Chicken or the Egg?
Recently the debate of alternative fuels has been in regards to corn. Corn, as well as other biomass, can be fermented to make ethanol, which can be used as a fuel source. Could corn be the saving grace of the American economy? Some have argued 'no', on the basis that there simply is not enough farmland in America to produce nearly enough fuel. I disagree. While I recognize that corn and ethanol fuels will most certainly not be the fuel of the future, but ethanol has some desirable characteristics that can, and may, be the energy that helps us get to the future.
Most people agree that a Hydrogen energy economy is the desired, and only sustainable, direction we should be moving. However, it causes a chicken or the egg problem. Currently there is no incentive for car companies to invest billions to mass produce a fuel cell car, even though the technology exists. They have no incentive because potential buyers have no access to hydrogen gas fuel. On the other hand, a hydrogen gas fuel distribution system is not in the works because there are no cars to utilize the fuel. So, which comes first; the chicken or the egg?
The answer, in my opinion, should be neither. The first step should be the production of "flex-fuel" vehicles (GM produces many) that can run on either traditional gasoline, or E85, a gasoline and alcohol (85%) mixture. As E85 distribution becomes more and more available, fuel cell cars could rise with it. What is looked over by most in the debate about the future of energy; with only minor alterations, fuel cells can also use ethanol as a fuel! This means that as a distribution system for ethanol develops, fuel cell vehicles could, potentially, begin to develop alongside of them. As more and more fuel cell vehicles begin to roam the streets, running on ethanol, an impetus for a hydrogen distribution network would be established.
Ethanol is not the future of transportation. It simply does not have the capacity to eliminate our foreign dependence, and it would, potentially, continue to produce carbon-dioxide (which contributes to the greenhouse effect) when it is burned. However, it has the unique potential to act as a transition fuel between our current oil-dependence, and a cleaner, self-sufficient Hydrogen economy. It would do so seamlessly for the consumer, which is a necessary feature of such a fuel, and without a large increase in price (though the price may match prices of gas in the future). I think support of legislation that promotes ethanol fuels is vital.