Collin Hiew, August 26 – In Minnesota, ethanol has become part of our everyday lives. It is blended into our gasoline and is available for flex fuel vehicles in the form of E85, with the intention of lowering our fossil fuels dependence. Ethanol also helps keep corn demand and prices high to support our farmers. But corn ethanol is increasingly becoming a controversial topic.
There are a number of downsides to corn ethanol. Besides supporting a system that over-relies on corn, corn ethanol also drives up food prices. As a fuel alternative, it is dubious. Ethanol contains less energy per volume than gasoline, but also requires a very energy intensive process to manufacture it. As a result, it burns through a considerable amount of fossil fuel to create it.
Still, corn ethanol has played a critical role in getting people to think more deeply about environmentally and economically friendly fossil fuel alternatives. So what else should we consider as we try to transition past corn fuel?
In 2011, the U.S. opened the ethanol market to international competition; as a result we have imported a fair amount of Brazilian sugar cane ethanol. Versus corn ethanol, it has been lauded as a more environmentally friendly and efficient alternative to fossil fuels. The sugar cane ethanol requires less processing and the factories have the ability to generate their own power by burning leftover materials from the process. This has resulted in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) labeling the Brazilian ethanol as an ‘advanced biofuel’ and creating mandates that encourage imports. (We'll talk about MN sugar production later in this blog.)