Is Corn-Based Ethanol the Best Move?

Is Corn-Based Ethanol the Right Move?


A View
June 1, 2007

Anyone who questions the value of corn-based ethanol, even when it is based on sound quantitative argument, is shamed by others – a politically correct thing to do.

A recent study at MIT shows why studies come up with contradictory conclusions about ethanol as an alternative energy source.

Is ethanol a fuel source or a fuel sponge?

To calculate whether ethanol is a suitable alternative energy source, scientists use inputs such as fertilizer amount, farm machinery expense, cost of processing corn to ethanol, the efficiency of ethanol to convert to usable energy, energy costs to transport corn to ethanol plants, etc.

These inputs, however, are not fixed numbers. For example, how much fertilizer is needed to produce a bushel of corn is dependent on the fertility of the land on which it is grown. Therefore, when uncertainties are accounted for, and depending on which boundary of the uncertainty you use, you can come up with an argument for or against corn-based ethanol.

Now before any reader shames me for making the argument using probabilistic models, scientists to argue that humans are responsible for global warming use the same modeling technique.

We need to have an open mind and continue to encourage good science and leave the politics and mass hysteria aside.

Michael Crichton, the author of State of Fear, reminds us quietly of Alston Chase cautioning us, “When the search for truth is confused with political advocacy, the pursuit of knowledge is reduced to the quest for power.”

CITATION: Autar Kaw, “Is Corn-Based Ethanol the Right Move?”, A View, June 1, 2007, last accessed at