Ethanol Is Not a Panacea

John McCain says that we should convert American cars away from oil onto alcohol-based fuels (link).  But it should be noted that this will increase the demand for corn from which ethanol is derived.  Rising corn prices will in turn increase the price of meat and dairy (link).  And rising food prices will make it increasingly difficult to feed the world’s hungry.

We shouldn’t put all our eggs in one basket.  While I would still pursue ethanol based automobiles as an option, I think a much better solution in the long run is an all-electric vehicle like the Tesla or the Chevy Volt.   The latter gets 40 miles on a charge (theoretically; it hasn’t been built yet) and will switch over to a gas engine to power the battery after 40 miles.  Chevy promises this by 2010.  If we powered the gas part of the engine solely on ethanol, we could be free of foreign oil as McCain suggests, but I think converting all cars to ethanol with the mileage they get now would be disastrous for the food industry and the hungry of the world.

3 Replies to “Ethanol Is Not a Panacea”

  1. If you haven’t seen it yet, you should rent “Who Killed the Electric Car?” The technology already exists to go much farther than 40 miles without charging up. I agree with you 100% that the answer needs to be a multifaceted one.

    But the oil industry is a powerful lobby. I’ve been hearing about this country’s need for energy alternatives since Jimmy Carter’s term, so I’m very skeptical anything will actually get done. (It also hasn’t helped that there’s been an oilman in the Oval Office the past eight years.) Unless oil hits an extreme price that forces radical change (and the oil cartel won’t let that happen) I predict we won’t be seeing the development of these energy alternatives.

  2. I’ve seen the film. While they present the car as traveling much farther than 40 miles on a charge, why then is Chevy saying this is difficult to do with today’s technology? There was a full article in the Atlantic talking about Chevy’s openness in the design of the Volt. I can’t believe the oil lobby is controlling all these engineers.

  3. I may be recalling this incorrectly, but I thought they mentioned in the movie that the technology exists to go 200 miles without recharging — but that the oil companies somehow purchased the patent to block the development of the technology. Does that ring a bell? (I may be off base…)

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