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article imageWhy corn is best used for food and not for biofuels

By Tim Sandle     Jun 25, 2017 in Environment
Should corn production be orientated more towards biofuels, as a green energy alternative, or for food? This debate has continued to run since biofuel technology has come to the fore. A new report argues that the biofuel argument has lost credibility.
The main issue with corn used for biofuels (bioethanol) is because such renewable biofuels carry important economic and environmental issues. The new study, from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, dissects the issues in terms of economics of the entire production system. The conclusion is that the costs of biofuel corn outweigh the benefits.
Corn ethanol is a type of ethanol produced from corn, where the crop is used to produce the biomass. The production method involves ethanol fermentation and distillation. The primary use of corn ethanol is to blend with gasoline, although it can also be used as fuel for flex-fuel vehicles.
One concern of environmentalists is the diversion of corn, which could be used as a food, to the biofuel industry. The new research has considered these arguments. The analysis tool is through a comprehensive review of the agricultural system termed “critical zone services”. This takes the form of a review of the crops' impacts on the environment in monetary terms.
As the lead researcher Professor Kumar explains: "The critical zone is the permeable layer of the landscape near the surface that stretches from the top of the vegetation down to the groundwater.”
He adds further that “the human energy and resource input involved in agriculture production alters the composition of the critical zone, which we are able to convert into a social cost."
For the analysis the academics listed out all of the resources required for corn production and processing. Next they calculated the economic and environmental impact of using these resources, which were normalized to cost in U.S. dollars in order to arrive at the equivalent dollar value of the human energy expended in agricultural production plus how much is gained when corn is used as food versus biofuel.
The outcome was that the net social and economic worth of food corn production in the U.S. was $1,492 per hectare. This compares with a remarkable $10 per hectare loss for biofuel corn production. Much of this comes down to the effect of nutrient loss and the variances of carbon storage in soil.
The analysis is presented to the journal Earth’s Future, with the research paper titled “Critical Zone services as environmental assessment criteria in intensively managed landscapes.”
More about Corn, Biofuels, Crops, Nature, world poverty
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