The United States is lucky enough to have an abundance of arable farm land spread out across the nation. To some, that means we should be able to grow our own fuel via alternatives like biodiesel or ethanol. But a recent study suggests that 80% of the land currently used for food production would have to be converted to dedicated bioenergy crops in order to meet current government-set targets.
The 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act (or EISA) mandates an increasing amont of biofuels to be blended into the domestic fuel supply. For 2012, the mandate calls for 15.2 billion gallons of biofuels (in this case, ethanol) to be mixed into the fuel supply. But, with the recent end of the VEETC ethanol blending credit, and Congress’s refusal to approve E15 usage in modern vehicles, reaching these goals probably wasn’t going to happen anyways.
Now a study by the University of Montana says that in order to meet the EISA mandates using current technology, 80% of the current recovered harvest would have to be dedicated to bioenergy crops like sugar beets, corn, and switchgrass. Another option would be to convert 60% of the total managed range land in the U.S. to dedicated bioenergy crops.
In other words, that’s a whole lot of land not growing food. I have no doubt that there is a place for ethanol in America’s energy policy, but it will have to be a delicate balance between food and fuel production.