Oil cheerleader says: Cellulosic ethanol for the military still not feasible

(A letter to the editor by ROLF WESTGARD, published by the Minnesota Daily, the student newspaper of the University of Minnesota)

In response to “Rep. Kahn on alternative fuels,” in the Sept. 29 Daily, Rep. Phyllis Kahn states that her opposition to (sic) military jet fuel made from cellulosic ethanol is misguided because we don’t have enough domestic conventional supply. Kahn is one of the few legislators who is technically qualified to discuss this subject. However, although the process to produce alcohol from cellulose was invented in 1819, we still don’t know how to produce it in large quantities. (note: it is evident the writer meant to say not “her opposition to,” but “use of” when referring to Rep. Kahn’s position)

We can produce all of the jet fuel our military needs from North American oil in North American refineries. Our ignorant Congress has required 250 million gallons of cellulose ethanol in 2011. We will struggle to make 5 million gallons in our tax-funded pilot plants.

The program, which makes the Department of Defense spend $510 million on production plants when we don’t have a production process, is another energy boondoggle.

Our Take:
We do know how to produce cellulose ethanol in mass quantities, and it is a matter of developing the financial infrastructure in order to ramp it up. Abengoa has just secured guaranteed loans to begin construction of a cellulose ethanol plant and Mascoma Corp. is going forward with a cellulose ethanol plant in Michigan without any government-guaranteed loans–the millions being spent here, both publicly and privately, are creating jobs for Americans.

Cellulose ethanol will benefit farmers, forestry producers and even local governments with yard waste or garbage to turn into energy. Its slow launch does not reflect an industry unready for prime-time–it reflects the most challenging economic circumstances since the Great Depression. By priming the pump, government stands to get a return on the investment that is many-fold what we put in. The shift to renewable energy could create 8 million jobs in local energy production–those are jobs that will not be outsourced to Mexico or India.

When we read here about “ignorant Congress,” we are reminded of the moment in the documentary film “Freedom” when Sen. Charles Schumer demands an explanation from oil executives about their statements to the effect that any critique of oil industry behavior is “un-American,” and anyone who holds that view is, in other words, not just a person who sees the issue differently, but a traitor to the country.

In the above letter, one of the patient hand-maidens of the fossil fuel industry calls Congress ignorant for setting a goal for cellulose ethanol that is above what can be achieved today, and calls the development of this industry a “boondoggle.” Setting goals and achieving what other people tell us is impossible is about the most American pursuit we can think of.

We need to remind everyone that this letter writer’s simple-minded approach to energy economics is what keeps the western nations sending a trillion dollars a year to the OPEC, while America and Europe both teeter on the brink of insolvency.

Even if we supply the oil ourselves, from North American sources, these barrels are “marginal.” That is, using a barrel of oil from anywhere decreases the world supply of oil and increases the price commanded by the OPEC nations. Holding 40 percent of the world market share, OPEC can contract production at will, like using a pincers, to squeeze the oil market and reduce the supply of oil to the world. They produce less and profit more.

How interesting that OPEC is literally flooding the market at this moment (driving gasoline down to $3.50 a gallon) — the perfect plan for someone with a motive to kill renewable energy and keep us addicted to oil. If we fail in our push to expand renewable energy we will think fondly of $3.50 per gallon gas when we pay twice as much.

The government of Kuwait has pledged to give free food to all its citizens in the coming year, thanks to oil dollars pouring into their treasury, while the United States Congress debates whether and how long it should allow Americans, whose jobs have been outsources to foreign countries, to collect unemployment support.

Renewable aviation fuel is a moral imperative, and what better place to start than in our military. The investment in the foundation of such self-reliant energy sources–ones that will not benefit oil potentates and dictators–will create millions of American jobs and lead to a more peaceful world.



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