Friday, July 20, 2007

Give Ethanol a Chance: The Case for Corn Based Fuel

Recently David Morris, co-founder and vice-president of the Institute for Local Self Reliance wrote an essay entitled, "Give Ethanol a Chance: The Case for Corn Based Fuel". He placed the article on, a well known, rather liberal news and policy discussion site.

In it, he asks "How did the use of ethanol end up alongside tyranny and torture as an evil to be conquered?". He noted how this clean burning renewable fuel has become the target of environmentalists, even though it solves many of the problems that have been identified as a problem. He then lays out the many reasons why ethanol should be embraced as a step towards a better future for our nation's energy independence. Among his key points of discussion:
I hope in the future we might engage in a more productive conversation and balanced discussion about the role of plants in a future industrial economy. To that end, I offer six propositions. I look forward to a debate on all or any one of these.
  • Sustainability requires molecules. Wind and sunlight are excellent energy sources, but they cannot provide the molecular building blocks that make physical products.
  • Wind and sunlight can only be harnessed for some form of energy (thermal, mechanical, electrical). Plants, on the other hand, can be used for many purposes: human nutrition, animal feed, pharmaceuticals, chemicals, clothing, building materials, fuels.
  • Corn is a transitional energy feedstock, but it has played a crucial role in creating the infrastructure for a carbohydrate economy.
  • Electricity, not biofuels, will be the primary energy source for an oil-free and sustainable transportation system. But biofuels can play an important role in this future as energy sources for backup engines that can significantly reduce battery costs and extend driving range.
  • Approach biofuels as an agricultural issue with energy security implications, not as an energy security issue with agricultural implications.
  • Support performance, not prescriptive standards.
He probably never imagined how negative the debate would be from an audience he thought would be supportive. It seems that a balanced discussion on renewable fuels is a tough act to pull off. No "green" is "green" enough. Every other form of energy always is better. They have no downsides. And everything else costs less and is the perfect fuel. The rest of the pundits seem to be of the mind that there are just too many people on this planet and we should roll back the clock and return to the good old days of ox and plow (while inconveniently forgetting about pest, disease, and mass starvation).

Seems that leadership is needed here. And it looks like our elected leaders are constructively helping to set the future with a sensible plan for renewable fuels, despite the noise from the left and the right.

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