Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Is burning Corn for home heating really Eco-Friendly?

Paynes Prairie, Florida.
All photos copyright 2007 Kristen S. Boyesen

I read with interest the article by Karen Farkas about burning corn as an eco-friendly heating fuel in today's Plain Dealer. Nowhere in the article was there any mention of the total picture of how corn is eco-friendly as compared to other fuels. The article said it was clean-burning, but did not take into account the carbon dioxide-load to the environment from cultivating, fertilizing, harvesting, processing, and transporting the corn. The chart comparing corn with electricity, natural gas, fuel oil, LP gas, wood, and wood pellets only listed efficiency, BTU's per unit, comparative amounts of fuel needed, and cost to purchase.

The concept of alternative energy came about mainly to be more gentle to the earth, but seems to have morphed into "use anything but oil no matter what".

How can we determine which actions we as individuals can do to be helpful to the planet if critical information is left off articles, studies, and comparison charts?

I want to know which of these fuels has the lowest overall negative impact on the health of the earth's atmosphere.

See my earlier essay "Corn for Fuel".


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Corn is better then several of the options for two main reasons:

-It grows fast, it takes years to get one decent tree for fuel 20+ years, depends on the type of tree too.

-We don't need to run around putting holes and pipelines in the earth to "extract" it.

There are two good ways to "burn" corn. Either corn oil combined with a few other ingredients that make it "biodisel" or converting the corn into Alcohol and burning it that way, (more research need to make the latter more stable and safe).

12:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry, I just saw the title said "Home heating" I was thinking cars, but my two main reasons are still valid.

12:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the biggest problem is you still need the same amount of energy to move the car/truck/whatever and even if we switched to corn there would not be enough land to grow enough corn to fill all the tanks. I think hydrogen would be the closest to an efficient fuel because it only produces water but unfortunately the tanks are dangerously combustible. If they figure out how to make the tanks though.. were set.

10:08 AM  
Blogger Kristen said...

Proxima and gr0undzer0,

Thanks for visiting and for your input. Proxima, you did, after your first comment, notice that this post was about corn for home heating. GZ has a good point about there not being enough land to grow corn as a total fuel alternative. I can offer no opinion on hydrogen, as it is out of my area of knowledge.

OK two things.

This current post was written as a letter to the editor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer in response to the article at the title link. I thought the writer was lacking in thoroughness in reporting and wanted to point that out. I only hear back from the newspaper when they are thinking of publishing my letters, and I have not yet heard back, and do not know if it will be in print. I wanted to speak my mind anyway, so posted it here.

The point of the post was to show how the information we receive in the media is flawed. The information I felt was missing from the article may have totally changed the direction of that article, but we have no way of knowing because the research was not done.

How many other commentaries, articles, and essays written and presented every day as fact, are missing important aspects that would totally change the understanding and the 'truth'?

The post was intended to spark thought on several levels. I should have been more clear that it was about home heating rather than fuel for vehicles, and that it's purpose was to comment on the article in the newspaper.

Corn ethanol as fuel for vehicles.

This one I really can climb onto a soap box for, and the full argument is at Corn for Fuel.

The quick answer is:
1) using cropland to grow corn for the sole purpose of making fuel for vehicles is immoral when there are so many hungry people in the world and when the same result (lower greenhouse gas emissions) can be achieved through more efficient use of petroleum products. I have no objection to using byproducts of food production or other 'waste' to make ethanol.

2) The plans are not just for using cropland already in use. I am not sure of the current status, but my last information was that land currently in 'land banks' in a natural condition were to be released for cropland so there would be more land to grow corn for ethanol production.

The net effect of growing corn for ethanol on previously 'wild' land is an addition to greenhouse gasses because the purifying ability of the 'wild' areas has been lost.

(As a side note, these areas were set aside because they were in critical areas to prevent erosion and to help keep rivers and streams pure and clean. So, now we get erosion and silty streams in addition to more greenhouse gasses.)

We on the entire planet must stop using energy supplies in such reckless ways, period, by requiring high efficiency vehicles, furnaces, and appliances. To do this there must be a change in consciousness for everyone who is a consumer.

The meaning of the word "consumer" has changed in recent years to be "a person with the right to get products they want at a reasonable price or at the highest quality or with guarantees of serviceability." It is about "rights."

The essential meaning of "consume" is for something to be "gone", or at least altered in such a way that it can no longer be used for it's original purpose.

A house "consumed" by fire is no longer a dwelling.

A planet "consumed" by human blindness is ........

11:27 AM  

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