There’s a kernel of good to this story, if you care about climate change and high food prices.
Sure, ethanol has been a great example of how America can begin to overcome its dependency on foreign fossil fuels. But using a staple like corn to make the biofuel has driven up food prices and displaced other food crops.
Now comes the Obama administration, which has proposed new rules for renewable fuels, aimed at cutting carbon dioxide emissions. At the same time, he’s vowed to help prop up the corn ethanol industry with stimulus dollars, and commit stimulus funds to biofuel research.
It’s part of a strategy to increase the supply of renewable fuels to 36 billion gallons by 2022, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials say.
Hopefully this move will help the United States move from corn-based to advanced biofuels, made with plants we don’t rely on for sustenance, like switchgrass.
Of course, the move could still displace food crops. But it also could reduce carbon emissions from ethanol production and open up new markets for biomass that is otherwise seen as waste, like corn stalks or the algae that’s been fouling beaches throughout the Great Lakes (muck tech, anyone?)
And commercial production of cellulosic ethanol will hopefully become more than just a concept some day soon. Already, 2009 has been a landmark year for cellulosic ethanol, with pilot plants starting up in South Dakota and New York, the U.S. Department of Energy says.
For the short term, the federal idea is to use non-corn biofuels to help manufacture corn-based ethanol. Is this backward? Or forward?