Royal Dutch Shell Group .com Rotating Header Image Editorial: Ethanol isn’t a cure-all for America’s fuel woes

To hear some folks talk about it, ethanol, which is already blended with almost every gallon of gasoline sold in Wisconsin, is some sort of holy nectar given to mankind by the gods.

It will reduce our dependence on foreign oil. It will burn cleanly and won’t contribute to global warming. It will create jobs, and help struggling family farmers survive by creating a new market for their crops.

It slices. It dices. It removes stubborn stains. All it needs is some high-volume pitchman with a British accent, screaming its virtues on late-night cable TV, and the stuff will fly off the shelves.

It’s all hogwash.

Some scientists have been saying for quite some time now that ethanol can’t do all it is promised to do. But their concerns have been dismissed by some, in part because folks didn’t want to hear them and partially because some of their studies have been funded by the petroleum industry.

But a new analysis backs the skeptics. And this wasn’t some study bought and paid for by Exxon or Shell Oil. It was done by researchers at the University of Minnesota in a state that has jumped on the ethanol bandwagon with both feet.

According to their research, even if every ear of corn in the U.S. were devoted to making alcohol, it only would supply 12 percent of our motor fuel. And that’s at today’s consumption rate, which is expected to double by 2025.

The news gets worse. In addition to seriously harming food supplies — corn also is a huge source of livestock feed — corn isn’t as green as it has been advertised to be, and growing it robs soil of nutrients that have to be replaced.

This new study should get everyone’s attention because it’s scientifically sound — printed in the peer-reviewed publication of the National Academy of Sciences — and balanced.

Jason Hill, lead author of the review, said that he and other scientists “definitely believe that biofuels have a significant potential.”

But he went on to say that ethanol is “no savior.”

And that’s the important part.

Ethanol no doubt will play a role, and a significant role, in our future energy consumption. It will be joined by biodiesel and other renewables as we search for every source of fuel that will reduce our use of the finite supply of petroleum on this planet.

But ethanol isn’t magic.

If we’re to reduce our dependence on oil, one thing and one thing only will work: We have to use less of it.

That means driving smaller, fuel-efficient vehicles and driving them less. It means taking the bus, or riding a bike or walking when possible. It means insulating our homes more, and wearing sweaters in the winter when we turn the thermostats a little lower.

Today, gasoline is more than $3 a gallon. A year from now, it might be $4. It sure doesn’t seem to be going down.

This editorial was originally published in the Wausau Daily Herald, a Gannett Wisconsin Newspaper. and its sister non-profit websites,,,,,, and are owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia feature.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: