Bush’s better mousetraps, the saga continues

The Bush administration has become adept at dangling technological panaceas in front of us, promising a solution is around the corner that will end our energy woes (earlier). The latest in the litany is ethanol–the promise that converting biomass (corn, switchgrass, sugarcane) into ethanol would displace some percentage of gasoline consumption, thus reducing our “oil addiction.” Unfortunately, we may be as addicted to corporate lobbying and government subsidies as we are to oil, dooming any effort to effectively promote ethanol.

The recent spikes in gas pricing have been attributed to a government mandate for increased ethanol additives–something that everyone saw coming and nobody managed to plan for. And now ethanol shortages have driven up prices everywhere. Underneath the surface, however, we find that the shortage in ethanol comes in large part from steep tariffs on ethanol imports:

The U.S. currently levies a tariff of 2.5%, as well as a second duty of 54-cents-a-gallon, on all ethanol. That equals a giant tax that must be factored into already sky-high gas prices, and helps explain why the import market remains tiny. (WSJ, A Good Gas Idea)

Emerging technologies will never overpower the established interests strictly on technical merits. As the WSJ editorial continues, “[domestic] ethanol makers receive more government subsidies and are responsible for far more of the current gasoline price spike.” When it comes to complex systems, and energy is as complex as they get, new solutions (or even underused old ones) will have to find ways to ally with established interests or they will remain, as Bush said, just around the corner. Good for politicians, bad for progress.

         

3 thoughts on “Bush’s better mousetraps, the saga continues

  1. Could not agree more, but the quest for clean energy seems to be something that’s over shadowed by the looming increase in need for oil. I know green energy sources are better, but will they have much impact against the looming demand?

  2. Indeed that’s true, concerned citizen, the increasing demand for oil is more than any one source can deliver on. One of the better examinations of just this issue is Pacala and Socolow’s studies of climate stabilization “wedges.” Which shows, in short, how we must pursue multiple alternate energy (including efficiency) strategies in order to remain even remotely within our climate and carbon goals.

  3. Ethanol is not being touted as the “one” magic bullet but merely as one in long chain of small bullets that taken together can help reduce our dependence upon foreign and domestic oil. Other solutions along the fuel supply line that are more environmentally palatable but currently run exceedingly counter to the mainstream oil & gas giants include the entire offering of bio-diesels from B-5/10 to the wholly home grown and 100% renewable (one time only) 100% reclaimed B100 bio-diesel.
    Though environmental pundits have a field day with Diesels – especially in California where you can buy a 10,000 lbs GVWR monster truck, drive with one passenger, and obtain the benefit of diesel fuel “economy”, and fuel with B-100 but are denied access to a diesel in any 50+ mpg mini-truck, econo-car, or SUV – a diesel running on 100% reclaimed vegetable oil or other agri-stock oil runs sulfur emission free and with the same or lower particular emissions than a conventional petro-diesel vehicle.
    Now B-100 is not seeing the light of day as it is based upon a recycle-reclaim mentality in a country where production and consumption are favored at all cost over a friendlier reclamation/reuse lifestyle.
    See http://www.biodiesel.org/ or http://journeytoforever.org/biodiesel_make.html or http://www.biodieselnow.com/ or http://www.biodiesel.com/

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