Friday, May 19, 2006

Ethanol and the "Green" Movement By Automakers

I have some time off this afternoon and have really been meaning to post some thoughts about ethanol and the "green" movement. As I was going through feeds, I saw a post by Derek Punaro - Ethanol: Myths and Realities. He links to a BusinessWeek Online article of the same title. One of the things that I have read in the past is that "fossil fuel" is required to manufacture ethanol. This is brought up in the article:
Doesn't producing ethanol on a large scale use a great deal of energy?

Yes. Some ethanol skeptics have even argued that the process involved in growing grain and then transforming it into ethanol requires more energy from fossil fuels than ethanol generates. In other words, they say the whole movement is a farce.

There's no absolute consensus in the scientific community, but that argument is losing strength. Michael Wang, a scientist at the Energy Dept.-funded Argonne National Laboratory for Transportation Research, says "The energy used for each unit of ethanol produced has been reduced by about half (since 1980)." Now, Wang says, the delivery of 1 million British thermal units (BTUs) of ethanol uses 0.74 million BTUs of fossil fuels. (That does not include the solar energy -- the sun shining -- used in growing corn.) By contrast, he finds that the delivery of 1 million BTUs of gasoline requires 1.23 million BTU of fossil fuels.

Aside from that, my other rant about ethanol is with the "green" movement that automakers (Ford and GM especially) are running with. Both have hybrid vehicles, but GM is really touting their "Live Green, Go Yellow" (reference to corn) campaign. While that's really great that they are doing something about fuel economy and less dependence on oil, I don't know if ethanol is the best route for now. Of course less petrol is consumed in the manufacturing process, but it's less economical so drivers would have to refill more often. I'm a GM guy personally, and I have their FastLane blog in my feeds. Earlier this week they had an article titled "Making Our Vision Reality". Admittedly, they state that ethanol is only a short-term solution and that hydrogen-powered fuel cells are the future. A summary of their vision is in the article and it is:
General Motors is committed to making the hydrogen economy happen, and we have made tremendous progress in our fuel-cell vehicle program, most notably with the Sequel, the first fuel-cell vehicle capable of achieving a real-world driving range of 300 miles. Our goal is to design and validate an automotive-competitive fuel cell propulsion system by 2010. By automotive competitive, we mean a system that has the performance, durability, and cost at scale volumes of today’s internal combustion engines. GM has the enabling technologies well in hand and we are increasingly confident that we will be able to achieve this goal.

So, in the next 4 years we should hope that GM lives up to their word on this. It would be really great.

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