Moving Beyond Ethanol
Twenty in 10
The catchy phrase used in the January 2007 State of the Union address, called for America to cut its gasoline consumption by 20 percent by 2017. It's an admirable goal, one that we should all embrace; achieving that goal may be easier said than done. So let's give the president a little credit for issuing this long-overdue energy challenge. Before we do though, we need to understand the math; the numbers are against us. America currently imports a staggering 14 million barrels of crude oil every day. According to the Energy Information Administration, that number has increased by some 3 million barrels just since Bush took office and it continues to grow.
The obvious first step in lowering our use in fossil fuels is to stop increasing consumption, but it's not that simple. Americans have a love affair with the automobile and most everyone likes to drive.
Driving requires a fuel source and the primary resource is fossil fuel. We need to develop and improve alternative fuel options and make them cost effective. You can bet that OPEC doesn't want this to happen; some would go so far as to say that major oil companies in the US the US are not very anxious to have the oil demand reduced as well.
Ethanol is the most popular alternative fuel to date, and most ethanol in the U.S. is made from corn. Corn based ethanol production may not be the best option due to several drawbacks. Corn based ethanol production requires another fuel source ( typically oil) in the process. The increased demand for corn has resulted in higher prices for the food staple resulting in hardships for many South American peoples.
North America does not have enough farmland to produce the amount of corn required to produce the ethanol needed in this energy goal. So, unless we're willing to turn over huge amounts of acreage to grow corn, corn ethanol alone can't possibly solve our energy needs. The ethanol infatuation already is driving up corn prices which many have blamed for the increasing prices in everything from milk and eggs to pet food.
Fortunately, there are other processes of making Cellulosic Ethanol from things like Switchgrass, and even the entire corn stalk which up until now has been plowed under. Other cellulose options are being developed but, they need more development to increase viability.
SafeRenewables, a Houston-based company that produces Biodiesel from Chicken Fat and soybean oil is at the forefront of the alternative energy revolution. The company is responsible for the nations first biodiesel generator that provides backup electricity for small city as well as selling electricity back into the Texas power Grid (ERCOT). If we're going to reduce our current dependence on fossil fuels, we need to think beyond ethanol. Biodiesel and other alternative fuel products will all play a part in reducing our nations dependence on fossil fuel.
Replacing gasoline is likely to require decades of research and development in alternative fuels from several different sources. Companies like SafeRenewables and Tyson foods are investing in biodiesel production because of the economics and other factors. Diesel engines are more efficient than gasoline engines, and biodiesel fuel has a higher energy content than ethanol. Still, a combination of ethanol and biodiesel production may not resolve our energy needs entirely. There are other alternative energy options available including propane fuel, electric cars, and hydrogen fuel cells which are also in various stages of development.
The Tax Factor
Congress may increase the push for alternatives even further. Some experts have called for increasing the gasoline tax and the higher-polluting fuels sold once the new alternatives came are more prominent. That, they argue, could be more effective than the subsidies that are already in place when it comes to changing America's energy consumption habits.
The Presidential Address also outlined stricter fuel-efficiency standards for automobiles, which is considered to be the most important elements of the proposal. Advances in fuel efficiency and automobile aerodynamics have been our biggest weapon against the increasing gasoline demand yet, our passion for gas guzzling SUVs and other fuel thirsty vehicles continues to work against our long-term energy reduction goals. The IRS allows for a Tax Credit on the purchase of hybrid vehicles which helps to encourage people to buy the more efficient cars.
And let's not forget conservation. Bush didn't say much about it, but conservation is the secret weapon in the search for new Renewable Energy Sources. On conservation, the law of large numbers works in our favor.
For example, a 2004 study by the National Transportation Operations Coalition found that implementing synchronized traffic signals would save about 17 billion gallons of fuel every year. This would also reduce harmful emissions by 22 percent, lower traffic delays by as much as 40 percent, as well as decrease the number of frustrated drivers (road rage) on the roads.
You can consider increasing energy alternatives as a strategic need, reducing our dependence on foreign fuel, or even as a national security need, but the biggest needs are economic and environmental.
In 2006, the price spikes following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, illustrate the economic vulnerability to the slightest disruptions in our energy supply chain. Rising worldwide demand and the threat from natural disasters and geopolitical strife only helps to keep oil prices high.