Lindsay Mitchell

Apr 10, 2014  |  Today's News

The argument for corn-based ethanol has always been a multifaceted one.

  • Ethanol is cleaner burning and better for air quality.
  • Ethanol is renewable and moves the U.S. away from using up natural resources.
  • Ethanol is domestic and lessens our dependence on foreign oil.
  • Ethanol is here and already performing in a way that contributes meaningfully to our society.

So although it’s exciting to read about new scientific discoveries and dream of future opportunities for the U.S. to improve on our current renewable fuel model, stories like this one don’t eliminate the need for corn-based ethanol.

According to Reuters, A group of scientists led by Stanford University chemist Matthew Kanan have developed a process that turns carbon monoxide gas into liquid ethanol with the help of an electrode made of a form of copper. They said the new technique may be more environmentally friendly and efficient than the current method.

Says Kanan, "I emphasize that these are just laboratory experiments today. We haven't built a device.  But it demonstrates the feasibility of using electricity that you could get from a renewable energy source to power fuel synthesis - in this case ethanol. There are some real advantages to doing that relative to using biomass to produce ethanol."

And yet, if history proves correct, in the years it takes to develop and commercialize this technology, ethanol will have gained untold efficiencies.  Already the last ten years have seen tremendous efficiency gains in terms of water use to produce a gallon of ethanol and farm efficiencies to grow the corn for feedstocks.

Artificial government barriers to corn-based ethanol aside (like the EPA’s ruling to minimize ethanol’s “shelf space” this winter), the biofuel continues to make great strides for the U.S., even making significant profits with 619,880,257 gallons of ethanol exported last year.

The U.S. is the world’s largest ethanol producer.