US used quarter of 2008 grain crop to make biofuel

A study on a variety of GM maize found it may have negative effects on stream life
A study on a variety of GM maize found it may have negative effects on stream life

The US now has more than 200 ethanol distilleries set up to transform grain into fuel

More than a quarter of the total US grain crop was turned into ethanol to fuel cars last year, according to a new analysis

The world's largest grain exporter is feeding increasing amounts of its crop to cars rather than people, according to figures released by the US Department of Agriculture.

In 2009, 26.6 per cent of the previous year's grain harvest in the US was used to produce fuel ethanol compared to just 14.8 per cent in 2006.

According to analysis from the environmental think tank the Earth Policy Institute (EPI), the 107 million tons of grain, mostly maize, that went to US ethanol distilleries in 2009 was enough to feed 330 million people for one year at average world consumption levels.

Government policy

The EPI, based in Washington, says the sharp rise in the quantity of grain converted to ethanol is being driven, in part, by government policy to increase amounts of biofuels.

Following the passage of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 a new renewable fuel programme was implemented requiring the volume of ethanol blended into the US fuel supplies to increase from 9 billion gallons in 2008 to 36 billion gallons by 2022.

EPI founder Lester Brown said the high price of oil was also making fuel ethanol production profitable.
'As the price of oil climbs, it becomes increasingly profitable to convert farm commodities into automotive fuel, either ethanol or biodiesel. In effect, the price of oil becomes the support price for food commodities. Whenever the food value of a commodity drops below its fuel value, the market will convert it into fuel.' he said.

Useful links

Earth Policy Institute

Councils using chip fat as fuel and road filler
Richmond council has become the first in the country to run its entire vehicle fleet on 100 per cent recycled biodiesel, while Lincolnshire is using the stuff to patch roads
Biofuels rather than electric cars to meet renewables target
Industry research says biofuels, not electric cars or biogas likely to make up majority of renewable transport targets but admits some will need to be imported
Recycling used cooking oil to power diesel cars
Sundance Renewables in Wales is a pioneering workers' co-operative and social enterprise converting used cooking oil into a low emissions alternative to diesel
Biofuels can be sustainable, say less industrialised nations
EU looking at the impact of land use changes on greenhouse gas emissions from moves to increase biofuel production

More from this author