Sunday, April 19, 2009
Corn-Based Biofuels Spell Death for Gulf of Mexico
If the United States makes corn-based ethanol the centerpiece of its biofuel portfolio, the Gulf of Mexico's vast dead zone will expand and become impossible to control, says a study published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The United States now produces 6.5 billion gallons of renewable fuels each year -- a number expected to jump to 36 billion gallons by 2022.
Many plants, from switch grass to poplar trees, are potentially good sources of renewable fuel, especially if scientists figure how to process them more efficiently.
Corn, however, is almost universally regarded as an environmentally unfriendly crop that compares poorly to other biofuel sources and requires enormous quantities of fertilizers and pesticides to grow.
But in the United States, corn is king, and a combination of early adoption and agro-industry lobbying made it the most common plant-based fuel. If that trend continues, say sustainability scientists Simon Donner and Christopher Kucharik, fertilizer pollution will expand an oxygen-starved region in the Gulf of Mexico, spelling doom for crustaceans, fish and the people whose livelihoods depend on catching them.
The Painting is by Henri Rousseau