Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore has said he made a mistake promoting first generation corn ethanol during his presidential campaign in 2000.
Gore says he was more concerned with garnering votes from farmers in Tennessee and Iowa than with what was best for the environment. A clean energy enthusiast, Gore says corn ethanol is not a sustainable alternative to fossil fuels. The process of converting corn into ethanol is highly energy intensive and also requires using a food crop for fuel.
The food-versus-fuel debate is nothing new. However, it really exploded when the United States experiences record food prices. The biofuel industry was blamed for this. This year 41% of the United States’ corn crop, representing 15% of all corn produced on the planet will be converted into ethanol.
Corn ethanol received US$7.7 billion in subsidies from the U.S. government last year. These subsidies are up for renewal soon, and the debate has already become heated. Growth Energy, an organization representing ethanol producers in the United States, responded to Gore’s comments with this statement: “The contributions of first generation ethanol to our nation’s economy, environment and energy production are not a mistake, but a success story.”
Gore contends corn ethanol is negatively impacting food prices and that there are better biofuel solutions to be developed and supported: “I think second and third generation [biofuels] that don’t compete with food prices will play an increasing role, certainly with aviation fuels.”