02 May 2011


      You've seen it on TV. You've read it in the newspaper. The headlines read “Too much ethanol could lead to food riots” and “Ethanol pumping up food prices”1. News pundits and doomsday theorists would have us believe that if we keep using ethanol for fuel, the whole world will starve 2. Several sites 3 tout all the disadvantages of ethanol; higher prices than gasoline, loss of farmland, rain forests sacrificed. If you look at all of these resources closely, you will notice that most specify CORN-BASED ETHANOL and almost none of them tell you that not only is corn not the only source available, it's not even the best.
     Ethanol can be produced from any source of simple sugars4, and even things that can be broken down into sugars such as certain starches and cellulose from plain old lawn clippings. Just today, I watched a History Channel program on biofuels, which in part talked about using termites in the process. While ethanol from cellulose is still experimental and quite expensive, progress is being made which shows promise of making the food-or-fuel debate moot.
      Obviously, since the ethanol is produced from sugar, the higher the sugar content of a plant the more ethanol can be produced from it. Sugar cane and sugar beets are at the top of the list, but both take up a lot of farm land also suitable for food crops. So, is there any crop that can be grown without tyeing up valuable food acreage? Yes!
      Carrots5. Carrots have a higher natural sugar content than all other vegetables with the exception of beets6. Carrots have 10% more sugar than corn per gram7. AND...an acre of carrots produces over 3 times the product in weight than an acre of corn8. Those facts in themselves make the lowly carrot a much better candidate to scoot your Chevy or Ford down the road. An excerpt from the ETHANOL PRODUCER'S DATA BASE shows:

  Feedstock listed in 
Alphabetical order

per Ton
per Acre
  Best yield
per Ton
 Best Yield
per Acre
All around
click HERE for complete table
From this table it would seem that carrots run a poor showing when compared to corn.
      But there's more to the story than what is seen here.
      To now, I have compared acre to acre and pound to pound; also know as an “acre harvest”. To get the true picture, one also has to consider the “harvest year”. That is; how many times can that same acre be harvested in any given year. This, times the acre harvest gives a true annual yield. Carrots come out on top every time.
      In about half of the country, you can get 2 harvests of carrots per year if grown traditionally; ie. in the ground outside9. That in itself would give 242 gal/acre according to the above chart. That is a 12% increase over corn.
      There is, however, another way to grow carrots (as well as radishes, potatoes and many other root crops). It's called hydroponics10. This can be done vertically (stacked troughs) as easily as horizontally, giving a much larger yield. Stacked 3 high, 1 acre of ground can give about 2 acres of crop (space must be provided for equipment and your feet).
      Additionally, because the growing area is artificial as opposed to valuable farm land, it can be done anywhere. Even in the rockiest, most worthless land you can find. As long as there is water available, a hydroponic system can be run. So much for eating up farmland and starving the masses.
      The other big objection given about ethanol production is the energy required for the distillation process. That energy is used in the form of heat to separate the ethanol from the fermented corn, carrots or whatever you're using as raw material, and can be created from almost anything that will burn. Yes; petroleum and coal can be used. They pollute, are non-renewable and expensive. So is there another, better way?
      Methane! Methane is a natural byproduct of organic decomposition11. It is also the primary component of natural gas12. In other words; it will be produced. We can let it go into the atmosphere as a greenhouse gas, or we can burn it, extract the energy, and pollute a lot less.

      The NEW SCIENTIST on-line publication says:Methane generated by rotting rubbish in landfill dumps could make a far greater contribution to the world's energy supply”13 and the WIH RESOURCE GROUP reports:Food that is mixed in with regular trash is estimated to make up about 40% of the trash in landfills. It also is the biggest offender in creating landfill methane which is a powerful greenhouse gas – 72 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. Reducing landfill methane is just one of the benefits of keeping this type of waste out of landfills.” 14
      Using garbage to turn into ethanol a crop that grows anywhere and gives 4 to 5 times the yield of fuel over corn makes economic, environmental and political sense. The reason you don't hear a lot about using carrots is precisely because it can be done cheaper and easier than corn and carrots can be produced without driving up prices and garnering a lot of political controversy. As long as corn prices remain artificially inflated, congressmen get regular contributions to their coffers. That will keep corn in the forefront and other crops, including carrots out of the spotlight.

At least that's my opinion. What's yours?
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For more information on ethanol production in the USA, please visit:

If you're interested in home fuel-ethanol production, see:

Valuable information regarding home production of methane can be found at:


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Carrots are an excellent crop for ethanol. Also, switchgrass is a very good, high yield crop that can grow in harsh environments that other food crops do not grow well in.