Reprinted with permission. Article, written by Angelo Ligori, published September 18, 2012 in the National Post, a division of Postmedia Network Inc. Angelo Ligori is Plant Manger of GreenField Ethanol Inc. in Chatham, Ontario. Fuel ethanol has been a popular media subject this summer. Is it really because of a record drought in the Midwest U.S.? I am the manager of one of Canada’s largest ethanol plants in Chatham, Ont., and have lived both the science and economics of ethanol production for over 15 years. It continues to amaze me how the media, and through it, the Canadian public, has been hoodwinked about ethanol.
There is much at stake here. Powerful vested interests see ethanol as a threat. Big Oil has enjoyed a monopoly on your gas tank for almost a century. For decades, cattle and hog producers have benefited from cheap corn as a result of billions of dollars in government agricultural subsidies. But over the last 10 years, governments of all stripes around the world have legislated renewable fuels mandates. As a result, grain ethanol is now 10% of the gasoline pool in North America. That’s about 14 billion gallons or 50 billion litres of ethanol production. It’s a huge change; and it’s natural to expect that certain sectors of the economy would want to reverse this and return to the old status quo.
So they are now waging a war to influence public opinion in an attempt to intimidate government to remove the ethanol mandate. It’s not going to happen. Ethanol opponents have been using the opportunity of a 50-year drought to crank up the hysterics. But the truth is, governments have embraced ethanol because the facts show it is overwhelmingly sensible to do so. It helps to clean up tailpipe emissions, generates real greenhouse gas reductions, reduces our dependence on foreign oil, provides jobs and stimulates incredible economic activity in rural communities.
Here are a few, published, peer-reviewed, facts about ethanol that have been misrepresented in this summer’s media reports:
• Only 1% of corn grown in North America is for human consumption at the dinner table. The rest is industrial or feed corn.
• Only the carbohydrate from the industrial (not food) grade corn is used to make ethanol. 100% of the protein, fibre, minerals, vitamins and oils are returned to the animal feed market in the form of distillers’ grains.
• The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization says that there is enough food produced annually to feed everyone on Earth. Hunger in the third world results from political strife, corruption and failures of food distribution — not from ethanol production.
• The amount of industrial corn used for North American ethanol production last year is roughly equal to the increase in the annual corn crop over the past 10 years, driven by advances in agricultural practices and seed genetics. Corn demand for ethanol has been the catalyst for these advancements.
• Even at today’s high corn prices, ethanol is cheaper than gasoline on a mileage-equivalent basis. A 2011 study conducted by researchers at the University of Iowa concluded that without ethanol, the average pump price of gasoline would have been over $1 per gallon higher.
• The real driver of food inflation is energy costs for transportation, storage and marketing. A farmer only gets 14.1¢ of the store price where marketing, labour, packaging, transportation, storage and processing costs are 84.9¢.
• Ethanol is a safe, natural alternative to the aromatics traditionally used for octane enhancement, and which have been linked to emissions of ultra-fine particulates that cause asthma and other respiratory ailments.
• Ethanol is also an oxygenate, which means that its inclusion in gasoline promotes a more complete combustion, with fewer tailpipe emissions. That’s one of the reasons why NASCAR and the Indy cars run on ethanol — it’s more powerful because of the octane, and the cleaner exhaust is easier on the spectators.
• Grain ethanol produced at modern ethanol plants generates greenhouse gas reductions of about 60% relative to conventional gasoline. This is important because 30% of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions come from the transportation sector.
• The energy balance of ethanol is very good and getting better all the time. You get between 1.6 and two units of energy output for every unit of energy input.
Meanwhile, I have seen the future. We are making next generation advanced biofuels in Chatham from agricultural waste like corn cobs and stover; from energy crops like switchgrass and tall prairie grass; and from wood waste, including sawdust and wood chips. Canadians should be proud of our engineers and scientists as we pioneer the development of advanced biofuels. I am fully committed to our industry. I love my job and have seen firsthand that ethanol has created skilled jobs at the plants; work for truckers, grain elevator operators and so much more for the community of Chatham, which was hard hit by lay-offs and plant closures. All motorists in should feel good knowing that 10% of what’s in their gas tank is ethanol — the sensible local clean-burning renewable fuel. Don’t be fooled into thinking otherwise.