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Archi-ponics: Ethanol Subsidies

Ethanol has proven to not to be a sustainable biofuel. It’s time for something new. Ethanol has proven to not to be a sustainable biofuel. It’s time for something new.

Currently the U.S. Department of Agriculture subsidizes corn-based ethanol production at a cost to American taxpayers of $6 billion per year. These subsidies, heavily supported by the Secretary of the USDA and Democrats and Republicans alike, are intended to encourage alternative domestic energy production. On the surface, corn-based biofuels would appear as a key component in our country’s sustainable approach to domestic energy. Most Americans believe (inaccurately) that corn is grown on farms that practice sustainability. They figure that what little energy is used to grow the corn is ”free” because it’s produced by the sun.

The opposite is true. Some even believe it requires more energy to produce the ethanol than ethanol can provide to the consumer. According to a Washington Post article from March 25, 2007, if the U.S. stopped growing corn for food and used all of its current 70 million corn producing acreage for ethanol production, we would only displace 2.4% of our energy needs. And when we consider the heavy fertilizer and pesticide use (often petroleum based), the transportation and refining that ethanol requires, it’s clear that this form of energy production is not sustainable. Ethanol does not provide a return on the investment nor does it get us closer to energy independence. Ironically, that is why we taxpayers will always have to invest our dollars into the ethanol industry; otherwise the industry will fail. We the people are keeping alive an unsustainable “alternative” energy source.

At the end of the day, shouldn’t our money be better invested in programs that encourage truly sustainable alternative biofuels?

One argument for keeping this charade going is that the elimination of these subsidies would kill jobs. But at the end of the day, shouldn’t our money be better invested in programs that encourage truly sustainable alternative biofuels?

A much better investment for the taxpayer would be in sources of biofuels that offer strong yields. The key to biofuels is the rate of cell division; organisms that can rapidly grow offer the greatest potential for sustainable alternative energy. For that reason, I believe algae will soon be considered a biofuel that offers the greatest capacity. The market will determine the value of the product based on supply and demand. Jobs created in that market place will be based on the needs of the consumer instead of relying on a subsidy. This presents a huge opportunity for the agriculture industry to create long term, well-paying employment. And, with the revenue from the biofuels supporting these jobs, isn’t that so much more sustainable than the current unsatisfactory ethanol scenario?

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Colin Archipley is an agriculture expert with hands on experience.
Last modified on Wednesday, 18 July 2012 19:07

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