Ethanol adoption riddled with caveats

Billions of dollars disappeared in the dark expanse of BP’s recent oil spill; gas prices continue to fluctuate due to political unrest in the Middle East; environmentalists continue to point to the emissions from gasoline use as the cause of the global warming phenomenon. As hundreds of issues have come to light in the past decade, both citizens and policymakers have begun to re-evaluate the extent of our dependence on petroleum and other fossil fuels.
Proposed solutions have mostly focused on alternative energy sources, such as solar energy, hydroelectric power and, perhaps most well-known to the common man, ethanol. Created from corn, wheat and grains and already implemented in many gas stations across the U.S., ethanol looks to be a promising solution to our financial, political and environmental stresses. While I agree that ethanol is one of many possible fixes to the energy problem, it is important to recognize that ethanol alone can exacerbate some of the issues caused by petroleum use.
One major problem in the production of ethanol is the dichotomy of the needs and resources in both developed and developing countries. Developed countries have a high need for alternative energy resources because they generally have large industrial sectors, but these same countries do not necessarily have large agricultural economies. On the flip side, developing countries depend on their agricultural sectors for their livelihoods, but these countries do not have a large need for energy.
To produce ethanol on a large scale, these countries would have to collaborate heavily with one another. While global cooperation is important in today’s economy, energy availability is far too crucial to a developed country’s daily processes and will be of chief importance in the case of an international political conflict. On the same note, the amount of money a developing country could receive in exchange for its agricultural products is similarly imperative to the country’s mere survival. Even in using fossil fuels, citizens of the U.S. presently face somewhat unpredictable hikes in gas prices due to unrest in the Middle East, the countries of which account for a large portion of OPEC.
Additionally, harkening back to the years past of Europe’s imperialism in Africa for its rare resources, private companies’ entering small, developing countries and exploiting and depleting their resources is a very real possibility. In future years moving forward with ethanol as a major energy source, countries that are either major consumers or producers should develop international laws to control the exchange of ethanol.
As of now, U.S. gas stations that choose to use biofuels sell fuel that is 10 percent ethanol. This means that for the same volume of gas, there must be production of both gasoline and ethanol, which becomes very expensive very quickly. The key financial aspect here is that in the case of an expanded ethanol industry, the agricultural sector would become tied up in both food and fuel production. With an increased demand for products that were previously household-only, such as corn and wheat, the prices of food would increase very quickly, driving up household expenses for products as simple as bread.
On another financial note, implementation of ethanol as an energy source equal to fossil fuels would require the retrofitting of technologies in industries that consume large amounts of energy. The cost of this retrofitting and establishing gas stations that sell pure ethanol is too high for any company to want to invest in these economic times.
While it is true that ethanol production requires fossil fuels, the amount of fossil fuels that go into this process has been cut in half as research progresses. Still, the fact remains that biofuel production uses some amount of fossil fuels, indicating that ethanol might not be as self-sustaining as a long-term resource. Additionally, the production and use of ethanol depends heavily on the climate and environment, neither of which has been particularly predictable in recent years. For example, if a geographical location that is a major ethanol producer faces drought, flooding or any other climate-oriented issue, it would no longer be able to provide ethanol, and industries would have to move quickly to garner other energy sources, causing anything from an economic hiccup to a financial crisis.
Global industries should be careful in the production, implementation and consumption of ethanol. Much like with fossil fuels, ethanol alone creates a problem by “putting all our eggs in one basket,” and creating multiple venues for a crash in the availability of reliable energy.


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