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Greater Use of Ethanol Fuel Could Drive New Markets for Corn

I’m Steve Ember with the VOA Special English Agriculture Report.

The American Midwest is known as the corn belt. Most of the nation’s maize is grown along that stretch of the country. The farmers who grow the corn have been very successful. So successful, they now face oversupply and low prices.

Most of the corn goes to feed animals. But some of it goes into cars and trucks as ethanol fuel. Some farmers hope greater use of ethanol will drive new markets for corn.

Ethanol is made from plant matter that contains complex carbohydrates, or starch. Starch breaks down into simple sugars. And yeast organisms break down the sugars into alcohol.

Ethanol has a long history. It is ethyl alcohol, also called grain alcohol, the same kind found in alcoholic drinks.

Corn is not the only crop that can be used to make ethanol. Barley, wheat, even the leaves and stalks of corn, rice and sugar cane can be used.

In some parts of the country, fuel companies are required to add ethanol to gasoline as a way to reduce air pollution. The United States Department of Energy says many automobiles can run on ten percent ethanol without any need for changes.

The government has supported the development of vehicles with the ability to use a mixture called E-eighty-five. It is eighty-five percent ethanol and fifteen percent gasoline.

Some people may not even know that their cars and trucks have this ability. Many of these vehicles are common models made by Chrysler, Ford and General Motors.

A number of state laws support the use of ethanol. So does federal law. The Energy Policy Act of two thousand five requires the production of fifteen thousand million liters of renewable fuels this year. There are also tax reductions for ethanol makers, farmers and buyers of vehicles that can run on E-eighty-five.

Some experts, however, say they are concerned that using food crops to make fuel is bad policy. Some say it might use more energy than it produces. Others say using a lot of corn for fuel might shrink food supplies. But the process that separates starch to make ethanol, called wet milling, uses only part of the corn.

Plant-based fuels are not new. For many years Brazil has used fuel made with alcohol from sugar cane.

This VOA Special English Agriculture Report was written by Mario Ritter. Our reports are online at I'm Steve Ember.