Beyond Petroleum Future – Still A Pipedream

by Marlo Lewis on January 11, 2011

in Blog

In his 2006 State of the Union Address, President George W. Bush joined the chorus of environmental scolds in disparaging America’s spaciously mobile civilization as being “addicted to oil” and called for various R&D programs to move us beyond petroleum. A key objective was to commercialize so-called cellulosic ethanol made from prairie grasses, wood waste, and other fibrous plant materials. Bush proclaimed:

We will also fund additional research in cutting-edge methods of producing ethanol, not just from corn but from wood chips and stalks or switch grass. Our goal is to make this new kind of ethanol practical and competitive within six years.


Responding to this presidential initiative, Congress, in 2007, enacted a Soviet-style production quota for renewable fuels, commonly known as the ethanol mandate. It required refiners to blend and sell 100 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol in 2010 and 250 million gallons in 2011.

Commercial output was so anemic, however, that last year EPA watered down the 2010 cellulosic target to 5 million gallons and the 2011 target to 6.6 million gallons. And even those essentially symbolic targets are too ambitious.

Today’s Climatewire (subscription required) reports that commercial blending of cellulosic biofuel likely did not exceed 1 million gallons in 2010. And what about 2011 — six years after President Bush announced his goal to make cellulosic fuel “practical and competitive within six years”? The Energy Information Administration’s most optimistic scenario projects the sale of less than 4 million gallons this year.

Although a world beyond petroleum may emerge some day, it is today still a pipedream.

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