Biofuels Boom

September 29, 2006 • Volume 16, Issue 34
Can ethanol satisfy America's thirst for foreign oil?
By Adriel Bettelheim

Introduction

An ethanol plant near Lena, Ill., is one of 128 U.S. plants producing 4.5 billion gallons of ethanol a year from corn. Production will rise by about 50 percent when plants now under construction go online.  (Getty Images/Scott Olson)
An ethanol plant near Lena, Ill., is one of 128 U.S. plants producing 4.5 billion gallons of ethanol a year from corn. Production will rise by about 50 percent when plants now under construction go online. (Getty Images/Scott Olson)

Energy companies across the Midwest are building new plants to convert locally grown corn into ethanol. The construction spurt is the most visible evidence of expanded interest in renewable fuels, which politicians increasingly believe can begin to wean America from its voracious appetite for foreign oil. Ethanol, the only renewable fuel being produced in the United States in any significant quantity, is being aggressively promoted as a key ingredient in the quest for energy security. But before competing head-to-head with gasoline, it will have to overcome major hurdles. Not only is it more expensive to produce, but some studies say it takes more energy to process corn into ethanol than the fuel delivers. Experts believe a more viable long-term ethanol source could be switchgrass or other so-called cellulosic biomass. The current biofuels boom also bodes well for other renewables, including biodiesel, which has achieved popularity in Europe.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Alternative Energy
Sep. 29, 2006  Biofuels Boom
Feb. 25, 2005  Alternative Fuels
Nov. 07, 1997  Renewable Energy
Jul. 09, 1993  Electric Cars
Jul. 10, 1992  Alternative Energy
Mar. 26, 1982  Solar Energy's Uneasy Transition
Nov. 20, 1981  Wind and Water: Expanding Energy Technologies
Aug. 31, 1979  Synthetic Fuels
Nov. 12, 1976  Solar Energy
Mar. 14, 1973  New Energy Sources
Aug. 14, 1968  Steam and Electric Autos
Jan. 22, 1929  Federal Water Power Policy
Oct. 08, 1928  Status of the Muscle Shoals Project
Jan. 26, 1927  The Colorado River Problem
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