Ethanol fuel not as green as people may think

Derek Thurber

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Ethanol has been hailed as the “green fuel” that will solve: or at least greatly improve: our environmental problems. Unfortunately it may not be such a benign, new energy source as those in Washington, D.C., might want us to believe.

Ethanol is a fuel that can be used to run any engine that runs off of normal gasoline. It is made from green substances like grass, corn and wheat; however, it is primarily made with corn in the United States currently. Derek Thurber

President George W. Bush included it in his plan to decrease the United State’s dependence on foreign oil. He declared that more ethanol would be put into circulation at gas stations around the nation.

Yet there are serious concerns associated with ethanol that have remained fairly unknown to the general populous. Ethanol is not a truly clean energy source and is not a renewable energy source, as has been suggested.

Ethanol is produced primarily from corn. This immediately causes several problems. Corn production uses more nitrogen-based fertilizer and more insecticide and herbicide than any other crops making it a major contributor to ground and river water pollution. Corn is also responsible for more total soil erosion than any other crop produced in the United States.

Both of these problems suggest that corn production in the United States is neither environmentally friendly, nor is it sustainable for the long-term future unless changes are made in cultivation techniques. Production of ethanol in the chemical plants raises more environmental concerns. There are major air and water pollution problems associated with these plants. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued several warnings to ethanol production plants in the past to either reduce their air pollution or be shut down.

For each gallon of ethanol created from corn there are 12 gallons of waste water produced. This waste water has a very high biological oxygen demand (BOD). The cost of processing waste water with that high a BOD is very draining on the economy.

Perhaps the most prevalent concern associated with ethanol is its contribution to air pollution after it has been grown and processed. Ethanol has a serious impact on the quality of air and the degradation of the ozone layer when used in automobiles.

Ethanol was praised when it came out for how it releases less carbon dioxide than regular gasoline. Carbon dioxide is the largest cause of ozone layer depletion leading to global warming. Ethanol does have less CO2 emissions than regular gasoline; but it puts off other harmful chemicals that do additional harm to the ozone.

Ethanol releases nitric oxides and volatile organic compounds that contribute to the destruction of the ozone layer. It may not be the CO2 that we know is harmful, but nitric oxides are just as bad for the ozone as CO2.

Ethanol is not as green as we were made to believe. Instead, ethanol contributes to environmental problems and global warming arguably as much as regular gasoline.

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