With cellulosic ethanol, there is no food vs. fuel debate according to MSU scientist

March 27, 2007

As more and more corn grain is diverted to make ethanol, there have been public concerns about food shortages. However, ethanol made from cellulosic materials instead of corn grain, renders the food vs. fuel debate moot, according to research by a Michigan State University ethanol expert.

Bruce Dale, an MSU chemical engineering and materials science professor, has used life cycle analysis tools, which include agricultural data and computer modeling, to study the sustainability of producing biofuels – fuels such as ethanol and biodiesel that are made from renewable resources.

Dale will present his findings today at the American Chemical Society annual meeting in Chicago.

"We grow animal feed, not human food in the United States," Dale said. "We could feed the country's population with 25 million acres of cropland, and we currently have 500 million acres. Most of our agricultural land is being used to grow animal feed. It's a lot simpler to integrate animal feed production into cellulosic ethanol production than it is to integrate human food production. With cellulosic ethanol, the 'food vs. fuel' debate goes away."

Cellulosic ethanol is made from the stems, leaves, stalks and trunks of plants, none of which is used for human food production. Having studied ethanol for more than 30 years, Dale said that as the country moves toward large-scale cellulosic ethanol production, the yield of so-called energy crops – grasses and woody materials grown for their energy content – also will increase dramatically.

"This will reduce pressure on our land resources," said Dale, who also is associate director of the MSU Office of Biobased Technologies. "We'll be able to get more raw material out of one acre of land."

Dale said that many of these energy crops will be grown on land that isn't prime agricultural acreage. In other words, they'll be grown on marginal land that isn't growing a commercial crop right now.

"The evidence indicates that large-scale biofuel production will increase, not decrease, world food supplies by making animal feed production much more efficient," Dale said.

Source: Michigan State University

Explore further: Study shows how crop prices and climate variables affect yield and acreage

Related Stories

Weevils no match for apple export industry

November 12, 2015

Good news for Pink Lady apple fans, as researchers have found a solution to eradicating weevils that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars for Western Australian apple exports.

It's time to stop thinking in terms of food versus fuel

September 14, 2015

Whether you have taken a side or a backseat in the discussion, the "food versus fuel" debate affects us all. Some say growing more biofuel crops today will decrease greenhouse gas emissions, but will make it harder to produce ...

Tequila plant shows promise for biofuel

October 7, 2015

A desert plant, best known for producing tequila in Mexico, shows promise as a source of biofuel and other biochemical products, according to University of Adelaide research.

Recommended for you


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.