When I was in high school (from which I graduated in 2008), a major topic in social studies and government classes was biofuels. At the time, there was talk that corn-derived ethanol would be the fuel of the future.
Seven or eight years later, you don’t hear much about ethanol anymore. Yet, it’s quietly gained a foothold in the market. Most of the gasoline sold at U.S. gas stations is now 10 percent ethanol, which is the safe amount for most car models past and present.
Now, Chicago is considering taking ethanol another step forward. The city is considering a bill that would require most gas stations to provide a pump that dispenses gas that’s 15 percent ethanol.
There’s been a backlash, much of it from the petroleum industry, but also due to the fact that most engines (cars as well as other machines) aren’t made for 15 percent ethanol gas. But the larger issue, I think, is that in the long run, ethanol is not a great answer to our energy woes.
For one, while it’s generally agreed upon that ethanol is cleaner to produce than regular gasoline, burning it still releases carbon dioxide into the air. Supporters contend that since the fuel comes from corn, the carbon dioxide burned is cancelled out by new corn plants that use it. But, burning it still puts it in the atmosphere, which isn’t what we want to do considering the very real dangers of climate change.
Moreover, making ethanol creates a higher demand for corn, which causes the price of food to go up. All that aforementioned talk of an ethanol revolution was mostly derailed by a major jump in food prices in 2008. Given, that was an extreme circumstance caused by a number of factors. Still, with food prices already being affected by population growth and environmental turmoil, it’s not a good idea to select an energy path that’ll raise them further.
Also, the mere fact that most vehicles can’t use it is a valid issue, precluding any environmental progress intended by the legislation. If the city wanted to incentivize its residents to make their driving habits greener, it would make more sense to push for a major change (something like, say, electric cars), not an incrementally small one like an extra five percent ethanol in their tank.