollution. The latter is controversial because while ethanol-blended gasoline emits less carbon dioxide, ethanol production is more energy intensive than refining gasoline, thus generating emissions from burning fossil fuels during the distilling process. However, a USDA study claims that ethanol contains 34% more energy that it takes to grow and harvest corn and then distill it into ethanol.

It is possible that all ethanol issues could be resolved with the development of ethanol made out of non-food materials such as switchgrass, prairie grasses and woody plants, which could be converted into so-called cellulosic ethanol. There is considerable research in this field and Brazil recently opened a dedicated laboratory. Cellulosic ethanol is said to have a greater energy output and lower environmental impact, and it doesn’t compete with food crops.