The Dead Zone and the Ugly Side of Ethanol

corn1 The Dead Zone and the Ugly Side of Ethanol

We need to reduce our dependency on foreign oil, right? We need to curb CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions, too, correct? Mixing corn-based ethanol into gasoline is currently the most popular solution to these problems, but the environmental costs are adding up – thousands of miles from the Corn Belt in the Gulf of Mexico.

MSNBC recently reported that a 7600 square-mile area surrounding the Mississippi’s outlet in the Gulf of Mexico has become a “Dead Zone” where virtually no oxygen-breathing life can survive. And the problem isn’t a local one. The problem stems from the booming corn-growing industry in the Midwest. A bushel of corn brings in nearly double what it did just 5 years ago – due largely to the growth of ethanol as an oil alternative – and farmers are planting more than they have since WWII.

To make corn grow profitably however, farmers must use millions of pounds of nitrogen fertilizer, which is poorly absorbed by the corn. The excess finds its way into the Mississippi and eventually to the Gulf of Mexico at a rate of 210+ million pounds per year. Excess nitrogen promotes algae growth that then dies and absorbs oxygen as it sinks, creating an oxygen-depleted layer near the bottom of the ocean and killing everything that can’t swim away. No one is able to accurately predict future effects if ethanol really booms, but the outlook for the sea is bleak.

Is ethanol sustainable? There are millions of crabs and shellfish that would tell you no.

May the solution lies in reducing our dependency on the internal combustion engine, rather than just switching our addiction from dinosaur grease to “alternative” combustible fuels. Get your batteries ready.



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