Ethanol Growth Unites OPEC and Environmental Fringe

At the same time that a major new report concluding that the United States could produce 90 billion gallons of renewable ethanol a year was released, Saudi Arabia's oil minister attacked biofuels for undermining oil development and fringe U.S. environmental groups announced their preference for continued gasoline consumption over the use of ethanol. Who would have thought it?

This week, the Department of Energy's Sandia National Laboratory underscored the potential of American ethanol producers to replace 90 billion gallons of gasoline a year using America's abundant biomass resources to produce renewable ethanol. Recently, we also learned of the breakthrough by vehicle engine technology company Ricardo in developing an engine capable of utilizing the high performance qualities of ethanol and erasing any mileage penalty as a result of ethanol's lower BTU content compared to gasoline.

Not coincidentally, Saudi Arabian Oil Minister Ali Naimi once again took a shot at renewable energy technologies, arguing that investments in these technologies would undermine the world oil industry (I think that is kinda of the point). "We must be mindful that efforts to rapidly promote alternatives could have a 'chilling effect' on investment in the oil sector," Ali Naimi told an oil conference in Houston this week. You will recall that the Minister attacked ethanol and other renewable fuels last year just as oil prices were heading to the stratosphere. While flawed, you have to give him credit for consistency. No matter the price of oil, he wants to keep the world hooked.

Then, the anti-ethanol public relations campaign fired up its oil-driven spin engine to bolster Ali Naimi's argument. Led by the Environmental Working Group, a leading member of the coalition headed by the Grocery Manufacturer's Association, a group of fringe environmental groups argued that gasoline was better than ethanol, particularly derived from corn. In a recycle of rehashed rhetoric, the groups argued for a halt to the domestic ethanol industry and implicitly gave support to Minister Naimi's position that the world must continue to devour its oil resources.

Minister Ali Naimi's fear of renewable fuels is understandable. He is trying to protect the economic interests of his nation's oil industry and those of other OPEC nations by whatever means necessary. For environmental activists to side with OPEC to protect the oil status quo is downright illogical and raises questions as to the real motives of such groups and the credibility and legitimacy of their arguments.

Ethanol and other biofuels to come are part of the world's answer to unsustainable and dangerous reliance on non-renewable and polluting petroleum. In supporting these alternative energy sources and addressing energy efficiency questions, we can begin to mitigate the economic, environmental and energy crises that are linked by our addiction to oil.