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Essay on Potential for Large Scale Ethanol Production

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Potential for Large Scale Ethanol Production

Recent legislation by the Congress of the United States has created a mandate for 5 billion gallons of renewable fuel (notably ethanol) to be consumed annually by 2015. In light of this recent push for alternative fuels, many different biomass solutions have been considered to meet the energy need for the 200 million cars on the road. While the most efficient bio-fuels are derived from palm oil and sugarcane, the Unites States has begun to focus on the more regional corn crops to produce new renewable fuels. This program appears to have great potential towards achieving a sustainable future devoid of foreign oil dependence, until the economic implications of large-scale ethanol
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More moderate studies that were conducted suggest a modest 25% return on investment. Still, not enough to herald it as the perfect solution.

President Bush recently visited Central America to sign a memorandum of understanding with the Brazilian Government, aimed at expanding ethanol production from sugarcane in Brazil. Brazil currently produces 38% of the worlds’ ethanol, while already straining the countries ecosystem (Hirsch). If ethanol production were to increase globally, environmentalists fear that Brazil could transform into a giant sugarcane field. Richard Heinberg noted this rapid expansion and tried to imagine how this would affect the United States cropland when the demand for corn-derived ethanol production increased. Heinberg concluded that the US would need 25% more farmland than currently exists to supply the average consumers 852 gallons of fuel per year (Heinberg, 172). This statistic is especially alarming when you realize this assumes that no farmland would be used for food production for both livestock and humans. Additionally, while 90% of ethanol production is produced from corn, the USDA reports that, “corn farming required more chemicals – fertilizers, insecticides and herbicides – than any other comparable crop, such as soybeans.” (Pica) With a planned increase in corn production we would see a severe increase in soil and water contamination near farming areas because of
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