Because I live in Iowa and work at an agency that does advertising for various ethanol-related organizations, I often find myself in conversations about ethanol. Ethanol is an exciting prospect for a sustainable fuel source, but most people I talk to know this already, so I generally spend most of these conversations pointing out potential problems with ethanol.

We tend to overlook potential problems when evaluating something new that promises to solve existing problems, and I get paid to promote ethanol, so I want to add some balance to my own small impact and these discussions by pointing out problems, e.g. ethanol is not polution-free, not all cars can run on ethanol-heavy fuel, and so on. But with all these problems in mind, ethanol is clearly much better than oil as a fuel source.

The biggest problem seems to be that there’s just not enough ethanol to really replace oil. Whenever I point this out, someone asks me how much ethanol there is, and I say "I don’t know." Today, I found out. Someone on NPR said there’s enough corn-based ethanol to produce 15 billion gallons of fuel a year. That’s a small dent in the 140 billion gallons of oil we current use yearly.

I also mention in these conversations that there might be ways of making ethanol other than corn. And then someone asks me more about those alternate ethanol sources, and I say "I don’t know." Today, I found out this too. An article in the Des Moines Register says distilleries that can make fuel alcohol from crop waste, prairie grasses or trees rather than corn should be in operation within five years.

Unfortunately, the article doesn’t say how much fuel we can expect those distilleries to produce. I expect it’s nowhere near the 125 billion gallons needed to entirely replace oil. But I’m a little more hopeful than I was yesterday that between ethanol, solar, other technologies, and reduced consumption, the transition to a post-oil economy need not be very painful.


I'm a 2nd Degree Decided, if I get kicked in the face by a yellow belt, that's my fault. Sympathy can be found in the dictionary between "shit" and "syphilis." So I got a bloody nose, and a reminder to pay attention.

Dave Rogers