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Ethanol

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THE ETHANOL ENVIORMENT

A RESEARCH PAPER SUBBMITTED TO
MR. JEFF WILLIAMS

INTRODUCTION TO ETHICS
PHI 105 BE

BOONE, IA
NOVEMBER 17, 2014
Abstract
Ethanol is a renewable resource that is produced from many agricultural products. The public attitude towards corn based ethanol is influenced by many different subjects like, the effects of production on the environment, the effects on local economies, and the effects on the national food prices. Focusing on corn based ethanol there are considerations to take into effect such as the benefits of ethanol, the problems or concerns with ethanol, the political involvement with ethanol, and the effect of ethanol on the economy.

The Ethanol Environment Ethanol is a renewable resource that is produced from many agricultural products such as corn, which can be blended into many different proportions of gasoline. The public attitude towards corn based ethanol is influenced by many different subjects. The overall plan for ethanol was good but took a wrong turn and has caused damage as a result.

As stated by Michelle Heath, “there are no known environmental hazards that have to do with ethanol.” Ethanol does not only make our vehicles friendlier to the environmental it also has other impacts. Considering our total energy use, including building, heating and electricity, the savings from the use of biofuels is two-thirds greater than using gasoline (Dewsbury, 2009).

With the increased demand for corn, to produce ethanol, the rise in the extremely low corn prices increased farmers’ incomes. With a demand not only in our own country for corn the increase on taxes for importing corn would also increase farmers’ incomes. Ethanol went beyond increasing the income of farmers planting and harvesting corn. Ethanol can be produced from nonfood plants such as switch blade grass, soybeans, and other grasses. These nonfood plants can be grown on marginal lands with very little input of fertilizers and pesticides. There are many potential environmental hazards connected with the production of corn based ethanol. The byproducts of an increase in growing more corn otherwise known as, planting, harvesting, fertilizing, and the use of nitrogen in this process all posed an increased danger to the environment. The excess nitrogen found in water ways such as lakes and rivers can contribute to algae growth that becomes out of control. The algae cause poor oxygen levels so other marine plants and animal cannot survive. These oxygen deprived areas are called dead zones. Dead zones are not just found in large bodies of water they are found in small ponds, lakes, rivers, and streams. They are caused by the same pollutants, nitrogen fertilizer and pesticides as a result of crop production run off which also leads to severe soil erosion (Erbaum, 2009). This means that ethanol production can also pose a huge risk to aquatic life (Michelle, 2010). During the planting and harvesting process a variety of large equipment are used. These machines require a lot of fossil fuels to plant and harvest the corn crops that are used in the production of ethanol. Not only do they use a significant amount of fuel they also release large quantities of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere (Erbaum, 2009). For the production of ethanol to increase more farm land is also needed. As said by Dewsbury, “Farmers planted 92.9 million acres of corn [2007]-an increase of 14.5 million acres over the previous year….This increase will easily absorb the demand from new ethanol plants. This means that more roads must be built in order to gain access to these new fields and this increased construction causes the release of more carbon dioxide through the use of more fuel (Dewsbury, 2009). Once the corn based ethanol is produced it releases high levels of nitrogen oxide, a key ingredient of smog. Ethanol also poses a huge risk to vegetation contamination if it is ever spilled or indirectly leaks (Michelle, 2010).

The energy required to make one gallon of corn based ethanol takes more than one hundred percent more energy inputs per gallon than into the production of a gallon fossil fuel based gasoline. It also requires the use of 1700 gallons of water, mostly to grow the corn, and 22 pounds of corn just to make one gallon of corn based ethanol. The only way that ethanol can be competitive is if it were to have significant technological advancements (Erbaum, 2009). If the entire corn and soybean crops were used to create ethanol it would only replace eighteen percent of the current amount of fossil fuels used today (Dewsbury, 2009). As Dewsbury states, “Taking apart, fermenting it, distilling it and extruding it uses a lot of fossil energy…We are grasping at the solution that is by far the least efficient.” Not to mention the production of Ethanol using a food source would drastically increase food prices (Marshall). Wheat was also another major factor in the price increase of food. Ethanol production switches wheat and corn out in their off seasons which increases food price (Dewsbury, 2009). This happens because the cows that we eat are usually feed corn so the corn cost more money to purchase for livestock production, so the meat costs more money in the end. Also the fact that poorer countries are now making enough money that they can afford to raise their own cattle and also need grains to feed them. So the shipping and demand of the grains is higher making our food cost more worldwide. With the price of food rising worldwide this leaves the poor countries in a dire situation on how to afford to feed their citizens. They can no longer afford to buy the basic foods they need to feed their population. (Marshall, 2010).

Ethanol when stored in small amounts is quite flammable and in some cases it can explode. It must be stored at temperatures between 10 and 40 degrees Celsius. If it is not stored properly it can become very unstable and dangerous. If ethanol is to catch on fire it cannot be put out with just water. You must put it out with alcohol-resistant foam.

It is also important to note that within the surrounding areas of ethanol production there have been reported health problems. Lead toxicity has been a common problem with children living around or near an ethanol plant. In adults living in an area near an ethanol plant there has been an increase in diagnosed cases of hypertension. The symptoms of the illnesses are headache, irritation of mucous membranes in the upper respiratory tract, drowsiness and inability to concentrate (Michelle, 2010).

At first ethanol producers received government incentives to help get them on their feet. Many people were not happy about what they were receiving and thought that the money could be used elsewhere or be put to better use. Congress then kept supporting them during the recession. They have continued to receive more incentives including, the extension of the blenders’ tax credit and import tariff (Marshall, 2010). The ethanol industry has received subsides and substantial support from the United States government for quite some time. Some people argue that in order to sustain the current economic environment extra support from the government is required. The operating loans guaranteed to ethanol refiners and tax credits for “green” jobs creation or preservation are current sources of support that as the economy strengthens the government will expect to slowly supply a little less money to blenders. But if the economy worsens or the government decides to stop funding ethanol there will be no way for the industry to financially survive (Dewsbury, 2009). The expected total of tax credits that have been given to blenders is close to six billion dollars. The federal support being received now is based on mandated levels of consumption. Financial incentives such as grant and loans, tax credits, tariffs on ethanol imports, and federally funded research and development efforts are part of what is being funded. The Secret Service has also funded ethanol production because they believe that it is part of nation security and could make America safer if we created our own fuels (Erbaum, 2009).

Ethanol receives more federal support than any other renewable energy source on the market. Liquid biofuels is right behind it in their subsidization as it is close to the top for all energy sources. There are over two hundred different types of subsides that ethanol blenders can receive. They don’t just not receive these subsides though. They have to meet standards and production marks as to how much ethanol they must be blending and putting on the market (Dewsbury, 2009).

Critics of ethanol claim that, as a society, we must choose between using our agricultural resources for feeding people or for fueling cars. Although corn prices in America have risen in response to increased demand for ethanol-in part due to governmental support such as the renewable fuel standard in the Energy Policy Act of 2005-we can continue to meet both goals…Furthermore, the productivity of America’s corn farmers has steadily risen over the past three decades…this trend can be expected to continue…combined with greater efficiency in production…American farmer will be able to increase the supply of corn to make up for the expected rise in demand.”

The Unites States Environmental Protection Agency made rules and developed calculations for the life cycle greenhouse gas emissions that will determine which fuel qualifies for Renewable Fuel Standards. These standards will attract a lot of scrutiny if major stake holders are excluded from the ethanol industry. Renewable Fuel Standards mandate that increasing volumes in renewable fuels used must increase by 2012. Some subsides may be lost or decrease in amount of funding provided if the mandates cannot be meet (Marshall, 2010).

The production of ethanol has created a somewhat reliable renewable energy source. With that comes the consequence that the price of food has increased because of the production of ethanol. The demand for corn has become so high that it is hard to keep up with so the price of corn has risen in response and has become difficult for other countries to afford as we want to keep the crop in American so we can use it for our own needs. It has had such a negative effect on the economy that world food prices have increased seventy-five percent since its production in large quantities began (Dewsbury, 2009).

Ethanol is a renewable resource that is produced from agricultural products. Ethanol has many problems and causes for concern, such as with the many subsides it receives, and with the byproducts it releases into the atmosphere and water. Ethanol has become a hot political issue due to the many subsides and blenders tax credits it has now been a recipient of for many years.

References
Dewsbury, Suzanne, and Ian M. Dewsbury. Ethanol. Detroit: Greenhaven, 2009. Print.
Erbaum, Jason B. Bioethanol: Production, Benefits and Economics. New York: Nova Science Publ., 2009. Print.
Glozer, Ken G. Corn Ethanol: Who Pays? Who Benefits? Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution, 2011. Print.
Heath, Michelle. Towards a Commercial Future: Ethanol & Methanol as Alternative Transportation Fuels. Calgary, Canada: University of Calgary, 1989. Print.
Marshall, Darlene E. Ethanol Economics and Ethanol's Impact on Food Prices and Greenhouse Gas Emissions. New York: Nova Science, 2010. Print.…...

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