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Corn or Sugar ethanol might not be the answer to the world’s fuel needs but maybe fuel from Algae or “Trash”, Cellulosic Ethanol, can be. Using crops for fuel instead of food is not the right answer in a world with a food shortage. Figuring out how to produce a fuel that decreases the overall CO2 output, reduce the need for drilling oil and increases the available food for animals is something worth investigating. The three key issues with any fuel production are Btu’s of energy per gallon, CO2 output, additional resources used and cost.

Corn and sugar ethanol have paved the way for these new versions. Thanks to advances in production, corn ethanol now generates 1.36 Btu for every Btu of fossil fuel. This compares with gasoline at .81 and Coal at .98 for every Btu of fossil fuel. Cellulosic Ethanol is even more amazing at 10.31 Btu for every Btu of fossil fuel (Hofstrand, 2007). This high return in Btu, for fossil fuel used, has allowed companies like Blue Fire, Coskata and Algenol Biofuels to produce fuel for a much lower cost than gasoline.

Reducing the amount of CO2 emitted is of utmost importance to stop global warming. 85% blended Cellulosic ethanol reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 64% (Hofstrand, 2007). Imagine a fuel that consumes 1.5 million metric tons of CO2 to make 100 million gallons of fuel (Algenol Biofuels, 2008). Algae ethanol does just that. Algenol can capture industrial or atmospheric CO2 and convert it into fuel for cars. Coskata has also found a way to turn CO2 into fuel. They state that if they could capture all of the carbon monoxide from steel mills worldwide, they could produce 50 billion gallons of fuel each year (Kanellos, 2008). That is close to a third of the US fuel consumption every year (Technology Review Published by MIT, 2007). For every 900 miles driven in a 2009 Chevrolet Tahoe, 0.4 tons of CO2 (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 2008) would be emitted using E85 Cellulosic ethanol, but the plant producing the fuel for the Tahoe would consume 1.0 tons of CO2. That equates to an overall reduction in CO2. This could be the start of humans repairing the damage they have done worldwide.

Water consumption and land use are other areas of concern with the production of ethanol. Traditional corn ethanol production consumes 3 to 5 gallons of water for every gallon of fuel produced. Cellulosic ethanol using Coskata’s process uses less than 1 gallon of water (Kanellos, 2008). A company in Mexico, called Algenol, is able to produce Ethanol using Algae. One of the byproducts of this conversion is fresh water. This could prove to be a major breakthrough for 3rd world countries with drinking water issues. Traditional corn produces 340 to 360 gallons of ethanol per acre while sugar produces 870 to 890 gallons of fuel per acre (Algenol Biofuels, 2008). Algenol will be able to produce 10,000 gallons per acre per year and will be using land that is not useable for agriculture (Algenol Biofuels, 2008). By using non-food crops like miscanthus, human waste and carbon-heavy garbage, like tires, Blue Fire and Coskata will actually increase the amount of land available by reducing the amount of waste disposal sites needed. Daniel Cohn, a senior research scientist at the Plasma Science and Fusion Center at MIT, states that municipal waste could replace a quarter of the gasoline used in the United States using the Cellulosic process (Technology Review Published by MIT, 2007).

Cost is the determining factor for most people when purchasing any product, including fuel. Currently it cost $2.86 to produce a gallon of gasoline (Chevron Corporation, 2008) with oil prices at $120 per barrel. Cellulosic ethanol costs less than $1.00 per gallon (Kanellos, 2008). This low cost of production means that without government subsidy the company can produce fuel that will save the consumer money. The EPA states that a 2009 Chevrolet Impala that is flex fuel capable will get 29 mpg with regular unleaded and 22 mpg using E85 (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 2008). With an at the pump price of $3.50 per gallon for unleaded and $2.50 for Cellulosic ethanol, the average American who drives 20,000 miles per year would save $37.00 per year using ethanol. The financial savings would not be big, but the reduction in the number of barrels of oil used and the annual Tons of CO2 would be.

There is no “silver bullet” when it comes to alternative fuels. Every option needs to be explored and every rough idea needs to be refined. Corn and Sugar ethanol may not be the answer, but perhaps cellulosic ethanol can.

Works Cited
Algenol Biofuels. (2008, September). Environmental benefits. Retrieved September 10, 2008, from Algenol Biofuels: http://www.algenolbiofuels.com/advantages-benefits.html
Chevron Corporation. (2008). The Price of Fuel. Retrieved September 28, 2008, from The Price of Fuel: http://www.thepriceoffuel.com/whataffectsfuelpricing/
Hofstrand, D. (2007, July). Energy Agriculture- ethanol energy balance. Retrieved September 15, 2008, from Iowa State University: http://www.extension.iastate.edu/agdm/articles/hof/hofJuly07.htm
Kanellos, M. (2008, April 7). Coskata CEO explains how to get to $1 a gallon ethanol. Retrieved September 22, 2008, from CNet.
Technology Review Published by MIT. (2007, January 19). Technology Review. Retrieved September 17, 2008, from CNet: http://www.technologyreview.com
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (2008, September). Find a Car. Retrieved September 20, 2008, from www.fueleconomy.gov: http://www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/findacar.htm
 
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