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U.S. must abandon corn-based ethanol

Renewable EnergyBiofuelsEthanolGasoline IndustryChemical IndustryOrganic Chemical Industry

The use of ethanol in gasoline has a long and sordid history ("Food or fuel?" Aug. 3). By the early 1990s, EPA regulations had reduced tailpipe emissions from new cars by over 95 percent of 970s levels, and only about 3 percent of the hydrocarbons in the atmosphere were from automobile exhausts. Nevertheless the government legislated the use of reformulated gasolines containing oxygen to facilitate complete combustion. This lead to the inclusion of MTBE in gasolines.

After oil companies spent tens of billions of dollars to build government-mandated MTBE plants, ground water contamination from leaking fuel storage tanks forced the government to abandon MTBE and replace it with ethanol. There is no net reduction in carbon dioxide in ethanol from corn so proponents for its use segued into the national security issue.

The use of ethanol in fuel was questionable from the beginning. Stanford University studies showed that E85 — a blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline — increases the production of known carcinogens formaldehyde and acetaldehyde. Burning pure ethanol adds 22 percent more hydrocarbons to the atmosphere than gasoline; increases smog including tropospheric ozone which has been linked to inflamed lungs, impaired immune systems and heart diseases in prior research.

The U.S. is the world's largest producer of corn. In 2000, the U.S. used 15 million tons of corn to produce ethanol. After the 2005 EPA ethanol mandate, we used 85 million tons per year of corn to produce ethanol and today over 40 percent of the corn produced in the U.S. now ends up in gasoline.

At least 1 billion people in the world exist on less than $2 per day. The U.S. doubled the price of food worldwide as corn supplies became tight and wheat and soy bean production was shifted to more profitable corn production and we have been responsible for civil unrest in the third world as low income nations are faced with devastating food price increases.

Starting with last year's drought in Texas and the southeast, the U.S. now has dust bowl era conditions throughout the entire Midwest with rapidly rising food costs. Ranchers are now slaughtering cattle at record rates because of the lack of feed.

Added to the U.S. woes, India is suffering through an immense drought and loss of crops as the monsoons have not arrived in typical fashion. Corn required to fill a 25-gallon SUV tank with ethanol would feed a starving Asian for a year. Filling that 25-gallon tank twice a month requires a ten-acre farm. Estimates are that 30,000 children die every day somewhere in the world from starvation or diseases induced by malnutrition.

Various international agencies have signed onto a recommendation to remove provisions of current national policies that mandate biofuels production. There is no debate. The use of corn-based ethanol in gasoline was a flawed policy at its inception and should be eliminated.

Charles Campbell, Woodstock

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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