It's good to recognize April 22 as "Earth Day," but it's even better if the attitude of caring for our Earth can be carried through in our actions every day of the year. To me, one of the simplest ways to protect the planet is the choices we make at the gas pump.
It's a simple choice -- ethanol or oil. And the reality is that ethanol is clean and getting cleaner, and oil is dirty and getting dirtier. Consider these facts:
The efficiency of corn-based ethanol in the United States is improving nearly every day. For example, between 2001 and 2008:
- Ethanol yield per bushel of corn increased by 6.4%
- Total energy use (fossil fuel and electricity) decreased 21.8%
- Grid electricity use decreased 15.7%
- Water consumption decreased 26.6%
(Source: Argonne National Laboratory)
The corn used as today's ethanol feedstock is becoming more environmentally friendly as well. For example, between 1987 and 2007, corn's impacts dropped across all these categories:
- 37% less land needed to produce one bushel of corn
- 69% less soil loss per bushel
- 27% less irrigation water use per bushel
- 37% less energy used to produce one bushel
- 30% fewer emissions per bushel
And as new sources of ethanol, like cellulosic ethanol, come online, the environmental benefits will be even better. Corn-based ethanol today represents a 48% to 59% reduction in direct greenhouse gas emissions over gasoline, and cellulosic ethanol is expected to reduce emissions by twice again as much.
In comparison, petroleum's profile is only getting worse. As we use up the oil that's easy to get at, we must drill deeper and explore farther -- all at a greater cost to the environment. Take the Canadian oil sands, for example.
These photos from National Geographic speak a thousand words about where our oil is now coming from and the huge toll it has on the environment. A few photo captions worth sharing:
"Canada's oil sands are layers of sticky, tarlike bitumen mixed with sand, clay, and water. Around a hundred feet of oil must be stripped off to reach many deposits."
"About two tons of bitumen-laden sand are required to produce a single barrel of oil, but it's no straight line from the mine to the gas tank. After being separated from its sandy matrix in a hot water wash, bitumen is transferred to upgrading facilities like Syncrude's, where it is heated and processed in order to break its long, heavy chain of hydrocarbon molecules. Carbon is removed, hydrogen is added, and the new, lighter product is transformed into synthetic crude oil. From there the oil can be further refined into gasoline or jet fuel."
All of this before the oil is even turned into gasoline. What kind of fuel do you want in your tank? Think "Earth Day" next time you fill up, and choose ethanol-blended fuel.
Posted by: Kristin Brekke