Critics Question U.S.'s Ability to Produce More Ethanol

Posted January 29, 2007

— In his State of the Union address, President Bush set a goal of reducing America's reliance on foreign oil by 20 percent over the next decade. Increased use of alternative fuels is one way to do that, but a popular bio-fuel might not be practical.

The Novozymes plant in Franklinton makes enzymes that help turn corn into fuel. Researchers there said they're ready to respond to Bush’s call to produce more alternative fuels like ethanol.

However, one of the biggest concerns about corn-based ethanol is the massive amount of corn needed to produce it. Many critics said the United State couldn’t produce the amount of corn it would take to make enough ethanol to fulfill demand.

The CATO Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington, said that for corn ethanol to displace gasoline in the U.S., all cropland would have to be dedicated to corn production, and 20 percent more corn would have to be found on top of that.

“The critics are right,” said Novozymes researcher Emmanuel Petiot. “There's not enough corn to fulfill President Bush's objectives of 35 billion gallons of ethanol by 2017. That's a fact.”

Novozymes officials said the company’s researchers are now working on making ethanol from wood chips, household trash, and agricultural waste. Economists said that's a good idea because even the limited production of corn-based ethanol is having an impact.

“We're already seeing corn prices going up, significantly, as we're using more corn now for ethanol,” said Michael L. Walden, a professor of agricultural and resource economics at North Carolina State University. “So that means it's already becoming more expensive to produce ethanol, and that'll begin to raise some food costs.”

Several investors are hustling to build ethanol plants in North Carolina. Some are banking on corn, others are planning to use wood chips. While critics have sounded the alarm, even backers admit the whole process will need much more work.

“Well, it's a lot of additional research and development that needs to take place in order for ethanol to be an economically viable solution for the industry, but we still strongly believe in it,” said Petiot.

Currently, North Carolina has 12 ethanol and 16 bio-diesel stations. The next pumps slated to come on line will open in the Charlotte area early this year.

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  • Subdivisions Jan 30, 2007

    This problem will fix itself. In my experience ethanol cuts mileage by about 30%. Once people see that, demand will drop and producing enough for those dumb enough to keep using it won't be a problem.

  • yellowhorses Jan 30, 2007

    How about trash. We certainly have plenty of that.

  • sobercuban Jan 29, 2007

    Noooooo! My Exxon shares will plummit if we start moving away from oil!

    But wait! Then we wouldn't have ANY interest in the middle east and my friends could come home.
    We might also suddenly find Osama Bin Laden....

  • Sandtiger Jan 29, 2007

    The problem in my mind's eye is one of limited supply. Aren't we doing nothing more than substituting a limited resource (oil reserves) with ANOTHER limited resource (viable farm land?) To create ethanol we have to use some kind of a natural crop. This crop is grown on land that has a limited amount of use before the land is no longer viable.When we run low on viable farm land we clear more forests to get more wait...we don't have a whole lot of that left anymore...Why aren't we looking into harnessing energy from the things that are PLENTIFUL and NOT limited in resource? For example why aren't we using more SOLAR, WIND, or god forbid even WAVE energy??? All of these are sources without limit. We've been making major advances in solar cells recently that should make this a no-brainer.