Friday, March 2, 2007

Looking for Better Alternatives Than Corn-based Ethanol

Wisconsin is on the corn-based ethanol bandwagon because farmers and politicians here think it's good for Wisconsin's economy.

And a useful way to make an additive to stretch gas supplies and help the country break its addiction to petroleum.

Good goals.

But there's also a growing awareness that the financial, fertilizer and water costs required to turn corn into ethanol have serious environmental and fiscal drawbacks.

So is there a better way to produce ethanol? And is it the best use of corn, or of Wisconsin land and water and resources that could keep producing food?

Now there's news that the federal government is putting several hundreds of millions of research dollars into ethanol production from non-food crops in states other than Wisconsin, meaning the market for ethanol could shift away from corn, and move elsewhere.

So-called cellulosic ethanol could be produced from certain grasses, quick-growing trees and waste products, too - - in other words: not corn.

Projects receiving initial federal support for its production are located as close as Iowa - - where they grow a lot of corn but also see the potential for different ethanol source.

The Forest Products Lab at UW-Madison is already looking at whether wood chips and similar materials could be turned into cellulosic ethanol.

Good start.

As an agricultural state, with major research universities, and a public sector getting 'greener' by the day, Wisconsin should direct its renewal fuel potential - - and maybe venture capital, too - - towards these alternatives.

What better way to catch the next big wave of job-producing research, development and production in the energy sector?

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