Critics Bash Ethanol as Fuel Source

Posted: August 26, 2008

As America struggles with high petroleum prices and turns its attention toward alternative fuels, one once-popular fuel source is increasingly taking a public-relations beating: ethanol.

Kicking Tires reports, "Ethanol recently survived its most direct challenge yet when the EPA rejected Texas Gov. Rick Perry's request to halve this year's ethanol mandate, but that doesn't mean the biofuel's detractors are going away." About a quarter of the corn grown in the U.S. last year was converted into ethanol, and more will be converted in 2009 -- but the conversion of corn into fuel is blamed by many for skyrocketing food prices. "Furthermore, given that even ethanol producers acknowledge that the nation's cars will never run solely off of corn, many scientists, politicians and average citizens have begun to question the wisdom of putting food into our fuel tanks."

USA Today reports, "Industry supporters say opponents are overstating the impact of ethanol on food prices and ignoring other factors in driving up food costs -- high oil prices and bad weather in exporting nations, for example. But they acknowledge that corn-based ethanol is not seen as the long-term solution to greater energy independence, but rather a transition to more efficient biofuels that may not benefit those farmers fueling current ethanol plants."

Whatever its affect on food prices, critics say ethanol hasn't even proven to be a cost-effective fuel. Kicking Tires notes, "AAA's average cost for E85 today is $3.03, but its price adjusted for efficiency is $3.99 -- more than 30 cents more than a gallon of regular gas."

Automakers seeking green credibility seem to have turned their attention toward hybrid power and away from flex-fuel engines. With a more efficient Toyota Prius, a new Honda hybrid and the Chevy Volt on the way, environmentally-conscious buyers may soon have many alternatives available that are far less controversial than ethanol.

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