A Pipe Dream

Cellulosic ethanol has been a pipe dream from the very beginning.

Cellulosic ethanol started to receive media attention around 2002. Iogen, an early proponent of cellulosic ethanol, completed its first demonstration plant in 2001. Now, having found the North American market inhospitable, Iogen has shifted its focus to Brazil where it plans to build a cellulosic ethanol plant using bagasse and cane straw.

Media articles in the early 2000s described cellulosic ethanol as the breakthrough needed to allow the United States to become energy independent. Later, when global warming became a media craze, it focused on using ethanol to cut CO2 emissions.

Congress reacted to the media outcry and established mandates for ethanol, i.e., a non-advanced biofuel, and cellulosic ethanol.

Cellulosic Ethanol Requirement
Cellulosic Ethanol Requirement

Agricultural interests, as well as the global warming and “clean energy” green lobbies supported these mandates.

Lobbyists have a political strategy involving two goals when supporting any new project.

  • Spread the benefits of any program across as many states as possible
  • Develop constituencies that support the program

The purpose of the strategy was to establish:

  • A Congress where members supported the program from a majority of states
  • Constituencies that would ensure the election of candidates supporting the program

An effort was made to have ethanol plants built in as many states as possible.

As a result, ethanol plants are located in 32 states, more than enough to establish a majority in support of ethanol mandates.

Ethanol plants in United States
Ethanol plants in United States

The main constituencies supporting ethanol are farmers, including those who also invested in ethanol plants, and big city “clean energy” greens.

These constituencies and the wide dispersion of ethanol plants will make it very difficult to eliminate ethanol mandates.

However, eliminating cellulosic ethanol should be easier, especially with the 16 billion gallon mandate that obviously exceeds any potential need for cellulosic ethanol in 2022.

Cellulosic ethanol involves fewer states with cellulosic ethanol plants, and less powerful constituencies. Constituencies supporting cellulosic ethanol include a few large corporations that invest in cellulosic ethanol, and big city “clean energy” greens. Whether farmers, other than corporate farms, will object to losing payments for the stover, i.e., corn stalks, used in making cellulosic ethanol, will need to be seen.

But now is the best opportunity to eliminate cellulosic ethanol mandates.

Eliminating the remaining ethanol mandates may require more time, and involve a program to phase them out while promoting corn exports.

Farmers invested in ethanol production because of the government’s mandate, and shouldn’t be left high and dry.

Eliminating cellulosic ethanol now, and then phasing out the mandate for ethanol could resolve this issue.

There never really was a need for ethanol or cellulosic ethanol.

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