Corn vs Straw: Environmentally Friendly Ethanol Production

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Straw is a better environmental choice for ethanol fuel than corn

Environmentalists ponder if corn ethanol is a less environmentally friendly ethanol production process than straw and wood chip ethanol fuel.

Ethanol fuel was hailed as the savior of both farm country and the environment in 1992. Since its introduction, ethanol hasn’t exactly stolen the renewable energy spotlight.

The problem isn’t performance: Ethanol does burn cleaner than petroleum products. For environmentalists, the problem lies with production, they are interested in an environmentally friendly ethanol production process.

Mostly made from corn, ethanol production eats up a good deal of fuel. U.S. cornfields are addicted to oil: oil for pesticides, oil for fertilizers, oil for planting and oil for harvesting. All that oil use takes a little of the shine off ethanol’s clean record.

But corn isn’t the end-all and be-all of alcohol fuels. The logen Corporation of Ottawa, Ontario, has developed a process that produces ethanol from much less energy-intensive sources, such as wood chips and straw. The process is very similar to ethanol production from corn or, for that matter, alcohol made for human consumption.

Logen’s demonstration plant went online earlier this year. The plant turns straw from nearby wheat and barley fields into ethanol that is then sold to local reblenders. The plant is currently the only one of its kind in the world, although logen is looking for places to expand, including the Canadian prairie, U.S. Midwest and the United Kingdom.

For more information, go to logen’s Web site at

—Sarah Beth Cavanah