All Eyes On Biofuels

As gasoline prices rise, and post-Katrina fuel shortages begin to reverse, retailers of ethanol-gasoline mixed fuels are reporting higher sales. Most vehicles on the road today can run on a mixture of gasoline and ethanol, although not all communities have retail or commercial suppliers. Most U.S. ethanol production is in the "corn belt" of central Western and Mid-West states.

But that may change. It seems all eyes are on the future of biofuels as a cheaper, more reliable and less damaging way to power vehicles than pure gasoline.

A report released this summer shows that the U.S. can produce 25% of its transportation fuel needs from agricultural crop wastes using new processes developed by the biotechnology industry while reducing carbon and greenhouse gas emissions. "Bringing Biofuels to the Pump," from the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), recommends that the U.S. invest $1 billion during the next 10 years in bioethanol commercialization to "drive the development of the first billion gallons of bioethanol capacity at a price approaching that of gasoline and diesel."

Also, the energy bill passed this summer requires that the production of renewable fuels blended with gasoline increase from 4 billion gallons in 2006 to 7.5 billion gallons in 2012. It also provides credit for ethanol made from non-traditional feedstocks such as wheat straw and corn stover and provides $200 million yearly until 2015 to update the Biomass Research and Development Act with the goal of rapidly boosting the production of biobased fuels at competitive prices. Until recently, ethanol was viewed as an environmentally desirable but more costly alternative to pure gasoline. But technological improvements, rising gas prices and environmental concerns are making it a more attractive and cheaper alternative.

According to the American Coalition For Ethanol, there are 88 ethanol plants in the U.S., with 15 under construction.

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