Democracy Arsenal

« What the heck is going on down there? | Main | The Truth About GM »

April 22, 2008

Fertilizing the Ethanol Problem
Posted by Adam Blickstein

Corn_king As we've hit our agricultural stride on Democracy Arsenal, there's another aspect of the corn, ethanol, energy and agricultural policy debate that is often overlooked: fertilizer. While those who drive gas-guzzling SUV's are often derided for excess oil consumption, you never hear complaints about folks that eat Wheaties or Twinkies or drink Coke as part of the petroleum problem.  Even independent of the oil used in shipping, nearly all our corn-based products, including most of our beef, soft drinks, produce, junk food and chemical byproducts (essentially everything in your average supermarket) is derived in part from oil and produced using petroleum-based fertilizer.  The basis of our agricultural system is oil, and instead of primarily relying on the sun as the energy source of nitrogen for our crops, we use petroleum. 

The U.S. is the second largest consumer of petroleum based fertilizer in the world (behind) China, but we use more petroleum based fertilizer for feed, produce and pasture purposes than any other nation. But while lawmakers in Congress are eager to hold hearings to rail against the automobile industry for its gasoline addiction, or deride our over-dependence on foreign oil, you will never see  inquiries into why the foundation of our agricultural industry is indeed petroleum. It's an integral piece to the energy puzzle that has been missing in the political dialogue. And instead of trying to solve it, we enable the problem through the illogical policies of federal corn subsidies and support for ethanol.

It strikes me as a little more than ironic that we'll need to consume more petroleum via fertilizer in order to grow more corn to produce more ethanol, which has destabilized  the global food markets, all in the name of decreasing our dependence foreign on oil, which we simply can't accomplish by increasing our use of ethanol from any of the sources commonly discussed (see chart below). There is simply nothing about these policies that makes good, practical sense and we've all become children of the corn in more ways than you might think.

(And yes, I just read Omnivore's Dilemma)

  • corn requires 29 percent more fossil energy than the fuel produced;
  • switch grass requires 45 percent more fossil energy than the fuel produced; and
  • wood biomass requires 57 percent more fossil energy than the fuel produced. (From a 2005 Cornell study)


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Fertilizing the Ethanol Problem:


from Scientific American (excerpt):
Switchgrass ethanol delivers 540 percent of the energy used to produce it, compared with just roughly 25 percent more energy returned by corn-based ethanol according to the most optimistic studies.

"Cost competitive, energy responsible cellulosic ethanol made from switchgrass or from forestry waste like sawdust and wood chips requires a more complex refining process but it's worth the investment," Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said at the Range Fuels facility groundbreaking in November. "Cellulosic ethanol contains more net energy and emits significantly fewer greenhouse gases than ethanol made from corn."

In fact, Vogel and his team report this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA that switchgrass will store enough carbon in its relatively permanent root system to offset 94 percent of the greenhouse gases emitted both to cultivate it and from the derived ethanol burned by vehicles.

The use of native prairie grasses is meant to avoid some of the other risks associated with biofuels such as reduced diversity of local animal life and displacing food crops with fuel crops. "This is an energy crop that can be grown on marginal land," Vogel argues, such as the more than 35 million acres (14.2 million hectares) of marginal land that farmers are currently paid not to plant under the terms of USDA's Conservation Reserve Program.

Does this post have a point?

Honestly, a major reason critics of American farm policy regularly fail in their efforts to change it is because they don't make the effort to learn anything about it, or about agriculture. Their criticisms therefore tend to degenerate into undirected rants like this one.

Since this is primarily a foreign policy blog, here's a useful idea toward the cause of easing the upward pressure on corn prices while improving our foreign relations: end the federal sugar program. The soft drink, confectionary and other industries use as much corn sweetener as they do for a reason, namely that the government forbids them from importing as much sugar as they need. In the absence of sugar import restrictions, many corn sweetener users would start to switch back to lower priced sugar, much of which would come from some of America's better trading partners in Latin America and the Pacific. Ending the sugar program would have the added bonus, for liberals, of being a talking point against the argument that liberals view all government programs, no matter what they do, as eternal (it's only one talking point, against an argument with an impressive body of evidence behind it. I don't make miracles here).

Sens. Clinton and Obama are competing right now to show how populist (that is, protectionist) they are, and I'd lay odds that Clinton at least has sugar interests on the list of her Florida fundraisers, so this idea is probably a non-starter with the Democratic Presidential candidates. As a contribution to the policy debate, though, it beats displays of rank ignorance and bad writing.

The limits on the importation of sugar, largely implemented in the early 1980's and paralleling the rise of corn syrup in soft drinks, is only part of a broader issue which tracks back to the 1970's. Between 1971 and 1974, Nixon's Secretary of Agriculture, Earl Butz, completely revamped our nation's agricultural industry, dismantling New Deal-era farm support and reforms. One of his biggest initiatives was to expand the corn industry, which he was largely successful in accomplishing. For the first time, corn prices dropped and supplies soared. Where did the excess corn go? Besides animal feed, it was developed into a variety of chemical byproducts that are now mainstays in our diet. One of the largest of these byproducts, corn syrup, created a cheaper alternative to sugar, one which had a longer shelf life and was easier to transport as liquid than sugar as solid. You can see why, at the time, restricting sugar imports was good policy: it supported farmers, it supported mega-companies like Coca-Cola, and it supported the trucking industry. So, while you can look at the sugar issue from the superficial vantage point of "just end the restrictions on sugar importation and all will be fine," it becomes more complex when you see that our entrenched domestic agricultural policies - artificial support for corn and the industrialization of our food supply - would make this foreign policy shift almost impossible.

Amen. I would also point you to Richard Manning's wonderful 2004 piece in Harper's, The Oil We Eat, which goes into this issue in depth.

If one doesn't have the belly to tackle tough policy issues, and one needs an excuse, "complexity" works really well. In this case, though, sweetener users themselves -- particularly the confectionary industry -- regularly make the case that they would rather use sugar than corn sweetener if it were available at something closer to the world price.

The interpretation of agricultural history in the post above, incidentally, displays creativity. That it does not mention a role for fertilizers using petroleum-based ingredients in increasing corn yields was probably an oversight.

To say that the conclusions of the switchback grass studies:
factor of -.45 energy sink in the Cornell study vs.
factor of +5.4 energy source in the USDA study
are wildly divergent is an understatement. How could the two studies come to such different conclusions? I'd be very interested in seeing the details.

Since the federal government has been heavily invested in perpetuating ethanol production for decades, I'd say, off the cuff, that the USDA study is more suspect. But that's just a hunch. I question their motives in all cases just as a starting position. The Bush administration have so corrupted the executive branch that I just don't trust what any of these agencies says. Maybe they conducted 20 other studies that showed results closer to what Cornell sees, and they just cherry-picked the one study that supports what they want the policy to be. So they publish this one and bury the others. It'd be par for the course with these guys.

Of course academics can have their own agendas as well. So who knows? Somebody's way off, its just a question of who.

Welcome to our game world, my friend asks me to buy runescape . I do not know how to use the rs gold ; my friend tells me how to use. I will thank for my friends bringing me in this world. I am not regret to buy runescape money . We all love game, if you want to play it, please buy cheap rs gold and join us. Please do not hesitate to have game.

When you have aoc gold, you will become strong. With conan gold, you can upgrade and admire by others. You can use age of conan gold to start the journey of the world. So, do not hesitate, let us move to buy cheap aoc gold

Without hesitate, I bought knight gold , in the game I can find myself. I feel lonely, but I do not want to talk with anyone, so I buy knight noah .

I want to buy some knight gold , but I do not know where to buy and how to buy knight noah .

Since I entered into this game, I learnt skills to earn Archlord money. Thanks to archlord online Gold let me know a lot of friends.

Since I entered into this game, I learnt skills to earn Archlord money. Thanks to archlord online Gold let me know a lot of friends.

Since I entered into this game, I learnt skills to earn Archlord money. Thanks to archlord online Gold let me know a lot of friends

I want to buy some gw gold , but I do not know where to buy and how to buy GuildWars Gold gratis porno
porno izle teen porn

Very good site.. thanks webmasters...

sonra bedava chat
burasıda var bedava sohbet

GHD IV mini styler has a safety feature that gives you peace of mind, by turning itself off if it is left unattended for 30 minutes. The unique digital technology of GHD hair straightener means that the temperature is automatically controlled even quicker for even better styling.

Creating tight curls, flicks and waves as well as the perfect straight. The ideal styling tool for urban angels with short hair, men's hair and fringes.

price includes: ghd IV salon styler,ghd purple roll bag.

product features:
Auto sleep mode(A built in safety feature that gives you peace of mind by turning off if the ghd IV styler is left unallended for 30 minutes.)
Universal voltage(So that you can use your styler in any country without an adaptor.)
Advanced ceramic heaters(The ultimate heating technology for the ultimate shine and style creation.)
All our products are cheap,if you want to find cheap ghd,come here and that is right.

If you want to find GHD hair products,you can write GHD straightener,GHD hair straighteners,GHD straightners,GHD hair,straighteners GHD in google browse.

Chanel Handbags are woman’s dream come true.

Chanel, a fashion name that has become synonymous with femininity since 100 years, is on the must-have list of every fashion-conscious woman.? And we bring these must-have Chanel Handbags at never before discounts, just for you.

It is only when you come across an Chanel New Arrivals, do you realize the power of her words.? Chanel handbags are crafted not just to be trendy, but trend-setting.? Hardly has lived a celebrity who has not been seen carrying a Chanel handbag under her arm; such has the influence of Chanel handbags as a fashion statement.

Chanel handbags have been so popular in the elite classes of the society, that their pricing is usually prohibitive for everyone else.? Discount Chanel handbags are really difficult to come across, but today should be your lucky day.? We bring you a superb unbeatable range of Chanel Flap bags, all at fantastic discounts.? With us, you have an incredible chance to buy your favorite Chanel handbags at rock bottom prices!

Chanel Handbags have always been at the forefront of luxury and style.? The Chanel classic quilted leather handbags and its reinventions have ruled fashion since forever.? Chanel handbags have remained extremely popular as they continue to merge evolving modern trends with the class and simplicity of its original avatar.

An Chanel 2008 Collection and Chanel 2009 Collection single handedly enhances the look you are carrying.? The reason you would buy a Chanel handbag is own a bag that mingles with your charm and intensifies it with its inherent simplicity.? If you have owned an authentic Chanel handbag before, you know what we are talking about.? If you are one of the unlucky people who haven’t yet gotten a chance to own an Chanel Cambon, now is your chance to shop for an authentic Chanel handbag and discover its ability to transform your look completely.

Buy Chanel handbags with us, and get fabulous discounts which you will never get at your favorite store.? We offer cheap authentic Chanel handbags and they are all up for grabs!

Mysterious black bezel and case, case materials for cement and steel production hasLouis Vuitton been the industry standard TEXIN belt do? 985U black rubber information, and the price and spraying mosaics, showing a high hardnessLouis Vuitton steel lesson material, with a special texture satin. Rubber surface show the appearance of fine lines beautifully, from the electro-corrosion to form the inner mold carved.

e biodegradablechanel bags when you "stoop and scoop."
Dispose of animal waste according to the campground rules or bury it off-road.
Observe fire coguccinditions and always keep a full jug of water nearby.
Remove flammable brush near fire pits and keep campfires small.
Don't burn plastics and metalshermes.
Use non-toxic, phosphate-free, biodegradable cleaning supplies and sanitary additives.
Reduce the need louis vuitton for air-conditioning by parking in natural shade, opening windows, using awnings or portable sun shelters.
Wash air-conditionidesignerng filters when dirty, instead of buying new ones each time.
Reduce the need to turn on heat designer handbagsby parking in a sheltered spot, out of the north and west winds.

I suppose it is thethickness of Replica Jacques Lemans that insulates the movement.The luminosity of tReplica Jaeger LeCoultre is great; large hands and markers ensure plenty of room for luminous paint, and I seldom found myself wishing the Holotype glowed more brightly. The 12 o'clock arrow on the bezel is also painted and glows like a torch, a nice Replica Levis for timing events in less than ideal light. Esthetically, the yellow dial is so much better then I had guesed it would be. I usually stick to black dials on most of my Replica Longines, but I thought I would give the yellow dial a try and I am very glad I did. It is bright and seems to be a semi gloss that reflects just enough light that it stands out from the PVD case.   The bracelet Replica Mont Blanc the case in every way. It is thick, solid, quiet, smooth, and didn't pull a single hair from my wrist. All of the links are screwed together so sizing the bracelet is Replica Movado. A quick word of warning: the screws do not seem especially tight from the factory so I recommend sizing he bracelet then tightening each link completely (my failure to do so cost me a tiny screw). You might even consider a little Loctite 242 (Replica Omega). The fold over clasp has a push button release, and has a very secure fliplock. The end links are solid and secured by 24mm screws.The packaging on the Holotype is far more then one would expect. My unit shipped in at tan colored faux leather travel case that houses the watch, warranty card, manual, tools, rubber strap, and polishing cloth.

thanks for sharing Sohbet many people are pay more attention to one's swearing than before, especially a watch.Muhabbet.
Perhaps when you went to some place far away Sohbet you must borrow it from friends you can get everything you want in this game Chat money to invest in other industry which will return you good profit. Sohbet when you look at Chat
the surface of the watches viaload great any cool Exsohbet from the city you live in and thought you knew nobody there Egitim Fourth, there were various signs of political conflict among shia. If they split 3 ways or 4 ways, the sunnis and the kurds could often be the Sohbet swing votes in the politics. If they felt they had political clout out of proportion to their numbers, they could settle in Sohbet and do politics and not feel oppressed.

religious sect may degenerate into a political faction,' wrote James Madison, but the new American nation would nevertheless be protected against the ungovernable combination of religious fervor and political power as long as the Constitution prohibited the federal government from establishing any particular creed as preeminent.
Chat | Bedava Chat | Chat Odalari | Sohbet | Chat

Thank you for your blog

Thank you for your blog

I thank thee that I am none of the wheels of power but I am one with the living creatures that are crushed by it.

Post a comment

If you have a TypeKey or TypePad account, please Sign In.

Guest Contributors
Sign-up to receive a weekly digest of the latest posts from Democracy Arsenal.
Powered by TypePad


The opinions voiced on Democracy Arsenal are those of the individual authors and do not represent the views of any other organization or institution with which any author may be affiliated.
Read Terms of Use