Cheaper form of ethanol on the way
May 30, 2007
Ethanol could become a more practical fuel for Americans who would like to slow the pace of global warming and their dependence on foreign oil, if one Michigan State University professor's predictions about ethanol production are accurate.
MSU professor Bruce Dale says the cost of so-called cellulosic ethanol -- a form of ethanol produced from nonfood plant materials -- could be cut in half, to about $1.30 per gallon by 2012, and fall below $1 per gallon by 2020. Dale said it costs about $2.20 per gallon to produce gasoline at current oil prices.By 2020 we will be producing tens of billions of gallons of cellulosic ethanol per year for much less than $1 per gallon," said Dale, who has been working for more than 30 years on ways to turn plant cellulose into ethanol for fuel. There would still be a markup at the pump, but he says the lower production cost could make ethanol not only a viable alternative to gasoline, but a less-expensive alternative, even on a per-mile basis.
He also says -- based on scientific advancements, as well as interest from President George W. Bush and some energy companies -- that ethanol it will become more broadly available.
If Dale's right, it would give Americans another choice for how to fuel their cars and trucks and how to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide they emit into the atmosphere with their vehicles.
Dale spoke about work to make cellulosic ethanol more affordable and more widely available Tuesday from US BioEnergy's corn ethanol plant in Woodbury, a rural community west of Lansing, as part of an event sponsored by General Motors Corp. GM and Detroit's other automakers have been working to promote alternative fuels amid growing concern about global warming, rising gas prices and a push in Washington, D.C., to increase fuel economy requirements.
Ethanol, a grain alcohol, is already mixed with gasoline in small doses. Most motorists' gas tanks likely hold from 5% to 10% ethanol right now. And some flex-fuel vehicles are outfitted to be able to handle up to 85% ethanol with 15% gasoline, known as E85.
Detroit's automakers have manufactured about 6 million flex-fuel vehicles in the past decade. GM builds about 400,000 flex-fuel vehicles annually. Ford Motor Co. and the Chrysler Group have committed to build 250,000 each this year.
But ask anyone who owns a flex-fuel vehicle, and you'll learn that fueling up with E85 takes a lot of effort and isn't always possible on a road trip. The number of fuel stations carrying E85 has doubled in the past year. But that's still only about 1,200 of the nation's 170,000 or so gas stations. Ethanol generates fewer miles per gallon than standard gasoline. And, at least in Michigan, ethanol typically doesn't cost any less.