I know for the vast majority of Americans, corn-based ethanol seems like a new thing. It’s not.
In fact, the first cars made by Henry Ford ran on a corn alcohol fuel. Though we didn’t call it ethanol back then, it wasn’t that dissimilar to the fuels we’re blending with gasoline today. And if it existed way back then, why aren’t we using more of it now, you ask? Well, it has to do with the civil war and President Lincoln’s need to make money to finance the war. Listen to Mike Rowe tell you how – he’s more interesting than me anyway.
So America moved toward petroleum based fuels because they were cheaper. This brings us to about 1974 when a series of oil embargos by OPEC caused gasoline disruptions that resulted in higher prices, long lines and long waits at the pumps, and gasoline rationing by the government.
In order to alleviate those issues, American’s asked for alternatives to gasoline and farmers delivered with corn-based ethanol – then called gasohol – because we already understood it to be an effective fuel.
Specifically in Illinois, four ethanol plants started producing corn-based ethanol in the late 1970s and Illinois led the nation in ethanol production until the late 1990s. During this time, ethanol was blended up to ten percent with gasoline. Ethanol further infiltrated the marketplace when Chicago adopted ethanol is an important way to clean the air around the city in the 1990s.
And then September 11, 2001. The country was again in an uproar. We wanted answers. We wanted security. We wanted energy independence from our enemies in the Middle East.
The government responded with the Renewable Fuels Standard. The legislation mandated the use of domestic, renewable fuels on an incremental basis so that over time, our reliance on foreign oil would diminish. The added benefits were cleaner air, less impact on the environment, and boost to rural economies all over the country.
Which brings us to today. The Renewable Fuels Standards is under attack. Somehow ethanol became the devil instead of the savior it was about ten years ago. We’ve lost the perspective and the history. We aren’t learning from the past.
Corn-based ethanol isn’t the only answer, but it is an important answer. Going backwards to rely on petroleum based fuels won’t move our country forward. Moving towards electric is expensive and burns coal which isn’t renewable or it forces more nuclear energy.
Perspective is an interesting thing. I encourage you today to think through our history, learn from the past, and re-evaluate ethanol.