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Page added on January 30, 2007

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Biofuel hopes may be too high

It would cost about $1.40 per gallon to produce a new ethanol production plant, so that in order for a company to build a 100 million gallon facility, it would cost about $140 million to build, which would be a huge investment by any calculation. Another problem that remains unaddressed is how to transport the ethanol that is created — and how to use it once it gets there. Most cars currently on the market can run on gasoline that has up to 10 percent ethanol content, known as E10. Yet even as many policymakers push for more use of gasoline with an ethanol content of 85 percent, or E85, cars today would not be able to run on such a fuel source, nor can existing pipelines actually distribute the product, given that ethanol in high concentrations is extremely corrosive.
What`s more, in order to reach the 35 billion gallon target cited by the president, the United States would have to develop cellulosic ethanol, or ethanol made from grass, weeds and other agricultural waste such as corn and wheat stalks.

‘But cellulosic ethanol isn`t really available. … It`s more theoretical’ — an energy source that still remains at a pilot stage and will require considerable research and development before it becomes a viable fuel alternative, Golbitz said. One particular concern is that biomass such as wheat stalk, while simply an agricultural waste product, is voluminous and thus poses a challenge for producers to transport the byproducts to the processing plants to make a sufficient amount of fuel. In short, a great deal of agricultural waste will need to be transported by trucks and freight trains to the processing plants, thus making it costly as well as energy-intensive to produce.

Still, the current political climate may actually work in favor of developing both corn-based ethanol and cellulosic ethanol. Given the ongoing political turmoil in the Middle East, there is a bipartisan consensus that it is in the United States` national interest to rely less on petroleum.

Monsters & Critics

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