July 11, 2006 1:37 PM PDT

Report: Forget fueling cars on corn or soybeans

Ethanol from corn and soybean biodiesel aren't going to solve the energy crunch, according to a new report from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Even if all of the corn produced in the U.S. last year were used to make ethanol, it would quench only 12 percent of the country's gas thirst, the report said. If the soybean crop were consumed as fuel, it would displace only 9 percent of the country's demand for diesel. Any appreciable upsurge in the use of those plants for fuel would also cut into the U.S. food supply.

The report, however, isn't dour about the potential use of biofuels. Instead, it advocates trying to develop high-cellulose plants that can produce higher levels of fuel, such as switchgrass, an approach that's been advocated by other scientists.

Switchgrass and similar plants have the potential to produce more energy than equivalent amounts of crops like corn that have been bred for food. Additionally, high-cellulose plants don't need fertilization and, because they are inedible, their use wouldn't affect food supplies.

These fuel plant crops also don't need much water and, conceivably, could be grown on land too dry for food crops. Like corn ethanol or soybean diesel, fuel made from these plants would result in lower tailpipe emissions than standard car gas. Synthetically produced fuels could also displace regular gas over time, the report stated.

Contrary to other recent studies, the report also found that both corn ethanol and soybean biodiesel supply more energy than is consumed in producing them. Corn ethanol delivers 25 percent more energy, while soybean diesel gives off 93 percent more energy than is required to harvest the crop and process the plants.

News of the report was first covered in the journal Nature.

See more CNET content tagged:
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28 comments

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An alteternative to "not digging into the food supply"?
Hmmm. Let me get this straight ...

Using corn for fuel, takes food out of the mouths of people. Wouldn't growing switchgrass instead of corn do the same thing? There is only so much land in the U.S., we have a limited number of farmers ...

Am I missing something?
Posted by cyberspittle (165 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Re: An alternative to not digging into the food supply
Perhaps it's ancient history now, but I thought our government used to actually pay farmers to let their land sit idle, or to NOT grow certain crops?

Either way, I'd bet there's land available to grow it...

Charles R. Whealton
Charles Whealton @ pleasedontspam.com
Posted by chuck_whealton (521 comments )
Link Flag
An alteternative to "not digging into the food supply"?
Hmmm. Let me get this straight ...

Using corn for fuel, takes food out of the mouths of people. Wouldn't growing switchgrass instead of corn do the same thing? There is only so much land in the U.S., we have a limited number of farmers ...

Am I missing something?
Posted by cyberspittle (165 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Re: An alternative to not digging into the food supply
Perhaps it's ancient history now, but I thought our government used to actually pay farmers to let their land sit idle, or to NOT grow certain crops?

Either way, I'd bet there's land available to grow it...

Charles R. Whealton
Charles Whealton @ pleasedontspam.com
Posted by chuck_whealton (521 comments )
Link Flag
More proof that CNET is just propaganda for large multi-nationals
The story that was not written by the CNET author, but has been making the round in other publications is a total fraud.
This is just propaganda written for the interests of the oil oligopoly and U.S. Car manufacturers.
It is lies.
One just needs to look at a honest story that is not from a organization that is a prostitute to the multi-nationals.
Here are some things to understand, and this is just the start:
1. The biofuel factories in Brazil are self-sustaining. The power to run them is from the manufactured biofuels themselves.
2. Japan, Austrailia, Germany China, India have been importing ethanol from Brazil to reduce their dependance on fossil fuels. Important to know that the U.S. doesn't do this, but the U.S. has a $.54 per gallon tax on all imported ethanol. Thus protecting oil company oligopoly and inflating importing the best grade of ethanol from Brazil. What happened to the "war on terrorism, where the Saudis financed 9/11 as well as other disasters.
4. The President of Brazil drives a car using biofuels, which is MADE BY GENERAL MOTORS. Other car companies have been flushering with their engines that will run on biofuels or gas (but runs on 100% biofuel very well). GM is now trying to get into the market, IN BRAZIL, ASIA, BUT NOT IN THE U.S.

5. Chat with Willie Nelson who has been running a biofuel only car for a while. He can also talk to you about what this would do for farmers. Imagine the U.S. being totally independent of Arab fossil fuels.

6. Remember, this is just the start. We need to partner with countries like Brazil, learn from them, rely on a renewable energy and away from fossil fuels. There are strong lobbies from defense contractors (no more baases and attacking of oil rich Arab nations), gas companies (the highest profits in the history of business), a focus more on technology, U.S. agriculture, partnering with companies for the good of all, not for political reasons. This can be done NOW. See following articles. No need to destroy our heritiage by digging up land in Alaska. Cnet is sickening.
<a href="http://www.wired.com/news/planet/0,2782,67523,00.html"></a>
&lt;a href="
Posted by jontemple (11 comments )
Reply Link Flag
You missed the whole point
Did you even read the story, or just spout off that someone is an oil baron cronie just because something possibly negative was said about biofuel?

The point, if you had read it, is that corn and soybeans, although they make more energy than they take, are not as good as other plants, like the switchgrass example. Other plants take less water and fertilization, and therefore can be grown on land not suitable for food production.

Result: Biofuel for cheaper, more work for farmers, and no rise in food prices because of the lack of overlap in land use.

Nothing looks like they were in with the oil companies on it.

Final take corn and soy take a lot of water and effort to grow. The other stuff would be better. Eat corn and soy, burn switchgrass and other high cellulous plants.
Posted by amadensor (248 comments )
Link Flag
uhh.....some of that is true
Well, flex-fuel cars made by GM and Ford have been on sale in the U.S. for several months now, maybe you've just been in a coma. The U.S. doesn't import biofuels because they are made here in the U.S. I would know considering I live in Iowa, and there are several biofuel plants where I live and more are being built every year. But, maybe you want to just import something we can make here from another country, putting money in their pocket instead of the U.S. economy. Then instead of being dependant on oil from the Middle-East it will be ethanol from South America. The $.54 a gallon tax is to promote biofuel expanding in the U.S. Until the capacity to create biofuels on a large scale is here it will be more expensive than importing from more advanced facilities.
Posted by nutters (12 comments )
Link Flag
More proof that CNET is just propaganda for large multi-nationals
The story that was not written by the CNET author, but has been making the round in other publications is a total fraud.
This is just propaganda written for the interests of the oil oligopoly and U.S. Car manufacturers.
It is lies.
One just needs to look at a honest story that is not from a organization that is a prostitute to the multi-nationals.
Here are some things to understand, and this is just the start:
1. The biofuel factories in Brazil are self-sustaining. The power to run them is from the manufactured biofuels themselves.
2. Japan, Austrailia, Germany China, India have been importing ethanol from Brazil to reduce their dependance on fossil fuels. Important to know that the U.S. doesn't do this, but the U.S. has a $.54 per gallon tax on all imported ethanol. Thus protecting oil company oligopoly and inflating importing the best grade of ethanol from Brazil. What happened to the "war on terrorism, where the Saudis financed 9/11 as well as other disasters.
4. The President of Brazil drives a car using biofuels, which is MADE BY GENERAL MOTORS. Other car companies have been flushering with their engines that will run on biofuels or gas (but runs on 100% biofuel very well). GM is now trying to get into the market, IN BRAZIL, ASIA, BUT NOT IN THE U.S.

5. Chat with Willie Nelson who has been running a biofuel only car for a while. He can also talk to you about what this would do for farmers. Imagine the U.S. being totally independent of Arab fossil fuels.

6. Remember, this is just the start. We need to partner with countries like Brazil, learn from them, rely on a renewable energy and away from fossil fuels. There are strong lobbies from defense contractors (no more baases and attacking of oil rich Arab nations), gas companies (the highest profits in the history of business), a focus more on technology, U.S. agriculture, partnering with companies for the good of all, not for political reasons. This can be done NOW. See following articles. No need to destroy our heritiage by digging up land in Alaska. Cnet is sickening.
<a href="http://www.wired.com/news/planet/0,2782,67523,00.html"></a>
&lt;a href="
Posted by jontemple (11 comments )
Reply Link Flag
You missed the whole point
Did you even read the story, or just spout off that someone is an oil baron cronie just because something possibly negative was said about biofuel?

The point, if you had read it, is that corn and soybeans, although they make more energy than they take, are not as good as other plants, like the switchgrass example. Other plants take less water and fertilization, and therefore can be grown on land not suitable for food production.

Result: Biofuel for cheaper, more work for farmers, and no rise in food prices because of the lack of overlap in land use.

Nothing looks like they were in with the oil companies on it.

Final take corn and soy take a lot of water and effort to grow. The other stuff would be better. Eat corn and soy, burn switchgrass and other high cellulous plants.
Posted by amadensor (248 comments )
Link Flag
uhh.....some of that is true
Well, flex-fuel cars made by GM and Ford have been on sale in the U.S. for several months now, maybe you've just been in a coma. The U.S. doesn't import biofuels because they are made here in the U.S. I would know considering I live in Iowa, and there are several biofuel plants where I live and more are being built every year. But, maybe you want to just import something we can make here from another country, putting money in their pocket instead of the U.S. economy. Then instead of being dependant on oil from the Middle-East it will be ethanol from South America. The $.54 a gallon tax is to promote biofuel expanding in the U.S. Until the capacity to create biofuels on a large scale is here it will be more expensive than importing from more advanced facilities.
Posted by nutters (12 comments )
Link Flag
It is all Economics 101
The morality of using food for fuel has nothing to do with it. The crux of the matter is high oil prices and low grain prices. If a profit can be made from burning food, then food will be allocated to fuel production. It is simply economics 101 in action.

If you don't like the idea of burning food, then buy some grain and send it to the starving people of the world. That would be a wonderful thing to do! By doing so, you will help drive the price of grain up to a level that makes it econonomically infeasible to convert it to fuel.
Posted by SumoPixel (11 comments )
Reply Link Flag
It is all Economics 101
The morality of using food for fuel has nothing to do with it. The crux of the matter is high oil prices and low grain prices. If a profit can be made from burning food, then food will be allocated to fuel production. It is simply economics 101 in action.

If you don't like the idea of burning food, then buy some grain and send it to the starving people of the world. That would be a wonderful thing to do! By doing so, you will help drive the price of grain up to a level that makes it econonomically infeasible to convert it to fuel.
Posted by SumoPixel (11 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Please learn what GMOs are before writing an article with that heading.
Once again, CNET doing more stories and pushing them off to their reader as good and necessary news much like the bi-weekly updates on weapons manufacturings and the latest killing toys. Food product or other plant products are great sources of fuel, whether made here locally or imported. The issue is with Genetically modified versions of these plants. Our world will cease to have the natural diversity it once did if we continue to pollute the species of plants with our genetic research. Its already happening with Corn and cross pollination. The answer is not more genetically modified crops. Renewable should not include GMO derived fuel, only because it has other negative non-reversible effects
Posted by windsurf2020 (8 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Expound please?
Can you expound on what's happening with corn and cross pollination?

If our naturally evolved food plants have negative characteristics, why shouldn't we modify them? Genetically modified foods are bug resistant, stay fresh longer, don't require the same amounts of fertilizer or pesticide, and can be grown in a wider variety of climates. More population = More food needed. I don't see what the problem is.
Posted by greigmg (3 comments )
Link Flag
You're missing several things
The switchgrass has a higher yeild of ethanol per bushel than corn, therefore, less land but more fuel. And it can be grown in more places corn can't, meaning it won't take land from farmers.
Posted by nutters (12 comments )
Reply Link Flag
You're missing several things
The switchgrass has a higher yeild of ethanol per bushel than corn, therefore, less land but more fuel. And it can be grown in more places corn can't, meaning it won't take land from farmers.
Posted by nutters (12 comments )
Reply Link Flag
What about Hemp??
We can solve all our fuel problems with Hemp. Everyone knows it, yet hemp cultivation remains illegal in America. What a joke!!
Posted by Jeff419 (17 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I'll smoke to that!
Betsy Ross made her flag from hemp cloth. Hemp seeds contain
more omega-3 fatty acids than any other plant. If we didn't have
hemp, we'd have to genetically modify up some. Still, running a car
on burning hemp would sure smell good. People in following cars
might start to smile after a while.
Posted by JackfromBerkeley (136 comments )
Link Flag
I am helping friend to drive car on tap water
How about the man who was killed and made several patents on driving your car just on water?

Hows that to tell the middle east where they can shove their oil!

I am downloading the patents as I type this.
Posted by inachu (963 comments )
Reply Link Flag
That's almost as believable as...
the perpetual motion machine. I've got several blueprints on those; I'm looking for someone to buy them.
Posted by Seaspray0 (9714 comments )
Link Flag
I am helping friend to drive car on tap water
How about the man who was killed and made several patents on driving your car just on water?

Hows that to tell the middle east where they can shove their oil!

I am downloading the patents as I type this.
Posted by inachu (963 comments )
Reply Link Flag
That's almost as believable as...
the perpetual motion machine. I've got several blueprints on those; I'm looking for someone to buy them.
Posted by Seaspray0 (9714 comments )
Link Flag
Please learn what GMOs are before writing an article with that heading.
Once again, CNET doing more stories and pushing them off to their reader as good and necessary news much like the bi-weekly updates on weapons manufacturings and the latest killing toys. Food product or other plant products are great sources of fuel, whether made here locally or imported. The issue is with Genetically modified versions of these plants. Our world will cease to have the natural diversity it once did if we continue to pollute the species of plants with our genetic research. Its already happening with Corn and cross pollination. The answer is not more genetically modified crops. Renewable should not include GMO derived fuel, only because it has other negative non-reversible effects
Posted by windsurf2020 (8 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Expound please?
Can you expound on what's happening with corn and cross pollination?

If our naturally evolved food plants have negative characteristics, why shouldn't we modify them? Genetically modified foods are bug resistant, stay fresh longer, don't require the same amounts of fertilizer or pesticide, and can be grown in a wider variety of climates. More population = More food needed. I don't see what the problem is.
Posted by greigmg (3 comments )
Link Flag
What about Hemp??
We can solve all our fuel problems with Hemp. Everyone knows it, yet hemp cultivation remains illegal in America. What a joke!!
Posted by Jeff419 (17 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I'll smoke to that!
Betsy Ross made her flag from hemp cloth. Hemp seeds contain
more omega-3 fatty acids than any other plant. If we didn't have
hemp, we'd have to genetically modify up some. Still, running a car
on burning hemp would sure smell good. People in following cars
might start to smile after a while.
Posted by JackfromBerkeley (136 comments )
Link Flag
 

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