Discovery News tells us that a biofuel crisis is looming. Lester Brown is concerned that two billion (about a third of the way across this window) desperately poor people may soon find their food in our gas tanks:
“I was looking at USDA grain estimates and two numbers jumped out at me,” he said. World grain demand is projected to grow by 20 million tons this year. Some 14 million tons of that demand is expected to be for biofuels for cars in the United States. That leaves just six million tons to satisfy the food needs of many countries that import U.S. grain — at a time when grain stocks are at a 34-year low and climate change and water shortages are making it harder than ever to grow grain.
Unexpectedly, Mat Hartwig, spokesman for the Renewable Fuels Association in Washington, D.C. disagrees:
In the fuel versus food debate it’s not an either or situation. We can do both. Even individual kernels of corn can be used in both food and fuel, Hartwig explained. Corn can be processed to extract the sugars for making ethanol, leaving behind a high-protein “distiller’s grain” that can then be used for animal feed, he said.
Hold on, my bullshitometer is going nuts. He’s trying to convince us that the portion of a corn kernel that goes into your gas tank won’t be missed.
But it takes 56 pounds of corn kernels to produce 2.8 gallons of ethanol and 17 pounds of distiller’s grain. 56-17=39 pounds of corn lost that cannot feed people (or the cows that people eat). In other words, about 70 percent of a bushel of corn is lost to the food chain when you use it to make ethanol. That is what math is for. So the next time a biofuel profit taker feeds you a similar line of bull, call him on it.