President Bush Enlists Ethanol

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President Bush Enlists Ethanol

WASHINGTON -- During the State of the Union address last night, President George W. Bush disclosed a plan that would secure America's independence from foreign oil, through changes to fuel economy standards, investment in new technologies and increasing alternative fuels while reducing gasoline consumption.

Published reports before the speech stated that Bush's plan, dubbed '20 in 10,' would cut gasoline consumption by 20 percent in 10 years partly by ramping up production of renewable fuels, with a goal of replacing 15 percent of gasoline use with alternative fuels by 2017, according to a Reuters report.

The New York Times predicted that the president would call for a drastic increase in the amount of ethanol mixed with gasoline, approximately double the current goal of 7.5 billion gallons by 2012. While the details of the proposal remain under wraps as of press time, 15 billion gallons would amount to 10 percent of the nation's gasoline consumption, far exceeding the current capacity of 5.4 billion gallons, the report stated.

The proposal has ethanol supporters applauding. "We're of course delighted that the president is going to call for an ambitious, yet achievable goal and we're thankful for him bringing leadership to the issue," vice president of the American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE), Brian Jennings, told CSNews Online. "We've already been talking about something similar, working with Congress on the Biofuel Security Act, which would accomplish much of what the president is talking about."

"The president would send a strong signal tonight by expressing this goal," he said yesterday.

The source of the ethanol would come from corn, the Times stated. However corn based ethanol would do little to improve energy efficiency, as it produces a third less energy than gasoline. The reliance on corn could lead to damage in other areas of agriculture, as farmers switch crop production and food for livestock becomes more costly. A reliance on corn for fuel also threatens the nation's place as the largest corn exporter and would lead to an increase in price at the grocery store, the Times reported.

To prevent this, ethanol producers are attempting to switch from corn-based ethanol to cellulosic ethanol made from non-food plants such as switchgrass. However, while corn-based ethanol relies on a 51 cent per gallon federal subsidy to remain competitive with gasoline, switchgrass-based or wood chip-based ethanol costs two times the amount to produce than corn-based ethanol, the report stated.

"Corn can't do it alone. The ethanol industry must reduce the cost to make fuel from cellulose," Jennings said. "Corn will always be a major component, but we need to move beyond corn to achieve the goals. Today cellulosic ethanol is more expensive than corn-based ethanol, that's why we continue to do some research and develop ways to drive the costs down. We will make cellulosic ethanol a more efficient process in the future."

In addition to reducing gasoline consumption, published reports in USA Today earlier in the week stated that the president would call for increased fuel economy standards.

"I fully recognize oil and gas ... will be necessary as we transition to new ways to power our automobiles. But we have an opportunity now to really set new standards," Bush told USA Today in an interview Monday. "I'm just going to talk about a bold initiative that really encourages America to become less dependent on oil."

A report in the Times stated that the administration is considering eliminating the current standards, which rank fleet averages, and creating a footprint-based efficiency standard for each vehicle.

However, limits on the amount of carbon emissions, which have been predicted to be an element of the proposal, will not be discussed, according to White House spokesman Tony Snow. "There's been some talk about sort of binding economy-wide carbon caps in the speech, but they are not part of the president's proposal," Snow said. "I'm not going to go and announce to you what the president's proposal is. But it's worth saying that the president has always believed, when it comes to climate change, that the best way to achieve reductions is through innovation and to figure out ways to come up with energy sources that are going to meet our economy's constant demand for energy and at the same time do it in a way that's going to be friendly for the environment."