Could ethanol hurt America?

A question from Yahoo! Answers:

Could ethanol hurt america?

The nation’s demand for ethanol is not even close to its peak, and yet we are already experiences shortages in supply. This means as a nation, we will have an insatiable demand for corn. Think about how much people want gas. Should we use our food as fuel? Is the lower price of gas worth a higher price in almost all other food items. All corn products, cereal, cornbread,and tons of other food has corn as a filler. Plus lifestock and poultry are fed with corn, so meat and milk prices will go up. Not to mention other vegetables and produce due to the fact that farmers will need incentive not to switch their fields to corn. It seems that our food aid to other countries would take a dive, because after all we need to burn it. This wouldn’t really help our image abroad. I’m not for oil, but our ethanol seems to have a lot of issues not discussed. Anyone heard anything about these problems, or do you think they are insignificant compared to our dependency on oil?

First of all, there is no such thing as “hurting America”. Whatever happens, someone somewhere always benefits. The last energy crisis was a boom time in Texas and Oklahoma…

This said, here are some figures.

In 2004, about 13% of all corn produced in the U.S. was used for ethanol production; U.S. production of ethanol in 2004 equaled roughly 2.5% of the U.S. gasoline consumption. If I did the math correctly, it means that bringing the percentage up to 10% would require a 39% increase in corn production. A large-scale shift to ethanol, therefore, will require a substantial increase in corn acreage… This will benefit landowners and water rights owners and may hurt city dwellers who will be forced to pay more for water and quite possibly food.

Also, sugar cane ethanol is about half as expensive as corn ethanol. But there isn’t a lot of sugar cane in the U.S., and Brazilian ethanol (made from sugar cane) is being kept out of the U.S. by tariffs that are designed to make the cost of sugar cane ethanol equal to that of corn ethanol…

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