December 15, 2005

Wisconsin AB 15: Biofuels In Our Future

As many biofuels skeptics are learning, there is more than one way to produce ethanol - "Don't stop with corn." Here is an editorial in a Midwestern newspaper that casts the issue in a proper light - think beyond the present technology toward development of a breakthrough solution.

In a turnaround, the editorial department of The Capital Times decided that Wisconsin Assembly Bill AB 15 (a measure to mandate that automotive fuel in Wisconsin gasoline contain roughly 10% ethanol) deserved their support. Ethanol is a great renewable fuel, so focus should be on supporting development of production techniques that further reduce costs and increase benefits. The next challenge is to identify the right combination of feedstock and production process that makes economic sense for each market.

Biofuels In Our Future

The Capital Times :: EDITORIAL

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Last winter, when a bill was introduced in the state Legislature that would require a 10 percent ethanol blend be sold at all Wisconsin gas stations, we expressed reservations. Proponents claim E-10 would reduce fossil fuel use but, in fact, manufacturing ethanol from corn is a very energy-intensive process.

Today, however, promising advances in research and a willingness on the part of state officials, particularly Gov. Jim Doyle, to endorse the broader field of biofuels have changed our view.

We now support Assembly Bill 15, with a caveat: Don't stop with corn. We endorse this bill as a step toward the eventual manufacture of ethanol from a variety of non-corn sources, including switch grass, municipal waste and wood waste. Researchers here in Madison and elsewhere are developing the enzymes needed to produce ethanol from these sources. The next challenge is to make that process cost-effective.

An ethanol mandate would help spur such efforts and encourage Wisconsin to become a leader in the emerging and economically promising biofuels field.

Already, researchers at Badger State Ethanol in Monroe are looking at techniques to power the plant with corn fiber instead of natural gas. In addition to manufacturing ethanol, which it sells for about a dollar less a gallon than regular gasoline, the plant also markets the fuel's byproducts of carbon dioxide and distillers grains.

Besides being a homegrown fuel, ethanol offers benefits that include optimizing engine performance and reducing some of the toxic chemicals in gasoline. In the near future, more of us will be driving flex-fuel vehicles powered by an E-85 mixture. U.S. automakers, along with Nissan, are offering 20 flex-fuel models for 2006. On average, their greenhouse gas emissions are 25 percent lower than those of cars running on regular gasoline. Wisconsin has 18 E-85 gas stations on line as well as four ethanol plants, with several more in the works.

By encouraging biofuel use, countries like Brazil and China are notably cutting their use of oil. The U.S. remains shamefully behind -- instead continuing to give massive tax breaks to the oil industry, thereby assuring our continued gluttonous consumption of a polluting, and finite, fuel. Consider this: The true cost of a gallon of gas would be $7 or more without the federal subsidies. E-10 opponents who complain about the modest 50-cent per gallon ethanol subsidy conveniently ignore the much larger incentives enjoyed by the oil industry.

The Legislature should mandate E-10 with an eye toward a future vibrant bioeconomy using renewable resources. Other Midwest states recognize this growing potential and Wisconsin should not lag behind.

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