Tuesday, April 18, 2006

A few thoughts on Ethanol...and other things that are a gas

CH3CH2OH. That is the chemical formula for a form of alcohol that can be created from plants such as corn, sugar cane and others and is also at the heart of a rather ugly debate about alternative fuels. Or put another way, the battle over getting the US off the Middle East Oil Bottle.

Now it would seem a little odd that if the cars that run either at the NASCAR superspeedways [Bristol and Martinsville excluded in that definition, those are more or less very small, oval parking lots] or at Indianapolis for the 500 can be made to run on Ethanol [it is a race formulated version but you get the idea], then why in heck can it not be done for the rest of the country? After all, the raw materials for this are readily available [corn, sugar cane, soybeans], plus the processing plants do exist. If they did not, then firms such as Archer-Daniels Midland [ADM for those of you who watch 'Meet the Press' on NBC] are spinning tall tales about the ability to make this relatively cheap source of fuel.

However there are some devils in the details as far as getting this clean liquid to the pumps. One of them sadly are the oil companies. Yep, the same ones who have said that they were expending funds to research the possibilities of 'alternative fuels' [a buzzword term that came out of the 'Earth Day' events] such as ethanol, solar power, coal gasification, hydrogen based cars [no they would not blow up like The Hindenburg] for some reason still want to stick with their old standby. Black Gold, Texas tea -- oil. As such they have seen to it that those people in Washington, D.C. and other capitals in the western world keep the mind on oil. Them as well as such wonderful, prospering companies as Ford, GM, Daimler-Chrysler who want the public to purchase those esteem building SUV's as well as other suburban assault vehicles because they are good for the country. If they are good for the country and its economy, how could this be wrong.

Well there is one thing to consider. Oil and where it comes from is a finite source of fuel. In straight English, it is going to run out at some point. The fact that there are also new economies that are growing [China, India] which are gobbling up oil at a rate not seen on this planet -- in relative terms since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution is not helping matters any if only because all of the planet will be fighing over not just the supply that does exist, but over what comes out from any untapped oil fields [one in Canada has been mentioned in ths space before]. But ethanol, can be grown and seeing that the aforementioned developing countries have land which can be dvoted to the growth of the crops to provide the basics. And if there are some really sharp entreprenurial types in those countries [and there are, after all they went hand in hand with Western investors and venture capitalists to get their balls rolling in the first place].

Before this one ends, the cost of ethanol gas per gallon [or litre for that matter] will over time drop down to the point where it will be competitive with gold old refined regular gas. It would make sense after all because the technology to produce this fuel will only get better over time. That is of course unless the old Standard Oil Trust [Esso, Mobil, Sohio, Amoco and other picture postcards for those of you who remember those good old days of the colorful names for Standard Oil] decides to get in on the action and buys the farms and the processing plants. However that would be unethical and those companies would not act in that fashion, would they?

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