5/05/2008

Energy Policy: Why our politicians just don't "get it"

The United States is in a recession --partly because of global oil prices -- and yet the only thing you hear from the candidates is hot air about things like MPG standards, a gas tax "holiday" and some vague plans about "conservation". Exactly what is it about energy independence from foreign oil that these idiots don't understand?  Energy indepence means one thing only: WE HAVE TO GET OFF OUR ADDICTION TO FOREIGN OIL.

Here's the picture, over the last six years:  

oilgas

  Look, if you want your country to be independent of foreign oil, then you either have to produce your own, or use alternative fuels. Why is this simple concept so difficult for the McCains, Clintons and Obamas to understand? President Bush understood it, but he's a lame duck who's going out of office soon, so we can't expect much there.

16 years ago, Brazil embarked on a policy of becoming 100% independent from foreign oil, and they've achieved it.

Brazil is the world's second largest producer of ethanol and the world's largest exporter, and it is considered to have the world's first sustainable biofuels economy and is the biofuel industry leader. Virtually every car, truck and bus in Brazil can run on ethanol. If oil goes to $500 a barrel, the effect on Brazil's economy would be minimal.

Brazil's sugarcane produces 662 gallons of ethanol per acre. Switchgrass is a tall prairie grass native to the US that yields over 1,000 gallons per acre, more than 3 times the yield of corn. Recent research conducted at the University of Illinois has shown that miscanthus, a tall reed-like grass, can produce as much as 1,500 gallons of ethanol per acre.

Ethanol as a fuel is nothing new. Early Model T Fords used ethanol, and it's an ingredient in beer and wine.

The problem is, most ethanol produced in America is made from corn -- a less efficient material than switchgrass. Corn producers are supported by a large lobby and huge government subsidies. There is no similar lobby or investment for grass or wood.  The main drawback of corn, a prime American foodstuff, for alcohol production -- is that this has elevated the cost of foodstuffs made from corn worldwide and has overlooked better choices -- sugar cane, and switchgrass.

When you make ethanol from corn, for every gallon of fuel you get, you put in about seven-tenths of a gallon of fossil energy, oil or natural gas. That's only a small improvement in terms of greenhouse gases.

On the other hand, ethanol from cellulose -- like switchgrass -- is a great energy strategy because for every gallon of ethanol, a tiny amount of fossil material is used. There's a dramatic reduction in greenhouse gases, so from an energy perspective it's far superior.

For consumers, switching to ethanol would cost only about $100 per car. All it takes are some new hoses and a new gas cap.

Unfortunately, it still looks like we just "don't get it". We can put men on the moon, we can do amazing things with biotechnology. But we can't seem to take care of our energy needs like Brazil has, even though we're much more advanced technologically than they are. And you know the reason why: it's because we've got a crap political system with a bunch of spineless candidates who don't have the guts to really "do" change, instead of just talking about change.

So when you go to the polls this November, think about why there wasn't a single candidate who "got it".