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Friday, April 4, 2008

Is Ethanol Production Fueling the Size of the Dead Zone?

In case you didn’t know, the “dead zone” isn’t just a novel by Steven King or an old TV show, it’s an area about the size of New Jersey in the Gulf of Mexico that during the summer months is incapable of supporting sea life. The dead zone is created when fertilizer run off promote algae growth, which in turn throws off the oceans equilibrium by using all the available oxygen, killing everything else. So, good for algae perhaps, but bad for the sea life in general.

Carectomy recently reported that ethanol production for passenger vehicles could be responsible for a growth in this dead zone. In their words:

Corn is the biggest culprit in creating these environments, and now that the U.S. is looking to biofuels as a solution to its energy needs, the problem’s only getting worse. Bush signed legislation at the end of 2007 that will triple the amount of corn ethanol produced over the next several years.

More after the jump!

Because corn is the crop most used for ethanol in the US (other countries, such as Brazil, use sugar cane), it is clear that corn will have an adverse affect on the Gulf of Mexico’s ecosystem as the fertilizer heavy crop’s run off travels down the Mississippi and dumps itself into the ocean.

Carectomy goes on to give a scathing overview of how ethanol is the wrong direction for the US and the world, as it solves no problems, but simply makes it seems like problems have been solved. While I would heartily agree with them on many counts, there is much more to ethanol than meets the eye. Political pressures have made most US ethanol production corn based thus far, but other technologies have a promising future.

Cellulosic ethanol, for example, can use any plant matter and turn it into ethanol. That means that food waste, grasses, and just about anything that’s a plant could be made into ethanol. With this technology extremely efficient ways of producing ethanol with environmentally friendly crops could be used, therefore lowering the impact ethanol has on the environment.

With that said, the dead zone is truly an alarming spectacle, and if the US wants to continue to hurdle towards an ethanol economy, it’s going to have to reform its ways and “kick the corn habit” as much as it needs to kick the oil habit.

Original here

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