Letter Re: Biofuel Problems and Sustainability

Hi Jim,
A recent article in Der Spiegel gives us some real insight into food prices. My guess is that if we continue down this path we will see some important events start taking place in Third World nations that cannot afford high food prices.

Here is how this can effect us here. It takes 400 pounds of corn to make 25 gallons of ethanol. This might be a weeks worth of fuel for a person commuting to work. It could be many months worth of food for that same person. You may say that you don’t eat that much corn. Actually you do. Dr. Henry Schwarcz at McMasters University in Canada, studies nitrogen isotopes in human bone and teeth. The average north American diet effectively consists of 47% corn! This is because what you eat, eats corn. Beef, Chicken, Pork, Milk, Ice Cream, Butter, Cheese, Eggs, etc. The figure I have seen for beef is six to seven pounds of corn to make one pound of beef. About 30% of the American corn crop is now going to bio fuels. With the number of people in the world (seven billion by 2012), I don’t think that this is sustainable.

Also another note on sustainability: The American Solar Energy Society did a study that showed it takes 10 calories of fossil fuels to put 1 calorie of food on the average American’s table. This includes planting, cultivation, harvesting, processing and transportation. Cooking too, I would guess. In looking at what is happening with oil and natural gas prices and their availability, I wonder how long we can sustain this. – PED