Ethanol – A Logical Alternative

Ethanol, a logical alternative to petroleum, contributes to energy independence by allowing America to produce liquid energy from its own sustainable resources. It has been integrated into the nation’s gasoline distribution network and is now blended in 30% of its gasoline.

Ethanol is being used around the world in gasoline blends of 5.6%-85%. 40% of all new cars being sold in Brazil are capable of burning 100% ethanol and all gasoline sold there contains at least 25% ethanol.

Ethanol improves octane performance. Further, Michael Wang of the Argonne National Laboratory reports that cellulosic ethanol will achieve greenhouse gas (CO2) emission reductions of 85% per gallon of ethanol used to displace an energy-equivalent amount of gasoline. The greenhouse gas reductions from waste-derived ethanol would be even greater.

Currently, 110 American ethanol refineries have the capacity to produce 5.4 billion gallons of ethanol annually. Another 73 ethanol refineries and 8 expansions are under construction, more than a 50% increase in construction activity since mid-2006. These plants will yield an additional 6.0 billion gallons in annual ethanol production by 2008, exceeding by almost four billion gallons the 2012 Renewable Fuel Standard mandated by Congress in 2005.

However, the nation is just taking its first steps down the road to energy independence. Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and Nigeria—all of which are considered to be politically vulnerable—provide 38.2% of America’s oil imports and 22.6% of its total consumption. To replace America’s petroleum imports from these four nations would require 32 billion gallons.

True energy independence, i.e., generating all of the nation’s liquid energy from domestic sources, would require America to domestically produce the equivalent of 91 billion gallons of gasoline from sources other than petroleum.

Ethanol, to date, has been produced chemically from ethylene or biologically from the fermentation of sugars from carbohydrates found in agricultural crops like corn kernels. Thus far, sugar fermentation has been the only process to commercially produce ethanol from biomass. Historically, the industry has relied on state and federal subsidies, including a 51-cent per gallon federal subsidy and additional incentives ranging from five to 28-cents per gallon in the corn-producing states.

According to the USDA, 55 million tons of corn, or one fifth of America’s 268-million-ton harvest, were used to produce ethanol in 2006. New plant construction has already taken 2007 corn futures above $4.00 per bushel, a trend that is impacting the price of corn in livestock farming, food and exports, and which is placing the profitability of corn ethanol production at risk.

The National Academy of Sciences predicts that hydrogen-powered vehicles won’t be readily available for another 25 years, and before that time, the Natural Resources Defense Council estimates that Americans will buy 450 million new cars and trucks.

We live in a petroleum-based economy, and that is not going to change in the near future. America’s only solution is to blend an environmentally safe volume extender with gasoline to reduce the nation’s dependence on foreign oil and its cost of liquid energy. Only one substance can achieve this and that is ethanol—a motor fuel that is already integrated into the nation’s liquid energy distribution system.

The co-production of ethanol and electricity from organic wastes represents the world’s most immediate, economically viable and virtually untapped source of renewable energy.