Cellulosic Ethanol: The Bio-Fuel that Really Makes Sense

Comments Off on Cellulosic Ethanol: The Bio-Fuel that Really Makes Sense
Cellulosic Ethanol: The Bio-Fuel that Really Makes Sense

If you make the statement that we, as a nation, need to wean ourselves from foreign oil, you'll get virtually no argument.  Initiate a discussion on how to accomplish it, and that's when the disagreements begin.

One alternative that many people advocated and promoted to the point of garnering government subsidies is the production of ethanol from corn.  Most of the ethanol added to gasoline comes from the starch and sugar in corn, sugar beets, sugar cane, and other food crops.

Despite dire warnings about its limitations and drawbacks, ethanol has become a mainstay in supplementing our nation's supplies of gasoline.

But now, as the realities play out, the arguments for corn ethanol are beginning to unravel, along with support for the subsidies necessary to keep it commercially viable.  In particular, corn ethanol's sustainability is being questioned, as well as its impact on food prices and its effect on the availability of food.

In 2010, for example, the U.S. ethanol industry was consuming 41 percent of America's corn.  Even to many former supporters of corn ethanol production, this level of consumption was just intuitively wrong.

DailyFinance.com1 recently reported on a study conducted by Tad Patzek, a geo-engineering professor at the University of California-Berkeley.  That study calculated the high level of energy needed to drive the process.  These calculations show that the total energy expended to farm the corn, plus the energy expended in its post-harvest processing, is six times greater than the energy the fuel delivers to somebody's automobile.

Yet another recent study — using detailed irrigation data from 41 states — from scientists in Minnesota, estimates bio-ethanol's impact on the water supply.  The study, reported in Environmental Science & Technology,2 concluded that the production of bio-ethanol may consume up to three times more water than previously thought.

In light of these and many other studies, support is waning for corn ethanol, once regarded by many as the clean-burning energy source of the future.

Evidence of this flagging support came in December, when the lame-duck Congress voted to extend a controversial ethanol tax credit for an additional year.  Although it passed, it did so against more vocal opposition than usual.

Even Al Gore issued a public apology for his own years of support of this industry.3 His rationale is very telling:  He admitted that one of his reasons for supporting early ethanol efforts was his own political ambition...

To continue reading, become a paid subscriber for full access.
Already a Trends Magazine subscriber? Login for full access now.

Subscribe for as low as $195/year

  • Get 12 months of Trends that will impact your business and your life
  • Gain access to the entire Trends Research Library
  • Optional Trends monthly CDs in addition to your On-Line access
  • Receive our exclusive "Trends Investor Forecast 2015" as a free online gift
  • If you do not like what you see, you can cancel anytime and receive a 100% full refund