Final proof that ethanol is NOT the answer to our energy needs

Corn, the real enemy: The demand for corn to make ethanol is pushing up the price of many food items, including ice cream. Photo by frascelly at flickr.com
Corn, the real enemy: The demand for corn to make ethanol is pushing up the price of many food items, including ice cream. Photo by frascelly at flickr.com

Most ethanol is made from corn.

As the demand for corn goes up, the price goes up, too.

Dairies buy corn to feed their milk cows.

As the price of corn goes up, dairies must raise the price of milk to keep even.

And what essential, life-sustaining product is made from milk?


The demand for ethanol is forcing up the cost of ice cream!

The terrible irony of all this is that ethanol is promoted as a renewable, alternative fuel, one that will reduce pollution and carbon emissions and thus help combat global warming. Yet, its production is harming the one known proven antidote to blazing temperatures – ice cream!

Our way of life, our very existence is at stake here.

Fortunately, science comes to the rescue. Researchers in Georgia are building the first cellulosic ethanol plant, which will make ethanol from plant waste (like lawn clippings and switch grass) rather than from food crops.

It may not save the planet, but if it saves ice cream, that will be a good first step.

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Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

Gene's picture
Gene says:

Here's a more serious article on the relationship between ethanol and food prices.

posted on Mon, 07/16/2007 - 8:42am
CSMiller's picture
CSMiller says:

"Final proof"?

Boy, we are really spoiled if the decisions of the world revolve around the price of ice cream.

Check out http://gog2g.com/2007/06/29/corn-prices-to-continue-decline.aspx . You'll see that the price of corn has already nose dived since their peak in mid-June. That doesn't mean that the bottom has dropped out - only that making assumptions based on temporary spikes or valleys is a fool's game. Corn will stop being the main U.S. feedstock for ethanol production by 2012. In the meantime, we need to start building infrastructure (like E85 pumps and flex-fuel cars) to give us true choice when we buy fuels. That's the place where the biggest impact on the price of food and international security will take place.

And ice cream.

posted on Mon, 07/16/2007 - 9:33pm
Gene's picture
Gene says:

Hyperbole is a subtle art.

"Corn will stop being the main U.S. feedstock for ethanol production by 2012."

"It is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future." Yogi Berra

Meanwhile, price spikes which could lead to potential food shortages are happening right now. (Links to other similar articles can be found here.)

If a silly post about ice cream is what it takes to get people to recognize a serious problem, so be it.

posted on Tue, 07/17/2007 - 9:32am
Puna Al's picture
Puna Al says:

We thought inflated ice cream prices were bad, now the price of tacos has gone through the roof. Man o man, two major food groups systematically destroyed to drive my monster rig. They are gonna get the beer next you know. . .

posted on Tue, 07/17/2007 - 11:42am
Gene's picture
Gene says:

As more acreage is devoted to raising corn, fewer acres are used to grow hops, malt and barley, forcing the price of those commodities up.

I drive a flexible fuel vehicle, and every time I fill it up I'm conflicted: do I buy gas and indirectly fund terrorism, or do I buy ethanol and indirectly starve the poor? I end up walking or riding my bike as much as possible.

posted on Tue, 07/17/2007 - 12:24pm
Hulk's picture
Hulk says:

Puna Al,
Your comment about taking away the beer is ignorant. (and please understand what ignorant actually means). In the production of ethanol (whether fuel grade or for beverages) the corn is cooked with an alpha-amylase enzyme to liquify and convert the starches into a long chain sugar (and eventually a short chain sugar dextrose=glucose), which is femented by yeast. This fermentation produces the ethanol, and quite literally a beer. Depending on the success of the liquification, and fermentation this beer will be approximately 11-18% ethanol, much stronger than your coors, but won't taste as good.
The beer is then distilled to concentrate the alcohol, usually to about 192 pf. This is the basic process for most beverage alcohols, however the equipment varies since fuel grade ethanol is governed by the B.A.T.F and not by food sanitation. Also the materials are designed for longevity rather than taste (beverage stills are typically made of copper), and beverage fusels are not added back in. Way too many headaches, but have considerable burnable energy useful for motor fuel.
However the fusels aren't added back in until after the alcohol is dehydrated to 198.6 pf. Or on a karl fisher titration about .6% water. Any more water higher than that isn't sellable, and unadvisable to put in your cars fuel system.
Oh so anyway, if your making ethanol, you'll have beer, or wine, to go along with your cheese and whine.

posted on Tue, 07/17/2007 - 1:19pm
Buddha's picture
Buddha says:

If a silly post about ice cream is what it takes to get people to recognize a serious problem, so be it.

posted on Mon, 07/23/2007 - 5:02am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

I am currently an operator for Pacific Ethanol Columbia LLC., and wish you people would get a clue about ethanol production in the US. Education is the key to accurate comments posted on blogs, not gossip or political agendas by right winged activists. Ethanol is a better solution for current fossil fuel shortages, and will soon replace fossil fuels in the next 15 years. There are no shortages of corn in the US, nor will there be any time soon. Current new technoligies for biomass, and cellulose based ethanol witch uses reclaiming/recycling of waste products in the US will also force the government to make important economical and environmental impact choices to stop fossil fuel production in the decades to come. Clean burning, zero impact, polution free profitable fuel what is wrong with that?

posted on Tue, 08/07/2007 - 7:38pm
Gene's picture
Gene says:

It's not shortages, it's rising prices for corn and many other agricultural commodities that follow the increased demand. This is well-documented. It's also the conversion of more open land to agriculture.

The use of waste plants rather than food plants would be a major step in the right direction.

posted on Wed, 08/08/2007 - 5:56pm
Terry's picture
Terry says:

Price Gouging is not part of the American Dream. Just because you can, doesn't give you the right to do so. It doesn't cost a penny extra to grow corn that will be used for fuel. Today's farmers have the chance to provide a stable income for their familie's for year's to come. Not so long ago, those farm's were being lost to the bank's. REMEMBER !!! So don't let greed destroy this golden opportunity.

posted on Sat, 08/11/2007 - 7:00am
Gene's picture
Gene says:

It's not price gouging -- it's simply the law of supply and demand. Let's say a farmer grows 10 bushels of corn, and a local food processor wants to buy 10 bushels of corn. Great -- they can get together, agree on a price, and everyone's happy.

But let's say there's an ethanol producer, and he also wants 10 bushels of corn. What's the farmer to do? Simple -- sell to the highest bidder. No reason the farmer should stick to the old, low price iof someone else is willing to pay more.

Which means that if the food processor wants to buy corn, he will have to cough up more money, and thus raise the price of the finished products he sells.

No gouging involved. Just basic economics.

posted on Sat, 08/11/2007 - 10:16am
Gene's picture
Gene says:

Oh no! Now gummy bears are being affected! When will the madness end?

posted on Tue, 08/14/2007 - 3:56pm
Solanum Tuberosum's picture
Solanum Tuberosum says:

Corn DOES now have more demand, which is boosted by the 'green era' and the fact that corn is a very popular staple. This will undoubtedly raise prices, and who can blame the corn growers? If they can make more money, then why not? But this extra cost will increase prices for corn, both edible and ethanol, and due to increased prices of corn, the fuel derived from it will cost even more. Thus all companies that rely on automobiles to deliver their goods will have to pay the inflated price. Regular corn eaters will now have to pay for the increased price of corn, as well as the extra money it took to fuel the truck that brought it. If the price of corn an be brought back down, then we may have reached a perfect, renewable fuel.

posted on Fri, 08/31/2007 - 8:40am
Gene's picture
Gene says:

Or, if we can figure out a way to make ethanol out of non-edible plants, such as switch grass, then the price of corn will no longer be driven by demand for ethanol.

posted on Fri, 08/31/2007 - 9:33am
Gene's picture
Gene says:

British journalist George Monbiot describes how ethanol production is hurting developing countries. The Law of Unintended Consequences is in full force...

posted on Wed, 11/07/2007 - 9:34am
Tony Phillips's picture

I was just thinking about ethanol is forcing up the cost of ice cream! and you've really helped out. Thanks!

posted on Tue, 06/02/2009 - 1:14am

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