Saturday, March 15, 2008

Pricing the Pump: Gasoline, Sugar Cane, and Corn

Gas prices are inching toward $4 in my LA suburb and in parts of the city, it's actually at $4/gallon as a friend reported to me when she went into Santa Monica to visit her CPA. If you want to track the best gas prices, there are many sites that can provide that information. Eco Trekker recently featured a list of 33 tracking sites to use.

With prices this high and the cost of filling a tank ranging between $40 and $70 per visit, it's worth considering our alternatives, something forward thinkers have been doing for years whether here in the United States or elsewhere around the world. Brazil is often held up as an example of creative thinking to lessen their dependence on oil by cultivating large amounts of sugar cane to turn into fuel. The New York Times wrote an article about deriving ethanol from sugar cane two years ago that outlines their investment in the future and the expected payoff. One of the most interesting comments is as follows: "Brazilian officials and scientists say that, in their country at least, the main barriers to the broader use of ethanol today come from outside. Brazil's ethanol yields nearly eight times as much energy as corn-based options, according to scientific data. Yet heavy import duties on the Brazilian product have limited its entry into the United States and Europe." Brazil started looking into alternative in the mid 70s and started small-scale implementation in the mid-80s. Now, 30 years after their initiative began, they are self-sufficient. If the United States could have shown such prescience, we would not be in the dependent state we're in today.

In the United States, one of the best known fuel alternatives is ethanol derived from corn. However, University of Minnesota researchers claim that soybeans as well as prairie-grass (phot above is of Texas prarie-grass) would also meet meet energy needs and perhaps provide even more energy output. Debates are currently raging about the efficacy of corn production, whether corn ethanol is more expensive and less efficient than gasoline and what might happen if corn production was inconsistent.

No matter your political position, I think we can all agree that our pockets would prefer and more affordable solution.

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