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    Corn-based biofuel, fluke or future?

    Former advisor to British Prime Minister Tony Blair highly critical of U.S. recovery of energy and investment in food production.

    In 2008, an increase in production costs of grains and rice, coupled with American policies on foreign trade agreements triggered a hike in food prices.

    Before the food crisis, 1.3 billion are estimated to have been living on less than a half dollar a day. Those people suffer from malnutrition and die young. When the food prices went up that number rose to almost  2.5 billion.

    It is the bottom end of our societies where the impact is enormous

    At the Beyond Kyoto Conference on Climate Control in Aarhus, Professor Sir David King, Director of the Smith School for Enterprise and the Environment, Oxford University, addressed this issue.

    “As we move forward, we’re going to have to produce 50-55 percent more food crops by mid-century because of the burgeoning population and the higher level of aspiration of that population.”

    U.S. energy consumption is expected to increase another 18 percent by 2030.

    To help supplement that demand, the Obama administration is reaching out to the U.S. ethanol industry with $16.8 billion of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, according to their website.

    When asked about the narrow-minded focus the U.S. has on corn-based ethanol, King said it is fundamentally and totally misguided as an apparent means of dealing with the energy crisis, and does not address climate change, which in turn creates food production problems.

    “Using food production sources as a fuel production source is to further a real problem,” King said. “So, in converting the food crop part of the crop into biofuel, apart from sugar cane in selected areas of the world, I must suggest, is something that we should discard. And both in the United States and in Europe at the moment, we are encouraging the production of biofuel through legislation and biofuel production.”

    The U.S. Department of Energy’s stimulus package includes several provisions for renewable energy and biofuel industries. According to a press release, biofuel projects using technologies that are in the ‘pilot’ or ‘demonstration’ would be eligible for the new initiative if these technologies are determined to be bound for commercial success.

    Lawmakers hope that the projects might ultimately lead to substantial reductions in non-industry related greenhouse gas emissions.

    U.S. Agriculture Department Secretary, Tom Vilsack, told the International Centre for Trade and Sustainability that his department should research, develop, and promote ‘best practices’ to improve efficiency at corn-based ethanol plants.

    “We need to make sure that the biofuels industry has the necessary support to survive the recent downturn,” he said.

    It is without question that biofuel must continue to play a significant role to diversify energy sources in order to provide solutions to the food and energy crises.

    But Professor King still contests that the U.S. depends too heavily on the corn-based ethanol to help reduce their dependence on oil.

    “I’m not saying biofuels are the solution, I’m saying that we need every tool in the bag to tackle this very extensive problem,” he said. “And so even if biofuel is just one of these stabilization triangles to reduce us from the business as usual trajectory ahead, nevertheless, it’s one that we need to use if we are to stabilize.”

    By Yo Noguchi
    With sources from the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development and U.S. Department of Energy websites

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