Friday, November 30, 2007

Ethanol Craze Cools as Doubts Multiply

Ethanol Craze Cools as Doubts Multiply
Wall Street Journal

It seems that the use of ethanol as a clean fuel source is under fire due to rising food price, the concern for straining our already dwindling water supply and the type of pollution caused by burning ethanol with gasoline. Ethanol is perceived to be the temporary solution to the United States oil dependence and is the cornerstone President Bush's plan to reduce use of foriegn oil. Currently, proponents of ethanol are pushing to have oil refiners blend more ethanol into gasoline but opponents from various food producers and livestock farmers are grabbing the attention of Congress as well.

Etter of the WSJ states, "the U.S. gives oil refiners an excise-tax credit of 51 cents for every gallon of ethanol they blend into gasoline. And even though it's the oil industry that gets this subsidy, the industry dislikes being forced to use a nonpetroleum product. The U.S. ethanol industry is further protected by a 54-cent tariff on every gallon of imported ethanol.The ethanol tax credit will bring refiners an estimated $3.5 billion this year"

Using ethanol gives oil refiners incentive to use the product but environementalists and energy experts are questioning the tradeoffs of ethanol use. They are mainly concerned with the use water and fertiliziers it takes to grow corn to produe ethanol.

Etter of the WSJ also states, "back in early 2005, President Bush gave ethanol a boost in his State of the Union speech by calling for "strong funding" of renewable energy. Energy legislation that summer required oil companies to blend a total of 7.5 billion gallons of "renewable" fuels into the nation's fuel supply by 2012. The legislation also effectively extinguished ethanol's chief competitor as a clean-burning additive, methyl tertiary-butyl ether, which had groundwater-pollution issues. The bill anointed ethanol as the default additive and instantly created demand nearly double what was produced that year."

By forcing the use of ethanol, the U.S. has artifically created a demand that they may not have anticipated to create the tough choice between energy security and food security.

Etter writes, "a study coauthored by Nobel-prize-winning chemist Paul Crutzen said corn ethanol might exacerbate climate change as the added fertilizer used to grow corn raised emissions of a very potent greenhouse gas called nitrous oxide. The ethanol industry replies to that one with an Energy Department study concluding that use of ethanol reduces greenhouse-gas emissions by 18% to 28% on a per-gallon basis, provided that coal isn't used to run ethanol plants.

Opponents of ethanol also have hammered on an Agriculture Department projection that by 2010, less than 8% of the U.S. gasoline supply will come from corn-based ethanol -- and 30% of the corn crop will be used to make it. That suggests to some that the tradeoff between food and fuel is unbalanced.

The government of Quebec, which has offered loan guarantees for corn ethanol plants, recently decided not to initiate any new ones. Instead it will turn its attention to so-called cellulosic ethanol, which would be made from switchgrass, wood chips or other plant matter. It concluded that "the environmental costs of corn ethanol are higher than expected," says a spokesman for the province's minister of natural resources."

It seems that there might be a better option to helping the environment through different fuel sources. The U.S. is trying to find that diamond in the rough to help combat the rising prices of oil. Ethanol seems to be the wrong answer for the fight against oil dependence. The U.S. may need to ditch the idea and look elsewhere ... perhaps the car that uses air pressure for an energy source or hydrogen fuel cells.

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