Corn/Cellulosic Ethanol Infighting

by Brian McGraw on August 29, 2011

in Blog

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A blog post at the National Corn Grower’s Association, which has since been taken down, was titled: “If the Government Could Mandate Unicorns…” A cached version is here.

When a two year-old throws a temper tantrum because he cannot have a pet unicorn, it can seem confusing, annoying or possibly endearing.  No matter which gut reaction a parent has, they universally understand the need to explain the concept of “nonexistent.” When the Environmental Protection Agency continually demands the impossible, why are they treated any differently?

The issue is simple.  The updated version of the Renewable Fuel Standard mandates usage of 250 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol this year and 500 million gallons by 2012.  As of June 2011, zero gallons of qualifying cellulosic ethanol were produced.  The target is, under current conditions, an impossible demand.

It is a demand based on promises.  Much as parents may tell stories about unicorns and fairies, some players in the ethanol and environmental industries pushed a product which they were not prepared to deliver.  In both scenarios, optimism created a beautiful vision of a world that does not exist.  Once the story was sold, neither party could meet the unrealistic expectation that they had created.

This does not mean there is not hope; the real world provides many wonders.  In reality, corn-based ethanol has provided a sustainable, concrete biofuels option for decades.  Due to the magic that is modern technology, production practices continually improve and create an even more efficient, eco-friendly product.  In the here and now, farmers and the ethanol industry are prepared to meet the demand.

Incredibly strong language from the NCGA. The angle here is prying for corn ethanol to begin replacing cellulosic ethanol’s unattainable mandate, which would add 500 million gallons in 2012 and 1 billion gallons in 2013 (4 and 7.5% of 2010 production, respectively).

Now, the rest of the world thought they were playing for the same team in their quest to free us of the alleged evils of importing energy from foreign countries, and that even the corn guys were aware that corn ethanol was a “stepping stone” to more “sustainable” fuels. Apparently not, as the Corn Grower’s Association, accidentally, admitted that economically viable cellulosic ethanol is a fairy tale, at least in the short term.

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