Ethanol an Important Part of a Diversified Energy Solution

There are many reasons to support ethanol production, but a recent report highlights one of them—boosting domestic production over foreign energy sources. Ethanol keeps American dollars in the United States.

In looking at the economic impact of the ethanol industry, Economist John Urbanchuk, from the research and analysis firm LECG, found the production of nearly 6.5 billion gallons of ethanol means the United States needed to import 228.2 million fewer barrels of oil in 2007 to manufacture gasoline—the rough equivalent of 5 percent of total U.S. crude oil imports. The value of the crude oil displaced by ethanol amounted to $16.5 billion in 2007—money which stayed in the American economy.

In a recent address, President Bush signaled agreement and called for expanding biofuels, including ethanol.

“The vast majority of that ethanol is coming from corn, and that’s good,” he said March 5 at the Washington International Renewable Fuels Conference. “That’s good if you’re a corn grower. And it’s good if you’re worried about national security. I’d rather have our corn farmers growing energy than relying upon some nation overseas which may not like us. That’s how I view it.”

Besides keeping our fuel dollars in the United States, the ethanol industry supports nearly 240,000 U.S. jobs, directly and indirectly. And, even more important perhaps, ethanol returns more money—more than a billion dollars—to the federal treasury than the industry receives in tax credits.

And the benefits of ethanol don’t stop at the cash register. Ethanol provides a renewable, sustainable alternative to petroleum. On a life-cycle analysis basis, corn-based ethanol production and use reduces greenhouse gas emissions by up to 25 percent compared to gasoline production and use, while cellulosic ethanol use could reduce these gases by as much as 100 percent. When it comes to water use, ethanol wins again. It takes 3-4 gallons of water to produce a gallon of corn ethanol, and less than that for cellulosic ethanol, but it takes 44 gallons of water to refine a gallon of crude oil, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Further, we can expand the amount of ethanol blended into gasoline. Recently, the state of Minnesota released important research which shows we can expand the amount of ethanol blended into gasoline to at least 20 percent (referred to as E20) without harming vehicles or fueling equipment. Their yearlong study tested 40 pairs of vehicles and the impacts of E20 gasoline on metal, rubber and plastic materials. The conclusion: E20 fuels do not present problems for current automotive or fuel dispensing equipment, and E20 provided similar power and performance to E10 (10 percent ethanol-blended gasoline) fuel throughout an entire calendar year, which included a broad range of weather conditions.

Are there other better, biofuels out there? Cellulosic ethanol is a newer fuel which is getting widely acclaimed as more efficient to produce, but the industry is just beginning its work here.

Again, President Bush: “The best thing to do is not to retreat from our commitment to alternative fuels, but to spend research and development money on alternatives to ethanol made from other materials—for example, cellulosic ethanol holds a lot of promise. I’m sure there are people in the industry here who will tell you how far the industry has come in a very quick period of time.”

We recognize corn ethanol should only be part of a broader, more diversified solution to our country’s dependency on foreign oil. With their many benefits, economic as well as environmental, the vast array of biofuels, old and new, offers an important alternative which we as a nation cannot afford to pass up.

Post, opinion editorial by Byron Weathers, president of the Colorado Corn Growers Association

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