In defense of ethanol

While I had to turn comments off (another victim of spam), I received this post from Brian Glassman via email and feel compelled to post it:

Dr. Hargadon illustrates an important point which has been downplayed in promotions for Ethanol, E10, and E85 fuels, that they are not equivalent in their mile per gallon to gasoline. The Ethanol industry in general has been pushing away from this fact, by promoting ethanol’s greener side and hoping that while they publicize its’ eco-friendliness, researchers and producers will drive the manufacturing costs down to the point were it can compete on a cost bases with gasoline. Fortunately, the recent research push has done just this. Researchers like Michael Raab, and others are coming up with new innovative ways to reduce ethanol manufacturing cost. I was recently part of a group who were among the few to attack the low fuel mileage aspects of E85 and E10, by creating a bio-based fuel additive to boost mpg, with the goal of making it comparable in mpg to gasoline (first link below). However, this doesn’t escape the final point that Dr. Hargadon makes and that I agree with: “the less glamorous solutions like energy efficiency through improved mileage, better public transportation, smarter commuting” are just practical and definitely attainable and should not be ignored.
Thank you
Brian Glassman

Not one to squelch debate, me. Though I remain skeptical that we can successfully coincide the development of low-cost cellulosic ethanols (made from stalks and other ag by-products) with their boosting, their distribution and their broad adoption and resulting engine optimization. All of this in the face of new eco-diesels from Mercedes and Honda that show both reduced emissions and tremendous efficiencies.

Many technologies make their greatest performance improvements only when competing technologies arrive on the scene–witness the Welsbach mantle increasing the performance of gas lamps by 6-fold when the light bulb first reached the market, and the steam engine doubling in efficiency in the years after the internal combustion engine. What is in store for the ICE when alternatives truly become a threat?

All of which is to say–innovation means progress. Whether the alternative fuels win or traditional gas and diesel wins, we will be better off than if these challengers weren’t around.