There has been a considerable amount of debate on whether the production of ethanol is a net contributor of energy. Researchers in the past claimed that the production of ethanol required more energy than it producers. Researchers at the University of California, Berkley claim that producing ethanol from corn uses much less petroleum than producing gasoline. However, the greenhouse gas emissions, and other environmental impacts are unknown at this time. As a technological optimist, I believe that the scientific community will find ways to optimize the production of ethanol in order to maximize the yield and minimize greenhouse gas emissions.
The use of small amounts of ethanol in gasoline can be done without modifications to vehicles. There are other products such as E85 (15% gasoline and 85% ethanol) and E100 (pure ethanol). The use of these types of ethanol requires modifications to car engines. Drastic changes to car engines can not be imposed. The use of ethanol-gasoline blends would be a more feasible strategy.
Developing an ethanol is only part of the solution. Governments must play an active role by introducing policies to increase the ethanol content of gasoline. The Canadian federal government, with the approval of the provincial governments have recently announced an initiative to increase the ethanol content of gasoline to 10% by 2010. Oil companies must be part of the solution and not considered part of the problem as they will play a crucial role in the distribution of various types of fuels. This initiative will require collaboration with farmers, ethanol producers and oil companies.
When it comes to the use of ethanol, the rest of the world can learn from Brazil. Brazil has been using ethanol for over 30 years. Approximately, 26% of the fuel consumed in Brazil is in the form of ethanol. Not only does the Brazilian strategy address the issue of cleaner fuel, it also provides an additional market for farmers.