Ethanol: Miracle or Mistake?
Florida is sinking millions into ethanol research and grants. But nobody is even close to making it profitable.
Draper notes the number of lobbyists in the last legislative session representing interests that stand to gain from the energy bill; he wonders about a green bubble and the state spending. “It’s a question of how much money government is going to throw at this stuff before they realize it doesn’t work,” he says. “We’re chasing the energy solution and postponing the hard discussion on the real solution, which is conservation and efficiency.”
» Ethanol Source: Pulp and Paper Mill Waste — A non-starter. Nearly all of it already is used to power the industry’s plants.
Ethanol’s difficulties also prompt other questions: If ethanol, which has been around as vehicle fuel for more than 100 years, is so difficult to pull off, how tough will it be to achieve Crist’s other energy goals? Specifically, Crist wants Florida’s utilities by 2025, when its population is projected to be north of 23 million, to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels, when the state’s population was 13 million.
But with the state and federal government dictating ethanol use, an ethanol process doesn’t have to prove cheaper, more efficient or more environmentally friendly than gas; it just has to prove superior to the other alternatives to meet the government-required demand. “Congress in its wisdom has said we’re going to have 36 billion gallons of this stuff no matter what the cost,” says Princeton’s Searchinger.
And so it’s inevitable that Florida entrepreneurs and researchers will continue to chase ethanol development. Ingram says that once ground is broken on his Florida plant it will take two years to build. He’s convinced that a few months of operation will prove cellulosic ethanol’s economic and technologic viability. Others then will see the investment risk of building more as worthwhile, he says. “The technology is there. The hang-up is in building the first one.”