More Corn Used For Fuel Than Fodder

By Danny King October 17, 2011

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More U.S. corn is being used to produce biofuels than for livestock feed for the first time in history, likely reflecting the federal government's continued efforts to boost renewable fuel production as a way to cut foreign oil dependency and increase farm-related jobs, according to a Scientific American report. For the 12 months ended August, 5.05 billion bushels of corn were used for biofuels, verses an even 5 billion for livestock feed. About 2.5 billion bushels of corn were used directly for human consumption.

The boost in corn used for ethanol is likely to continue, at least until an commercially viable alternative biofuel feedstock is developed. . In June, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed that fuel producers boost 2012 renewable-fuels production by about 9 percent from 2011, as U.S. regulators look to take steps toward a goal of almost tripling annual renewable-fuel production during the next decade. Annual increases in the EPA's renewable-fuel production guidelines are in response to the Renewable Fuel Standard 2  and 2007's Energy Independence and Security Act, which set a U.S. production goal of 36 billion annual gallons of renewable fuel by 2022.

What more biofuels production means for the environment is debatable, given the issues surrounding the production of corn ethanol and other biofuels. Supporters say more ethanol production lessens domestic dependency on foreign oil and creates more farming jobs. But many environmentalists, academic researchers, economists and other skeptics have questioned using corn as a fuel feedstock, citing a mid-decade spike in corn prices that exacerbated worldwide shortages of many grain-based foods. The price of corn - the major ethanol feedstock in the U.S. - quadrupled between mid-2005 and mid-2008. With that in mind, some members of Congress have pushed to end biofuels-related government subsidies. And Nestlé Chairman Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, who runs the world's largest food company, went as far as calling U.S. policies that divert crops from food to biofuels "immoral" when addressing the Council on Foreign Relations in March.

Additionally, from an environmental viewpoint, a jump in corn production requires more water and electricity and waterway-contaminating fertilizer, while the conversion of CO2-absorbing natural forests into cropland may also cause problems. Some of these issues may be mitigated, however, if the industry starts making second-generation ethanol from waste material, algae and other feedstocks instead of corn. The EPA is pushing for about 13 percent of the 2012 renewable fuels total to come from so-called “advanced biofuels” whose feedstocks range from sugarcane ethanol to algae, while 6.6 percent would come from biomass-based biodiesel.  So far, though, industry has been unable to meet the quotas for biofuels produced from feedstocks other than corn.

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