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November 7, 2005 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 83, Issue 45

Confusion over corn

In this “Information Age,” it is discouraging to read that we don’t even have an approximate answer to the question of whether ethanol derived from corn provides more energy to vehicles than the energy used to produce it (C&EN, Sept. 12, page 28).

One might expect modest differences in estimates made in calculating the energy used in growing corn and obtaining ethanol from it. But compared with the Department of Agriculture’s calculation that ethanol yields 67% more energy than is used to produce it, Argonne National Laboratory finds only a 35% increase and a Cornell research study finds a 27% negative energy yield. I am wondering if somehow we will get an analysis of these conflicting reports that will provide the public and legislators with a trustworthy answer.

The statement by Bruce E. Dale, professor of chemical engineering at Michigan State University, that “ethanol certainly displaces imported oil” is probably correct if coal or natural gas is the fuel used in the ethanol production. But from the global warming perspective, it is the energy balance that is most important. We need to know for sure if we are adding more or less carbon dioxide to the atmosphere when we use ethanol as an additive to fuel for vehicles. And we need to know how this ratio varies depending on the type of fuel used for ethanol production.

John Burton
Washington, N.J.

Your article on corn-based ethanol, “Ethanol Wins Big In Energy Policy,” was informative on government policy and on the controversies related to the energy demand in production.

To complement your picture, I wish to point out that Brazilian cane-sugar-based ethanol is much less expensive than the U.S. corn-based product, if government subsidies are ignored. The advantages of ethanol are that it helps to reduce our dependence on Middle Eastern oil and that it replaces toxic methyl tert-butyl ether gasoline additives. Unfortunately, ethanol fuel does not provide any benefit relative to gasoline for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Much CO2 evolves during fermentation. Also, for an equal amount of energy, combustion of ethanol produces more CO2 than gasoline.

John L. Gardon
Bloomfield Hills, Mich.

More job-hunt woes

I must concur with F. William Weaver’s letter,“Where are the jobs?” (C&EN, Sept. 19, page 43). While my situation is not as bleak as his, the parallels are disturbingly close.

I graduated with my Ph.D. in physical chemistry three years ago from an Ivy League school, and aside from adjunct teaching, I have been unable to find a job in industry. I have a house, a wife, and children, so relocating is not an option. I live in one of the leading areas of the chemical industry; thousands of companies are within commuting distance. I have attended ACS conferences and my local ACS Careers in Transition Group, which have definitely polished my résumé and improved my marketability, but all to no avail. The Indicator, a publication of the ACS New York and North Jersey Sections, no longer has a “career opportunities” section, because after months of not having a single job posting, the editors realized that there are no career opportunities in the New York-North Jersey area.

It would be useful for C&EN to provide surveys of the human resources departments of a range of chemical companies. Applications are sent as requested, and automated replies are the only feedback. One never knows if the reason for being rejected is that the position went to a better candidate; if it went to a weaker candidate with a polished résumé; if it went to a foreign H-1 visa candidate at two-thirds the usual salary after all U.S. and permanent resident applicants were found to be “inadequate”; if the position was only advertised to fulfill a legal requirement, but with no intent to offer it to someone besides the chosen applicant; or if the position was not filled for any variety of reasons. It is common to spend several hours or even days applying for a job, and it is frustrating not to know why one’s efforts were for naught.

Finally, some advice to the Weavers of the world: Keep trying; someday, some faceless human resources person will realize you are a bargain. Minimize your use of the Internet; it is a poor tool for acquiring jobs. Invest in a good job-search book, such as “What Color Is Your Parachute?” by Richard N. Bolles, and follow all the advice therein. Best of luck.

Robert G. Butler
Passaic, N.J.



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