A top official in the U.S. Ag Department says corn-based ethanol fuel can survive the battering its getting from critics who complain it’s causing gas prices to climb because ethanol is now the chief additive used to make gas burn more cleanly and production needs to ramp up to meet that demand.
Deputy Ag Secretary Chuck Conner says ethanol continues to increase in production “dramatically.” The ethanol industry is expected to produce about four billion gallons this year, using 14 percent of the U.S. corn crop. Conner predicts in a couple of years ethanol production will climb to seven billion gallons, using over 20 percent of the corn crop.
“The market is developing rapidly to meet this growing demand and I believe it will continue to develop,” Conner says. President Bush has asked Congress to approve 20-million more dollars in federal spending on ethanol and “bio-fuels” research. It currently takes about 30 percent more energy inputs to make ethanol than the energy produced, but ethanol advocates like Conner say that differential has been falling and more research will reduce it further.
Conner says ethanol’s a “highly-competitive” source of energy, and the cost of production is well below what unleaded gasoline prices are running. Connor, who headed the Corn Refiners Association from 1997 to 2001, says while the country of Brazil is becoming energy independent largely by converting to ethanol that’s made with sugar cane, fuel demand in this country in much greater than in Brazil.
“We can continue to use ethanol as a growing source of our fuel needs,” Conner says. “I don’t think anyone is suggesting (ethanol) can replace all other forms of fuel in this country but it can certainly be a very strong source and a market-stabilizing source of fuel for this country.” Conner made his comments this (Wednesday) morning during a telephone interview with Radio Iowa.
Conner grew up on a farm in Indiana and before joining the Ag Department a year ago he served on the National Economic Council as one of the president’s advisors on agricultural trade and food issues.