Corn Vs. Cellulose: And The Winner Is?
Ethanol: Fact vs. Myth
Learn the truth about ethanol...
Critics that attack corn-based ethanol in favor of cellulosic ethanol need to develop a better understanding of how corn-based ethanol and cellulosic ethanol go hand-in-hand into the winner's circle. Corn-based ethanol has paved the way for the accelerated development of cellulosic ethanol. Ethanol has had to overcome several marketplace hurdles and had to develop the legislative support infrastructure, which if it were not in place, would create a much longer and riskier bridge to the commercialization of cellulosic ethanol. For example, corn-based ethanol has:
- Established automaker acceptance of gasoline/ethanol blends and alternative fuel vehicle production (i.e., FFVs and E85).
- Created a competitive fuel market for the first time in 100 years of gasoline dominance. Corn-based ethanol also helped establish laws to prevent major oil companies from stopping their distributors from selling ethanol.
- Helped our government leaders understand that federal and state legislative support is necessary to make it profitable and possible to sell ethanol.
- Paved the way to get government funding and support for cellulosic conversion technology.
- Has improved and proven the fermentation and drying processes that will be used by cellulosic ethanol plants.
- Paved the way to for the expansion of nation’s renewable fuel standard and requirements for cellulosic conversion technology in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.
- Paved the way to for the expansion of state renewable fuel standard (e.g., MN) and requirements for federal RFS requirements.
- It is also paving the road for the cellulose feedstock collection and process which will likely first happen around large and established scale corn-based ethanol plants.
- Created the next likely line up of licensers for the new cellulosic technologies being developed today.
- Paved the way for the acceptance of the use by Indy race cars which can prove ethanol’s performance and lead to more acceptance by the public.
- Corn ethanol is a small part of corn growing strategy and markets – but makes it profitable to growers, saves government payments to farmers, and keeps food production acres and farmers in business.
The excitement over cellulosic ethanol is still about the success and potential of ethanol, which in any other form of production, is still ethanol.
If we choose to throw out corn-based ethanol in favor of cellulosic ethanol, what are our alternatives?
- Close down the $20 billion in economic activity currently being generated by corn-ethanol plants.
- Return to using more carcinogenic gasoline?
- Return to using more crude oil imports from unstable countries that hate us?
- Don’t use ethanol and accelerate the supply/demand imbalance for crude oil, and increase gasoline prices?
- Let farmers go back to relying on federal payments and force them to sell their land to corporate farms and accelerate urban sprawl?
- Cut government programs by $6 billion so we can get back to business of paying farmers not to grow crops?
What was done.
The recent Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 addresses many concerns about corn by limiting its use and sets extra market based rewards for ethanol made from cellulose that can prove it uses less energy when compared to gasoline.
We did it.
The democratic process created new performance metrics for ethanol feedstocks based on public and scientific concerns. Entrepreneurs, universities, the federal government, and even General Motors are now taking financial risks to accelerate the cellulosic development process to reap the rewards of cleaner burning and cheaper transportation fuels. Congress has also protected the nation's $20 billion corn-based infrastructure that will soon prove to be an integral part of the success and rapid growth of cellulosic ethanol.
What I think we should we do next?
Corn-based ethanol brought cellulosic technology to the alternative fuels dance and we should all be doing the two step – first step ethanol, second step cellulose. Cellulosic ethanol will answer many of the concerns of critics over ethanol's ability to significantly and sustainably become an important component of our nation's energy strategy. We should all move forward with enthusiasm for corn-based ethanol, improvements in the process technology, the improved methods of growing of corn and other energy crops, and continue to develop cellulosic ethanol. Throwing out the corn-based ethanol before it reaches its full potential (e.g., cellulosic) is like turning off the old black and white TV before seeing HDTV. So stay tuned in to see more developments in ethanol and ethanol feedstocks.
What do you think we should do next?
We look forward to your comments and insights.
Director of Program Development