Researchers from Iowa, Iowa State and U-N-I today briefed Iowa legislators on the economics and environmental impact of corn-based ethanol fuel. Gregory Carmichael is a University of Iowa professor of biochemical engineering who testified today (Thursday) at the statehouse. “As you’re all aware, this issue of biofuels is a very important one. It’s in the public eye. Individuals are very interested in this topic,” Carmichael testified. “It’s also a very complex issue.” Critics in the petroleum industry often call for an end to the tax breaks and other incentives state and federal governments have extended to the ethanol industry.

But Iowa State University’s John Miranowski says the petroleum industry has been heavily subsidized and continues to get big breaks for the government. “There’s regulatory cleanup and liability coverage provided to the petroleum industry. There are relaxed environmental regulations proposed for new refineries,” Miranowski says. “So it’s not only the biofuels that are getting subsidized, there’s substantial subsidies that have gone and continue to go to the petroleum industry.”

Some six-thousand jobs in Iowa are directly connected to the ethanol industry, according to the researchers. Iowa State University professor Robert Brown says the ethanol industry is a significant part of the Iowa economy. Brown says the state of Iowa gains about two-and-a-half billion dollars each year when corn is converted to ethanol. The researchers spent a great deal of time explaining the chemical properties of ethanol and how ethanol is made.

Some consumers still refuse to use ethanol because they believe it will cause engine problems, but Brown refuted that. “There still persist some concerns among individuals about ethanol. Most of those I believe are historical and are not current issues,” Brown says. When ethanol was first introduced, it sometimes contained too much water, but Brown says the refining process has resolved that. The professors talked for 80 minutes, but did not offer their own proposals for increasing ethanol use in Iowa, one of the goals legislators have set for themselves this year.