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What are the Drawbacks of Using Ethanol?

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Man filling up with Bio fuel at garage
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Question: What are the Drawbacks of Using Ethanol?
Ethanol and other biofuels are often promoted as clean and relatively low-cost alternatives to gasoline, but what are the challenges inherent in the widespread adoption of ethanol and other biofuels?
Answer: The two biggest criticisms of ethanol and other biofuels are:
  1. Creating plant-based biofuels requires too much farmland to be practical or sustainable—land that would be better used to grow food.
  2. Producing ethanol and other biofuels takes more energy than the fuel can generate.
The challenge of growing enough crops to meet the demands of ethanol and/or biodiesel production is significant and, some say, insurmountable. According to some authorities, producing enough biofuels to enable their widespread adoption could mean converting most of the world’s remaining forests and open spaces to farmland—a sacrifice few people would be willing to make.

“Replacing only five percent of the nation’s diesel consumption with biodiesel would require diverting approximately 60 percent of today’s soy crops to biodiesel production,” says Matthew Brown, an energy consultant and former energy program director at the National Conference of State Legislatures. “That’s bad news for tofu lovers.”

In a 2005 study, Cornell University researcher David Pimental factored in the energy needed to grow crops and convert them to biofuels and concluded that producing ethanol from corn required 29 percent more energy than ethanol is capable of generating. Pimental found similar problems with making biodiesel from soybeans.

“There is just no energy benefit to using plant biomass for liquid fuel,” Pimentel says.

Ethanol: Frequently Asked Questions

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