Corn Ethanol Debate
Future Power or Future Problem?
Division of Molecular and Life Sciences
To what extent should corn be used for the production of ethanol? Are we better off producing corn for food or producing corn for fuel? This case study uses a technique called "intimate debate" (also known as "constructive controversy") in order to examine this issue. Each student participates in a set of mini-debates for which there is no audience. Students are paired with a teammate; these teams then take turns arguing each side of the issue while seated across from their opponents who do the same. The session concludes with opposing teams reaching consensus. Detailed instructions are included in the case handout to prepare students for the experience before debate day. This case was used successfully in a sophomore/junior level, general education, environmental biology course. It would fit appropriately into any college course that discusses environmental issues related to farming practices, land use, alternative fuels, renewable energy, or sustainability.
- Describe in writing three reasons why producing corn ethanol is sustainable and three reasons why it is not sustainable.
- Describe the process of producing ethanol from other biomass sources besides corn, like switchgrass, sugarcane, sugar beets or corn stover.
- Foster active and critical listening to two sides of an issue in order to use this information to decide which side to support.
- Learn that there are at least two sides to an issue and to respect and try to understand the viewpoints of both sides.
- Evaluate internet sources for credibility and accuracy and give reasons why one source may be better than another.
KeywordsEthanol; corn; farming practices; land use; agriculture; biofuel; renewable energy; government subsidies; octane; sustainability; oil; gasoline
Topical AreasPolicy issues, Regulatory issues
Educational LevelUndergraduate lower division, Undergraduate upper division
Type / MethodsIntimate Debate
Subject HeadingsAgriculture | Biotechnology | Environmental Science | Natural Resource Management |