In the last few weeks, gasoline consumers such as myself have breathed sighs of relief as the price of gas per gallon at the pump dropped 10 cents or more throughout the nation.
For example, I was relieved last week to be paying around $2.87 per gallon rather than somewhere in the $3.10 range, as many other drivers were during the summer months.
But then I considered the math. If I were able to run my car on a renewable and cheaper fuel I’d be doing a lot better for my wallet, environment and national security.
To compare the numbers in my example, the 23-cent difference in price per gallon of gasoline between now and the summer months with an estimated fill-up of, say, 20 gallons equals about $4.60 worth of savings per fill-up.
The organization Ethanol Market states on its Web site that the average cost of ethanol fuel in Colorado is approximately $2.53 per gallon. Compared with the summer high price of gasoline at $3.10 per gallon in my 20-gallon fill-up example, the price difference would be approximately $11.40.
If I were to compare that summer high of $3.10 per gallon of gasoline from my example with the national average price for ethanol fuel of $2.04 per gallon, savings per fill-up could equal about $21.20.
Now these are simply numeric examples, but the possibilities for ethanol-blend fuels such as E85 (85 percent ethanol, 15 percent gasoline) as a cheaper, cleaner and renewable fuel source are limitless, given political will.
Ethanol is produced from the fermentation of sugar, usually derived from either sugar cane or corn, making it a completely renewable form of energy. Ethanol emissions are also much cleaner, as the products from the combustion of ethanol are carbon dioxide and water.
Following the 1973 Oil Crisis, oil-dependent nations worldwide scrambled for fixes to their fuel problems. President Nixon labeled the nation’s oil usage as “profligate” and instituted numerous policies to tighten fuel efficiency, emissions standards for automobiles, and lowered the national speed limit to 55 mph.
In contrast, in 1975 the Brazilian government instituted its Pr/-Alcool program; a national set of policies aimed at finding and transitioning to alternative fuels from fossil fuels.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, Brazil is now the largest producer and exporter of ethanol in the world. More than half of the cars in Brazil are flex-fuel vehicles, meaning they can run on pure ethanol or an ethanol-gasoline blend.
As an ancillary benefit, Brazil’s domestic oil consumption has dropped and the country has become almost completely independent of foreign oil. The surge in this new Ethanol segment of the fuel economy has created jobs and boosted the Brazilian economy as a whole.
Results similar to Brazil’s are completely feasible in the United States. Ethanol production plants and filling stations have sprouted up in states such as Illinois and Iowa, where strong corn farming fuels the sugar demand for ethanol production. Government subsidies for corn and corn syrup production provide a strong foundation for a national transition to this renewable fuel source.
Further, if the United States were able to significantly decrease its importation of foreign oil, we as a nation would become much less dependent upon oil-producing nations that carry national security baggage.
Independent from our oil fuel partners, political relationships with the Middle East, despotic oil producing regimes, and other troublesome oil producers would hold much less sway on American foreign and domestic policy.
In August of 2005 President Bush signed into law a new energy bill, which requires an increase in the production of ethanol and biodiesel from 4 to 7.5 billion gallons within the next 10 years.
The Web site for the National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition lists 12 gas stations in Colorado that carry E85. The Web site claims 979 locations for E85 nationwide; there are approximately 165,000 gas stations in the United States.
Availability and accessibility is key to get ethanol fuel on its feet in the United States. If I were able to cheaply make my car flex-fuel capable and then drive down the street to my local gas station to purchase some ethanol fuel that supports a farmer in Iowa rather than a South American anti-U.S. government at around $2 a gallon, I would jump at the chance. I think the rest of the nation would, too.
Drew Haugen is a senior International Studies major. His column appears Wednesdays in the Collegian. Replies and feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org