Fuel of the Future

Cindy Zimmerman

Here are a couple of recent editorials from the Des Moines Register that hit on the issue of corn ethanol being only the beginning for curing our addiction to oil.

“Ethanol is just the beginning” notes the obvious – “grain-based ethanol cannot be anything more than a supplement. It can never totally replace gasoline.”

It then goes on to say the expectation is that the feedstock for ethanol will expand far beyond corn. Cellulosic ethanol made from perennial crops such as switchgrass, from trees and wood chips, from crop residue including corn stover, will have a better net-energy balance than today’s ethanol and will be more plentiful… The government estimates that the nation could produce enough cellulosic ethanol to displace 30 percent of petroleum consumption.

In Sunday’s DMR, ISU professor Robert Brown says the 30 percent figure is from a joint Department of Energy-U.S. Dept. of Agriculture “billion ton” study that actually underestimates the potential of biomass to replace gasoline consumption in the United States.

According to Brown, “the 1.3 billion tons of biomass identified in the DOE-USDA study could displace as much as 66 percent of our current gasoline demand.”

Now that would be significant. Yes, it will take a few years, but this is what people in the ethanol industry are talking about. Corn ethanol is just the beginning.