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Corn-based ethanol as a fuel? May 5, 2009

Posted by fetzthechemist in Uncategorized.
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The current drive towards biofuels in the United States has been thoroughly politicized in favor of ethanol. Not just any ethanol, but that prodiced through fermentation of corn. The congresspeople from the Midwest farm states and the lobbyists from the giant agribusinesses have mandated that ethanol be the US’s oxygenate to replace methyl-t-butyl ether and to be a major fuel component in itself.

The politization is evident in the overwhelming emphasis in this one source for ethanol. Other fermenting media, even the silage derived from corn production (stalks, husks, cobs, et cetera all have fair amounts of sugar in them, yet even this source does not get major research funding).

Foreign technologies, notably those in Brazil which has been producing ethanol fuel for decades as a byproduct of sugar cane silage, is not being tranferred and modified very much. Ethanol from their much more efficient systems bears a monumentally heavy tariff that prevents it from competing.

Biodiesel from any fatty acid source (and converted to the fatty acid methyl esters, FAMEs, gets a lot of notice, but its market is niche since there are only modest government subsidies to develop its use. Other plant and algal derived hydrocarbons are only now to the stage of benchtop production for testing.

While the agribusinesses cleanup on their so-called green initiative, the diversion of those millions of tons of corn has cause increases in many foods that use corn directly or as a feed (beef, pork, poultry).

‘This convoluted approach contorts the potential markets greatly, making new, really renewable sources less likely to compete.

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