More and more of the Midwestern corn crop is being used not for human or animal food but to produce energy. Soil scientist Dan Walters says more of the grain crop each year is converted to ethanol to be mixed with gasoline. That affects the stability of grain prices for farmers, and increases demand for the crop, though Walters says it could also mean higher prices for grain fed by livestock producers. If we see tremendous demand, it depends on who can pay the most for the grain, and he adds in the long run the corn market looks good, at least from the point of view of a soil scientist who’s not an economist. Walters says it’s not likely to come down to hard choices like food versus fuel, because corn isn’t the only source we can use for making ethanol. Corn isn’t the only bio-fuel, he says, as many forage grasses can be converted to ethanol and the government’s invested billions in technology to produce bio-fuel. The main reason for using corn is simply that it’s relatively cheap and abundant. Switchgrass and other cellulose bio-mass can be grown on land not suitable for crops, he says, offering an ethanol source that won’t take away from food or other market crops. But ethanol may not be the ultimate “alternative fuel” as research and new technology continue to produce new solutions. Ethanol isn’t a panacea, he says, and won’t replace all fossil-fuel use — but can be a stopgap in the growth of petroleum consumption as we work to develop other technologies that can replace the use of fossil fuel. And there’s the potential to combine the new technology with even newer ones. A new advance in technology is the discovery that ethanol’s one of the best sources of hydrogen for fuel cells, a clean, non-contaminating hydrogen source so ethanol may have a place in the fuel-cell industry. Amost 275-Million bushels of corn are made into ethanol every year in Iowa, and last year 998-Million gallons of ethanol-blended fuel were sold in Iowa.
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