Obama, Vilsack and Salazar: The Ethanol Scammers’ Dream Team

Posted on January 5, 2009. Filed under: Uncategorized |

Over the past few weeks, Obama’s delusions about ethanol have become even more pronounced. On December 16, Stephen Power of the Wall Street Journal reported that Obama’s transition team has been talking to the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) — the trade group funded by the corn ethanol producers — about a bailout for the ethanol industry. Two days later, Obama announced that the former governor of Iowa, Tom Vilsack, would be the next Secretary of Agriculture and that Colorado Senator Ken Salazar would be the next Secretary of Interior. Announcing the selection, Obama said Vilsack and Salazar would be part of the “team we need” to strengthen rural America, create “green jobs” and “to free our nation from its dependence on oil.”Graphic by Seth Myers - via energytribune.com
 
The fact that Obama continues to repeat this line about “dependence on oil” shows a near-complete ignorance of the scale of America’s energy needs. The U.S. currently has about 251 million registered motor vehicles, 8,200 commercial aircraft, 224,000 general aviation aircraft, and 12.7 million recreational boats. And nearly every one of those machines runs on oil.
 
Vilsack and Salazar are long-time biofuels boosters. While governor of Iowa — America’s biggest corn and corn ethanol, producing state – Vilsack promoted corn ethanol production and “cellulosic” ethanol which can be made from various plant sources. During his run for the White House, which ended in early 2007 when his campaign ran out of money, Vilsack said he wanted to have the US producing 60 billion gallons of renewable fuel per year by 2030. (Current US production, nearly all of it from corn ethanol, is about 10 billion gallons.)
 
Both Vilsack and Salazar have been strong proponents of cellulosic ethanol. And they continue to support cellulosic ethanol even though the commercial viability of the fuel continues to be doubtful. Rapier points out that in February 2007, the federal government handed out $385 million in grants to six cellulosic ethanol projects. But today, only one commercial plant is actually under construction, and that project, owned by Georgia-based Range Fuels, has been delayed.
 
Fine. Let’s look at the numbers for cellulosic ethanol.
 
Let’s assume that the U.S. wants to replace 10 percent of its oil use (by volume) with cellulosic ethanol. The US consumes about 320 billion gallons of oil per year. New ethanol companies like Coskata and Syntec are claiming that they can produce about 100 gallons of ethanol per ton of biomass, which is also about the same yield that can be garnered by using grain as a feedstock.
 
The math is straightforward: to produce 32 billion gallons of cellulosic ethanol would require the annual harvest and transport of 320 million tons of biomass. Assuming each trailer holds 15 tons of biomass, that volume of biomass would fill 21.44 million semi-trailer loads. If we further assume that each trailer is 48 feet long, the column of trailers holding that quantity of feedstock would stretch almost 195,000 miles – that’s nearly the distance from the earth to the moon.
 
The corn ethanol industry is a scam. Cellulosic ethanol is a sham. And yet Obama and his appointees continue to promote the false notion that these fuels are the answer to America’s energy challenge.
 
Obama’s right. We do need change, particularly in our energy discussionRead more via the Energy Tribune  (Graphic by Seth Myers)
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