What alternative energy system does Big Oil currently hate the most?
I’ll give you a hint. It’s not EVs. Nor is it wind or solar. Though these systems currently represent serious threats to Big Oil’s market dominance they don’t compare to the one source of energy Big Oil is required to incorporate into gasoline. That, in the US, represents nearly 1 million barrels per day of renewable liquid fuel.
That’s right, I’m talking about ethanol.
Currently ethanol reduces US oil demand by nearly 1 million barrels per day. As such, it reduces overall carbon emissions, reduces fuel costs for American motorists, and makes the United States more energy independent. The fuel contribution coming from ethanol is greater than that produced by the Bakken Shale.
Ethanol does require a degree of fossil fuel use to produce it. Primarily natural gas is used to run the distilleries and oil to run the farm equipment (however, wind or solar could be used as replacements, further lowering carbon impact). But the field to wheels carbon emission is less than 50% that of gasoline (and even less if your gasoline is coming from a highly polluting source like tar sands). So, when traded for gasoline, ethanol produces far less of a carbon burden on the planet.
Most US ethanol currently comes from corn. As such, about 30% of the US corn crop, at present, goes to ethanol. And this puts an upward pressure on food prices. In combination with a current drought (ironically, largely the result of massive fossil fuel carbon emissions) first generation ethanol production has contributed to upward pressure on food prices.
Second generation ethanol production via cellulosic ethanol appears to be around the corner (2015). Cellulosic ethanol can come from a variety of feedstocks including switch grass and wood chips. Since most cellulosic ethanol can be produced from waste material or via grass grown on marginal lands, the impact to food production is far less than that of corn-based ethanol. So it appears a primary detractor for ethanol is rapidly evaporating.
On a scale of what is most harmful to what is least harmful to the environment and sustainability, you would rank fossil fuels as most harmful, corn ethanol as second most harmful, and cellulosic ethanol as least harmful.
Unfortunately, many mainstream media outlets are producing fresh attack pieces targeting ethanol. These run a gambit of false claims ranging from blaming ethanol for the current drought to ludicrously asserting that ethanol carbon emissions are comparable to gasoline. Others appear to be sounding the death knell for ethanol as a US fuel, citing both the drought and falling US gasoline consumption.
So why are mainstream media outlets producing fresh attack pieces on ethanol? The answer is anyone’s guess. Big Oil, for one, is certain to be delighted. But one does wonder that if falling US gasoline consumption means the end for the US ethanol industry, does it also mean the end for the US oil based gasoline industry?