Saturday, February 18, 2006

The Wrong Cure for an Addiction

Ethanol is getting increasing attention as the cure to our country's oil ills, but I continue to ask, why? This article in today's Washington Post reports that tens of new ethanol plants are under construction as states and localities turn to the gasoline additive more and more to replace the toxic MTBE. California two years ago passed a law requiring state refineries to mix a certain amount of ethanol in their formulas, and that has been followed by similar moves from other states. And, as has been the case for years, industry proponents are lobbying to make ethanol a full replacement for oil-based fuel.

But there are, of course, a number of problems with the corn-based fuel. First off, it takes an astounding 29 percent more energy to produce it in fuel form than it provides cars and trucks once in gas tanks. It provides less energy than gasoline and its benefits for the environment are questionable -- numerous experts actually say it produces more emissions than regular old gasoline.

It may well help us kick our Mid-East oil addiction (though the Post article questions whether producers will be able to put out much more than about 15 billion gallons of the fuel per year once all of these new factories come online -- we use about 140 billion gallons of gasoline per year currently). But as long as we're searching for fuel alternatives, let's pick the technology that will best solve our geopolitical and environmental problems at the same time.


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