Diving deep into the dangers that the production of corn ethanol could pose to our surrounding environment.
How much do you really know about corn ethanol? With an increased awareness of the harm humans burden our environment with, it has become all the more critical to draw attention to products that may be hindering our progress in this area. So, what is corn ethanol, and how does it affect our ecosystem? Read on to discover more.
Firstly, it might be worth commenting on what corn actually is. Often called maize in some regions, corn is a cereal grain first domesticated in the south of Mexico ten thousand years ago.
There are lots of different types of corn, with one of the most popular examples being the notorious movie theater snack: popcorn, as well as dent corn, sweetcorn, flint corn, and pod corn. Whilst these examples could be some of the first to come to mind when thinking about corn; this product has another crucial use in the form of corn ethanol.
What is Corn Ethanol?
This product is formed from corn biomass. It is the principal source of ethanol fuel in the US and is mixed with gasoline within the Renewable Fuel Standard. Corn ethanol is made by the processes of ethanol fermentation and distillation.
"As a grain-based alcohol product, ethanol is quite a controversial product amongst renewable fuel experts."
The Dangers of Corn Ethanol on our Environment
As a grain-based alcohol product, ethanol is quite a controversial product amongst renewable fuel experts. As mentioned above, ethanol is fermented and distilled from corn, allowing it to be considered a renewable fuel. This is due to corn growth, which essentially takes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere within photosynthesis. However, since it emits this carbon dioxide back into the air during combustion, corn ethanol’s production does still happen to take its toll on our environment.
Corn ethanol’s sustainability in replacing harmful fossil fuels has been long debated since the energy to run a lot of distilleries commonly derives from coal plants. There is also controversy surrounding the huge amount of land needed to grow crops and the impact this has on grain supply. There are also problems regarding air pollution, soil erosion, energy balance, and water usage when considering the whole life cycle of the production of ethanol. Having too much dependence on corn ethanol has a large potential to contribute to a huge loss of grassland ecosystems and reduce the positive impact of environmentally friendly programs designed to decrease soil erosion.
The Danger of Harmful Emissions
In terms of greenhouse gas emissions, some research has drawn upon how carbon ethanol may produce more carbon dioxide per unit of energy than gasoline. This could factor in the fertilizer usage and land usage change. Furthermore, burning corn ethanol in gasoline can release a known carcinogen, benzene, amongst other harmful air pollutants. These pollutants may trigger bronchitis, asthma, as well as a range of other respiratory problems. Going further, cultivating fields may release the carbon stored in the soil, whilst a range of other farming tasks, such as applying nitrogen fertilizers, can also produce emissions that devastate our environment. Customers are well aware of the harmful impact that carbon dioxide can have on our environment, with climate change becoming an increasingly concerning issue as the years go by. Not taking action upon this problem could create a real problem in the foreseeable future of the planet.
The Danger of Using Excessive Amounts of Land
As mentioned above, large spans of arable cropland are needed to grow the corn for ethanol. This means that large amounts of cropland are then unavailable to cultivate corn for animal and human consumption. This small crop yield for animal and human consumption poses the issue of food demand. Furthermore, with large amounts of grasslands and wetlands being converted into cropland, this action can trigger more issues.
For example, it initiates the release of more carbon emissions into the surroundings, utilizes more water to irrigate the plants, uses more fertilizer for farm fields, and destroys more wildlife habitats.
What Can We Learn From These Dangers?
It is clear to see that corn ethanol may be more of a problem than both producers and consumers first originally thought. This raises the need for alternative and innovative techniques in production processes. Since customers now increasingly feel it is necessary to buy into eco-friendly products and services, some have even started boycotting companies that utilize unsustainable techniques. Therefore, it is in every company’s best interest to take an environmentally friendly approach. It’s time to start producing products in the right way today!