Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Bush's ethanol future: realistic?

In a key point of tonight's State of the Union Address, President Bush offered up ethanol as an area of increased research and development with an eye towards drastically reducing our dependance on mid-east oil imports.

Many people were probably surprised to hear this. They'd probably also be surprised to know that there are already five million domestic passenger vehicles on the road today that can run on ethanol. Manufacturers have been offering the dual-fuel feature for some time without fanfare. I'm kind of a car guy, and I wasn't aware of this.

More fun ethanol facts from this Fortune Magazine article:

  • produces almost none of the emissions that cause global warming

  • can be made out of everything from prairie switchgrass and wood chips to corn husks and other agricultural waste.

  • reduces carbon emissions by more than 80% while eliminating entirely the release of acid-rain-causing sulfur dioxide.

  • Filling up on ethanol isn't new. Henry Ford's Model Ts ran on it.

  • today's gas stations can handle the most common mixture of 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline, called E85, with minimal retrofitting.

  • building a car that's E85-ready adds only about $200 to the cost.

  • Ethanol accounts for more than 40% of the fuel Brazilians use in their cars.

  • [new biotech] enzymes have cut the cost of making a gallon of cellulosic ethanol from $5 five years ago to 20 cents today.

Hm. Perhaps a dystopic Mad-Max future isn't inevitable after all.

[update]: USA Today has more interesting facts:

  • Ethanol yields roughly 26% more energy than it takes to produce it... Gasoline provides only about 84% of the energy required to produce it.

  • GM recently made V-6 engines in some Chevrolet Impalas and Monte Carlos E85-compatible. The automaker's important new 2007 SUVs being launched this year burn E85. So do Nissan Titan full-size pickups and some Chrysler and Dodge sedans, minivans and SUVs. Ford just added its best-selling F-150 pickup to the list.