Sunday, March 21, 2010

E85 - Ethanol Needs Education

At the risk of getting into a debate on the moral aspects of Ethanol (using corn for fuel), it occurred to me that there is an ongoing lost opportunity to use less imported oil. Here's my rationale: E85 is a blend of up to 85% ethanol, with as little as only 15% gasoline.

We have an ever-growing number of vehicles on the road, but most of them use regular gasoline. My hypothesis: if the vehicles capable of burning E85 switched over, that population would use 85% LESS gasoline.

Let's explore that concept further and the role education plays in that equation.

There has been tremendous growth in the vehicle count on U.S. roads capable of burning E85.  Wikipedia states that the number was almost 5 million in 2005 and jumped to nearly 8 million in early 2009.

OK, you say, that accommodates the first part of my rationale - there are a growing number of E85-capable vehicles on our roads... so what?

The interesting part of this equation is that many people aren't aware they own an E85 vehicle.  On the same Wikipedia page, it cites a 2005 survey that found 68% of American flex-fuel car owners were not aware they owned one.  (Yes, I know the stat is dated, but the concept is sound - many people are oblivious.)

My point?

Think of the average child these days, much more aware of recycling that we ever were as kids.  Why? They are exposed to it, they have been taught the benefits, and they can relate to how changing a habit can make a significant environmental difference.

By integrating renewable energy education into our classrooms now, we will have a much more aware, educated, and engaged generation of drivers who will gravitate to the yellow E85 pumps when they are ready to drive. They will know the benefits and will be able to understand, through appropriate education, that changing a habit can make a significant environmental difference.

This is not the time to debate the "chicken or the egg?" issue on fueling infrastructure vs. critical mass of users.  But it is important to recognize one simple concept we learned in Econ 101: boosting demand for a commodity will entice other suppliers to enter the market. Improving exposure to renewable energy concepts in our schools will not overload a nascent E85 fueling infrastructure overnight.  However, it will boost demand over time and the numbers will speak for themselves.  Other suppliers and distributors will enter the market.

If we add "Education" to the "E" of E85, we do have a chance in regaining that lost opportunity to reduce our reliance on foreign oil - and reap all the financial and environmental impacts that ensues.

Dave

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