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Fuels For America's Future

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By Alan Anderson

   • SEE ALSO: Additional articles by Alan Anderson

Everyone knows that oil isn’t the best option for a fuel source. The discovery of it was a 150 plus year old solution to the use of whale oil for heating, lighting and propelling vehicles. At its birth the oil solution was a breakthrough in technology. Oil made America great in the beginnings of the last century with the industrial revolution. So is America still thriving technologically from the use of oil? I believe that not everyone would say yes, some people would say yes to this question, the Oil Industry executives and people who work in that industry. There are many great uses for oil, plastics used in our everyday lives and that’s all I could come up with. The U.S. has been so dependent on this oil that we have foreign policies that revolve around it that we have gone to wars over risking our own National Security. I will not even mention the environmental impact it has on us and other countries around the world. We have lost the lives of American soldiers over this thing we call oil and we will continue to until we find a better way to fuel America and the world. Being Oil Independent isn’t all about getting off foreign oil it also mean reducing our exploration and use from domestic sources by using renewable sources.

Some 30 plus years ago America went through a true energy crisis and nearly brought our country to a standstill that almost destroyed our great nation. It also had the same effect on other nations throughout the world with nearly the same outcome. At that time in the 1970’s, we were so dependent on oil from foreign nations that they had to show us they were holding the purse strings on our economy. OPEC nations flexed their power to let us know that they were a force to be reckoned with. At that time, we stood up to OPEC and instituted a new energy policy that at the time could have changed the way we think about alternative fuel today. The U.S. took a stand and we won. Or did we? Not long after we started implementing our new energy policies the OPEC nations began pumping more oil and lowering the price of crude that stopped our development dead in it tracks. Like magic, oil and gas was cheap again so there was no need to change things back here in America. Yippee we won. Or did we? What a relief it was to be able to pump cheap gas in our cars and diesel in those trucks of ours.

One country said that they wouldn’t be beholden to OPEC or any other nation for their fuel needs, Brazil. They started the largest change in transportation fuel ever seen since the days of whale oil and steam. The sugar ethanol revolution was the biggest thing to hit the nation since the Brazilian Bikini. And just like the Brazilian Bikini, it still causes controversy today in every country around the world. The ethanol business in Brazil is now the model for the rest of the world. They picked a few resources that their country had in abundance and made a go with what they had and SUGAR won out above all the rest in the end. The Brazilian government mandated change and had to adapt to changing technologies to make their transportation fuel cheaper and readily available for everyone in and around Brazil. Today, they are the largest exporter of Ethanol in the world. They are considered the world’s first sustainable biofuels economy and the industry leader in alternative fuels. In 2003, the introduction of Flex Fuel Vehicles (FFV) became a commercial success, reaching a record 92% share of all new cars and light trucks sold by 2009. Brazilian FFV’s are developed to run on any proportion of ethanol from E20 up to pure hydrous ethanol E100. Just this year, they reached the milestone of 10 million FFV’s on the road in their country. What does all this mean? It means that sugar ethanol consumption is over a 50% market share of all fuel sold in Brazil. That makes them the first Oil Independent nation in the world.

So what have we in America accomplished since the 1970’s oil Crisis? Well, we are the largest producer of ethanol in the world. However, compared to Brazil’s ethanol market share, we only have about 10% market share that we use in our vehicles. Those are mostly in low level blends only to oxygenate our gasoline. Just last week the EPA announced the allowable level of ethanol blends for Non-FFV’s be moved to 15% (E15) for vehicles 2007 and newer. As of December 2009 there were nearly 8.4 million FFVs on the road in America mostly in the Midwest. So what’s wrong with the ethanol business in America that has kept us to only 10% of the market share? Well honestly there are a few reasons we are so far behind. The Oil Industry in America is one major reason the U.S. is in the dark ages of energy use. Even though most of the oil in America is imported from around the world, the U.S. refines the oil into fuels to be exported back to the rest of the world. So the usage of gasoline for transportation in America directly affects the Biggest Oil Companies right here. And they have more money than what they know what to do with, ask any Politian running for office. The largest donors in politics every year is the Oil Industry.

One other problem holding us back in Ethanol production is the resources we have to make it. Back during our 1970’s Oil crisis, we started using corn to make ethanol as our solution to the problem. At the time it was the best thing we had to combat our problem. America is known as the corn capitol of the world so why not use it to produce ethanol. Our farmers here in America are the best in the world. Corn at times is overflowing from fields in our heartland. But when we started this program of ethanol from corn we didn’t realize it at the time but it wasn’t much better than using oil itself. The one ingredient in ethanol that makes it ethanol is its sugar. In the 1970’s, America wasn’t known for its sugar resources. Corn was the crop of abundance in the U.S. So we had to find a way of using what we knew best, ferment cornstarch to sugar and then make it into ethanol. This process is a very energy intensive causing the net gains of energy from ethanol to be one of the lowest of all crops used for ethanol production. So much so, that in the latest Farm Bill in 2008 they even address the use of crops to produce energy fuels as Advanced Biofuel. The 2008 Farm Bill clearly states in Title IX, Sec. 9001, Paragraph (3) (a): The term ‘advanced biofuel’ means fuel derived from renewable biomass other than corn kernel starch.

So with all this information, where do we go from here? The people of the U.S. have overwhelmingly told the government that they want to be an Oil Independent nation. In 2005, former President Bush enacted the Energy Policy Act of 2005. Then with the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, which mandates and increase in renewable fuels for the transportation sector. The rationale for both of these Acts was to benefit Energy Security. Technologically, the process of producing ethanol from sugar is much simpler and cost effective than converting corn to ethanol.

Let’s break down the numbers into simple terms we all can understand. Corn at its best can produce 425 gallons of ethanol per acre. Sugarcane runs between 650-725 gallons per acre. And one crop we haven’t discussed yet is Sugar Beet, traditional sugar beets produce between 700-750 gallons per acre. But wait, there is a new Sugar Beet on the market now, known as the Energy Sugar Beet. It produces between 795-850 gallons of ethanol per acre. All of these numbers come from varies reports from the USDA and DOE within the past year, so none of these statistics are from old research or data sources. The Energy Sugar Beet even out performs the EPA and DOE standards mandating crops to be considered for advanced biofuels meet a 50% reduction in GHG threshold. The new beet far out reached that 50% and comes in at 70% GHG reduction and that is using traditional farm practices. But in studies, using non-traditional practices such as low-till and the use of biodiesel on the farms this number has moved to over 80% GHG reduction range.

With corn at an all time high, food vs. fuel issues still being debated and the price of gas going up daily. What is stopping us from moving to this Energy Beet and changing of our nation’s future to one of Oil Independence and creating a renewable resource that helps create jobs in a Green Energy revolution throughout America. At the same time we will have a fuel that even the oil industry couldn’t compete with as far as cost. Sugar ethanol from Energy Beets will be the lowest priced fuel on the market. But wait you say, most of you have never heard of Sugar Beets let alone Energy Sugar Beets. One little known fact to Americans is that 60% of all the sugar consumed by Americans comes from sugar beets produced here in America and they aren’t subsidized by the government. Standard sugar beets are currently being grown in at least 14 states. The one big benefit of the new Energy beets is that they can be grown in almost any climate in 40 states in the U.S. In the states that can produce crops year round like California, Energy beets and be grown in rotation with other crops to boost continuous year round production of ethanol.

So in conclusion, what needs to happen in America to move into an Oil Independent nation is we need to change our current Energy Policy, Sugar Policy, Agriculture Policy and Automotive manufacturing Industry. We need FFVs that run on E85 and E100 to be number one priority of the Auto Industry. Sugar Industry needs to embrace stepping up processing of sugars across America. Our government also needs to put policy into place that mandates ethanol from sources other than starches. Plus, mandate the Auto industry to produce engines to run on E85 and E100 in more than 50% of all their vehicles per year. Energy Sugar beets to make E85 - E100 Ethanol and engines capable of producing 30 plus mpg and 10 % increased horsepower is what will make the U.S. an Oil Independent nation. So with the other forms of energy such as Wind, Solar, and biomass fuel sources we can make the United States a real Energy Independent nation for us and our future generations to come. This will put us back on top as a World Power in technology and economics.

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” ­Charles Darwin

Author can be contacted at:
Alan Anderson