The United States consumes more oil than any other country in the world, consuming 140.4 billion gallons of gas for vehicles alone in 2005. According to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the U.S. imports 58 percent of its oil and is predicted to be importing 60 percent by the year 2025. President Bush created an Advanced Energy Initiative (AEI) that calls for reducing oil imports from the Middle East by 75 percent by the year 2025. The AEI calls for an increase in flexible fuel vehicles – vehicles that can run on either gasoline or a percentage of ethanol – production.
Currently, ethanol is a renewable fuel produced from corn in the United States and is in a percentage of gasoline sold in the United States. It is blended with gasoline to produce a fuel that is between 5 10 percent ethanol, depending on where you live. In New York, a large fraction of the gasoline is 10 percent of ethanol, while in California a large fraction of the gasoline is 5.7 percent ethanol. In the midwest, there are almost 600 E85 gas stations that carry E85, a blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline. Because of engine starting issues, E85 is the highest ethanol blend that a flexible fuel vehicle can take.
Some gasoline contains 5.7% ethanol by volume while other gasoline contains 10% ethanol by volume, and some gasoline contains no ethanol at all. To simplify, I will assume that the average ethanol percent is 8.5% for the gasoline that contains ethanol. According to the DOE, 3.9 billion gallons of ethanol per year go into 45.9 billion gallons of gasoline/ethanol blend. 45.9 billion gallons out of 140.4 billion gallons is 32%. This is just a rough approximation, but 140.4 billion gallons of gas minus 45.9 gallons of ethanol blend means that there are 94.5 billion gallons of gasoline that contain no ethanol.
HR 6, the Energy Security Act of 2005, established a Renewable Fuel Standard that requires that 4 billion gallons of ethanol and/or biodiesel be used in 2006 and increasing to at least 7.5 billion gallons in 2012. The Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates the 7.5 billion gallon RFS will reduce oil consumption by 326,000 barrels of gasoline per day by 2012.
The reason the numbers don’t divide out is that gasoline has more energy than ethanol. At 4 billion gallons of ethanol divided by 365, there are a savings of 10,960,000 gallons of ethanol a day. Howe’ver, each gallon of gasoline has 1.5 times the energy of a gallon of ethanol (yes, gasoline is more “concentrated” with respect to Btus, a plus). So, 10,960,000 gallons of ethanol are 10,960,000/1.5 = 7,300,000 gallons of gasoline a day, or 174,000 barrels of gasoline per day.At 7.5 billion gallons, it will be 20,550,000 gallons of ethanol per day, or 13,700,000 gallons of gasoline per day, or 326,000 barrels of gasoline per day. 152,000 barrels of gasoline (not ethanol) per day is the increase in savings.
The question is, where does that much more ethanol come from? In President Bushs AEI address he said the magic words, “We Are On The Verge Of Dramatic Improvements In How We Power Our Automobiles, And The Presidents Initiative Will Bring Those Improvements To The Forefront. The United States must move beyond a petroleum-based economy and develop new ways to power automobiles. The President wants to accelerate the development of domestic, renewable alternatives to gasoline and diesel fuels. The Administration will accelerate research in cutting-edge methods of producing “cellulosic ethanol” with the goal of making the use of such ethanol practical and competitive within 6 years.”
Established in the 1970s, Iogen Corporation has become one of Canada’s leading biotechnology firms. Scientists and millionaire Patrick Foody Sr. created a way to process wood waste into not only fuel but electricity. In 1997 Iogen announced it was able to mass-produce ethanol from enzymes and waste fiber. Foody had other investment interests through his Montreal-based holdings company, Techcapital Group. He was one of the original financiers of the Ottawa high-tech firm, SHL Systemhouse Inc. Yet renewable energy remained Mr. Foody’s dream project. It is even more so today.
Iogen is a privately held company, based in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. Public and private investment in Iogen has totaled approximately $130 million over the past 25 years. Major investors include the Royal Dutch/Shell Group, Petro-Canada, and the Government of Canada. These companies are investing in the production of cellulose ethanol.
Cellulose ethanol and conventional (grain-based) ethanol are both ethanol products that can be easily integrated into the existing fuel distribution system. The primary difference between the two types of ethanol products is that conventional fuel ethanol is derived from grains such as corn and wheat. Cellulose ethanol is made from the non-food portion of renewable feedstocks such as cereal straws and corn stover. Iogen is claiming 75 Gallons per ton of straw, with roughly 2/3 of the straw being converted. According to Iogen Corporation, the agriculture residues used to make cellulose ethanol also contain lignin – a material that can be burned to generate power to run the cellulose ethanol facility. Because of this ability to produce both fuel and energy, the US Department of Energy life-cycle analysis states that ethanol from cellulose reduces greenhouse gases by 90% compared to gasoline.
Ethanol is one of the fuel options:
- reduces overall CO2 emissions from vehicles
- runs in today’s cars (as E10) without any need for automobile modifications or changes to the fuel distribution system and
- is economical in comparison with all alternatives including many vehicle technology solution cellulose ethanols has two unique advantages over conventional ethanol made from corn.
- the greenhouse gas emission reductions from cellulose ethanol are three times greater than those from grain-based ethanol on a life cycle basis.
- cellulose ethanol is made from a plentiful and renewable resource, the non-food portion of agriculture crops (e.g. straw, corn stalks, and corn cobs). An industry-standard-setting total lifecycle model has been developed that allows researchers to evaluate the various vehicle and fuel combinations with a consistent methodology. The Greenhouse gases, Regulated Emissions, and Energy use in Transportation (GREET) model were developed by Dr. Michael Wang, Argonne National Laboratory’s Center for Transportation Research, with support from the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOEs) Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE). Argonne’s findings in their studies were that while corn-based ethanol can achieve moderate reductions in Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions, cellulosic ethanol (the focus of DOE/EERE research) can produce a much greater energy and GHG benefit’s. The automotive industry is doing its part. With federal mandates and research dollars, ethanol appears poised to be a viable option for helping America get off the dependence of foreign oil. But we have been here before. The difference will be in how long consumers will continue to demand alternatives. We’re a brilliant nation with incredibly intelligent people. We can solve this problem.