Introduction

As global warming becomes an increasingly larger problem in society, people around the world are looking for ways to stop and even reverse the epidemic. A hot button issue in society today is the production of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases by the burning and using of fossil fuels. Fossil fuels have become an enormous part of the world today and almost all artificial energy comes from one of the many fossil fuels. The large amounts of fossil fuels pouring into the atmosphere on a daily basis has started to deteriorate the earth’s ozone layer which results in an increase in global temperature.

As we move forward in dealing with this problem, an issue of finding an alternative fuel source to replace fossil fuels in many areas has become increasingly important. There are numerous types and sources of alternative fuels in the world, but it appears that the major contributors to the alternative fuel solution will be ethanols. In America today, ethanol from corn is already being produced on a large scale and seems as though it is the most accepted by the public. But, corn ethanol has some drawbacks that few people are aware of that may be avoided by producing and using another alternative fuel source.

In other parts of the world, the use of sugarcane to create ethanol is being used extensively. The countries who have been able to produce sugarcane ethanol and use it as a large contributor to their energy problem claim that fuel is the answer to the world’s problems.

Though corn ethanol does decrease our dependence on oil and fossil fuels, it does however have quite a few drawbacks which could ultimately damage the planet and raise prices for the American people. Instead, other forms of ethanol such as sugarcane should be endorsed and more widely used because of its greater benefits and less drawbacks which could cause harm to the world.

Definitions

Ethanol – ethanol is an alternative fuel source from the fermentation of sugars in certain food sources or organic materials. Ethanol is actually the same alcohol found in alcoholic beverages, but is now commonly used as an alternative fuel source. There are numerous types of ethanols that are used throughout the world in order to create fuel sources. The most commonly used ethanol in the United States is corn ethanol due to the country’s large amount of corn crops but ethanol can also be created from fermentation of sugars in other crops such as potatoes and sugar cane.

Fossil Fuels – fossil fuels are natural resources that come from the decomposition of dead organisms. Fossil fuels are created over millions of years due to the enormous pressure that is placed on a dead organism by earth. Because fossil fuels come from dead organisms and takes millions of years to produce, it is not a renewable resource and once it is used, it can not be reproduced. Fossil fuels include petroleum products, oil, and coal. Because of its non renewable nature, alternative fuels have become increasingly popular and researched in order to reduce dependence on fossil fuels.

Growing of Alternative Fuels – One major issue that stands in the way of America becoming almost entirely dependent on alternative fuel sources is the amount of land available to grow crops for the fuels. Because many alternative fuels come from food sources, large amounts of land must be put aside in order to grow enough crops to supply the fuel industry as well as continuing to produce large amounts of food. Other organic materials, such as sugarcane, can only be grown in certain areas of the world. Sugarcane can only grow in tropical areas which poses a problem to the United States because of its lack of lands available to grow the valuable resource.

Best Sources

The two best sources were both journal articles. One article comes from the Harvard International Review and is titled “Corn Ethanol as Energy: The Case Against US Production Subsidies”. The second article is titled “Ethanol Fuel Benefits Questioned” and comes from a scientific journal dealing with the environment titled Environmental Science and Technology.

Both articles are similar because they both focus on the negative effects of the production and use of corn ethanol. Both articles hit on the fact that the alternative fuel source is neither energy efficient or a good alternative to fossil fuels. Both articles claim that though ethanol is created from corn, it actually needs oil and fossil fuels in order to produce. Because of this, it is not reducing our dependence on fossil fuels but instead is creating a new source of dependence in the form of fuel production. Both articles also claim that the this fact proves that corn ethanol is not a renewable resource because of its dependence on fossil fuels. The dependence on fossil fuels makes the source of fuel an invaluable one and one that should not be put into mass production because the negative aspects greatly outweigh the positive ones.

Because both of these articles are reliable and are both talking about the negativity of producing corn ethanol, one cannot be steered in any direction but to think that the claims from the two articles are truth. Presenting this claim in either of the articles alone may come off as just an opinion and wrongful one at that due to the good press from the popular media. But when two sources come up with very similar ideas and outcomes, it makes it a lot harder to overlook. Both articles dig deep into finding reasons to be against the production of corn ethanol, many of the reasons include ideas not commonly thought of by the general public. For example, they both mention the food consumption in producing corn ethanol and the impact that it could have on the population of the United States and the world. Both articles also claim that the amount of corn necessary to produce a large amount of food is by itself enough of a negativity to avoid mass production.

Both make these claims which seem a little far fetched for the average person of society who is only being fed information from popular media sources. But when multiple, more reliable sources come up with the same questions, they no longer seem to be that outlandish. Instead, the two back each other up and encourage one another. The fact that both of these articles are firmly against the mass production of this so called grand alternative fuel has pushed my opinion of corn ethanol to that of disapprovement. Both articles combined have shed a different light on the subject, one that i had not seen or realized before hand and has greatly changed my stance and opinion on the subject.

The major issue concerning both of the articles is how reliable of a source they are, especially since mainstream media is constantly praising corn ethanol. But when one looks at the sources, one can tell that the both are come from respectable and reliable sources. The first comes from Harvard, which is highly respected and known worldwide. Harvard is one of the most prestigious schools in the country as well as the world and any person who is allowed to represent the school must be qualified to do so. The other comes from a scientific journal that is focused on environmental issues. This tells the reader that the authors writing in the journal are professionals in the environmental field and are well qualified to write as well.

Research Focus

With global warming and the green house effect being a hot button issue in today’s society, there is huge emphasis being placed on finding an acceptable alternative fuel source in order to limit the world’s dependency on gasoline and fossil fuels. There are numerous types of alternative fuels that are being developed and studied but the two most popular and most widely talked about are corn ethanol and sugarcane ethanol. Both fuels are being studied more intensely because they both have qualities that are beneficial to be used as a main fuel source. First, both can be grown and cultivated in large amounts. Large tracts of land can be put aside for the cultivation of both corn and sugar cane and both products are renewable, which is the most important issue.

Corn ethanol is probably the most accepted alternative fuel source because it is already being produced in America today. Americans have unknowingly become tolerant of corn ethanol and its production because it is being sold at gas stations across the country, but as a whole, Americans know very little about it. Corn ethanol has a very low energy output to input ratio. This means that the energy created by the fuel is slightly higher than the amount of energy needed to create the fuel. It also takes a large amount of corn to create corn ethanol. Huge farms would have to be allocated solely for the purpose of growing corn for ethanol if it is to become a major fuel supply. This will also lead to a smaller food supply because of a large portion of corn crops going to the fuel production and ultimately causing the increased price of corn and its products.

Sugarcane ethanol has a much better energy ratio. The energy output is a lot better than the energy input. The main issue with sugarcane is that it can only be grown in certain areas of the world. The only place in America that is able to grow sugarcane is on the islands of Hawaii, and that does not offer enough space to grow sugarcane as a major fuel source. Brazil has transformed most of its fuel into sugarcane use, but America has tariffs against incoming sugarcane from Brazil. This makes it extremely difficult for Americans to ever become dependent on sugarcane ethanol.

Although corn ethanol is more widely accepted in America, I feel that we must move away from this fuel source and be more open to sugarcane ethanol. America must be willing to work with Brazil in order to remove the tariffs on sugarcane in order to make this country more eco-friendly.

Articles

The first article was a lot of help. It offered a lot of background and information on ethanol that is necessary to know to fully understand the topic and to make a judgment on the topic. It touched on the benefits the costs and the energy output of the fuel. The article seemed reliable but it also was more of an overview so it would only be useful in describing ethanols in the introduction of the paper.

The second article claims to have a breakthrough in cellulosic ethanol processing. The article tells that cellulose is the most abundant plant source in the world and has a better energy input to energy output to corn ethanol. The article is good because it gives an alternative to corn ethanol but is still a good alternative to relying solely on fossil fuels.

Journal: Corn Ethanol as Energy The Case Against US Production Subsidies

This article fits perfectly into my focus because it is specifically on corn ethanol as a an alternative fuel. The article is useful to me because instead of backing up the idea of using corn ethanol as an alternative fuel, David Pimentel presents an opposite view. The viewpoint of the journal is in opposition of the use of corn ethanol. The journal tells that the use of corn ethanol is impractical because it is not cost effective or energy effective:

…to produce corn ethanol, 46 percent more fossil energy is required to produce a liter of ethanol than than is yielded. Oil therefore must be imported to produce ethanol. As a result, the cost to produce 1 liter of corn ethanol is US$1.05 per liter or US$3.95 per gallon. The corn grain itself accounts for most of the economic and energy inputs to produce the ethanol. For example, it requires approximately 7,090 liters of fossil energy equivalents to produce 3,330 liters of ethanol.
Pimentel also makes the case that ethanol is not a good outlet for the countries corn supply by showing the large number of people in the world that go hungry every day:
…22 pounds of corn grain is required to produce I gallon of ethanol. To fill the fuel tank of a SUV vehicle with corn ethanol requires a total of 660 pounds of corn or food. This is enough corn to feed two people in a developing country for an entire year.
Pimentel also states how bad the problem of hunger and malnourishment has become
The World Health Organization reports that 3.7 billion people are malnourished today—nearly 60 percent of the world population. This is the largest number of malnourished ever in history
Pimentel proves through his article that corn ethanols are not a good choice in moving forward with the future because they do not offer the benefits believed by the general public. Instead they aid in the growing problem of hunger and dependence on fossil fuels.
Pimentel does a good job in backing up his idea that corn ethanol is ultimately a bad idea because he brings evidence from numerous aspects of life, some of which one does not clearly associate with ethanols or alternative fuels. Pimentel’s article will be useful to me in my research be cause it presents a valid counterargument from a reliable source. Pimentel’s article was published in the Harvard International Review during the summer of 2009. Harvard is one of the most highly respected schools in the country today. Because of this, it is understood by the reader that anybody writing in their journals or magazines would qualified to write the article and the information presented in the article is factual and based off sources found through research. It is also good to note that the journal was found by searching through a database full of scholarly materials. This proves that once again that the article is reliable. By being found in the scholarly database, one can assume that contains enough research and citations that the author was able to write a factual paper free of most biases.

Books

I checked out three books all on alternative fuels. 2 were an overview of the topic while one was specifically for automotive consumption. I chose these books because they all had a chapter on ethanols. I feel the books are useful for my research and will be helpful in understanding ethanols and why they are more efficient.