Food or Biofuel Production?

World biodiesel production has some alarming and negative consequences.

| July 5, 2013

A press release from Earth Policy Institute.

Earth Policy Institute will be releasing Full Planet, Empty Plates: The New Geopolitics of Food Scarcity by Lester R. Brown in installments. Look for a new chapter about every other week. Supporting data, videos, and slideshows are available for free download, here.

At the time of the Arab oil export embargo in the 1970s, the importing countries were beginning to ask themselves if there were alternatives to oil. In a number of countries, particularly the United States, several in Europe, and Brazil, the idea of growing crops to produce fuel for cars was appealing. The modern biofuels industry was launched.

This was the beginning of what would become one of the great tragedies of history. Brazil was able to create a thriving fuel ethanol program based on sugarcane, a tropical plant. Unfortunately for the rest of the world, however, in the United States the feedstock was corn. Between 1980 and 2005, the amount of grain used to produce fuel ethanol in the United States gradually expanded from 1 million to 41 million tons.

Then came Hurricane Katrina, which disrupted Gulf-based oil refineries and gasoline supply lines in late August 2005. As gasoline prices in the United States quickly climbed to $3 a gallon, the conversion of a $2 bushel of corn, which can be distilled into 2.8 gallons of ethanol, became highly profitable.

The result was a rush to raise capital and build distilleries. From November 2005 through June 2006, ground was broken for a new ethanol plant in the United States every nine days. From July through September, the construction pace accelerated to one every five days. And in October 2006, it was one every three days.

8/5/2015 8:00:15 AM

City and county dump sites should be processed into feedstock. They already release methane into the air. WHY not tap into that. Build refineries on-site.

7/14/2013 9:52:01 AM

A related article on algae based and NPK dependent biofuels (

7/7/2013 5:37:00 PM

Biofuels have no chance against petrofuels, none are economically viable without heavy subsidization, and will never meet even the current fuel demands without destroying the food base. Quit the pipe dreams and find cleaner ways to use the fuels we already have.

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