It’s Time to Focus on the Elephant in the Corner

We've had a petroleum fuels mandate for 100 years. It’s time to get past the RFS debate and accept the fact that ethanol and biodiesel are just logical steps in the energy transition from where we are today to where we need to be tomorrow
By Mike Bryan | March 06, 2014

Debate rages over the renewable fuel standard (RFS) that mandates the use of biofuels such as ethanol and biodiesel. At the same time, we have had a market mandate for fossil fuels, in particular gasoline, for more than 100 years because there was no competition.

We have gone from sending ships out from Nantucket, Mass., to kill whales for their oil to burning million-year-old dead vegetation buried deep in the earth in the form of oil and coal.

It doesn’t seem like much progress has been made in terms of energy, but in reality, it’s the natural progression of things. The sun can generate more power than we could ever use and creates the wind that can generate enormous energy when harnessed. There are billions of tons of biomass energy that go largely untapped and powerful oceans that create enough energy to stagger the imagination. Yet, we plod along, debating whether we should mandate the use of renewable fuels like ethanol and biodiesel as if that were really important in the scheme of things.

The world is heating up, and anyone who thinks that human activity is not at the root of that trend is simply ignoring science. It’s time to think big, to think on a global scale, to stop focusing on the gnat on the table when there is an elephant standing in the corner.

Ethanol is a transitional fuel, just like fossil fuels have provided a transition from whale oil and wood. But first, we have to let go of the past and accept the transition to a new era of renewable, cleaner energy. At some point in the future, the ethanol industry may even have to accept the eventual transition from corn-based ethanol to cellulosic ethanol and, eventually, to an entirely new type of fuel altogether.

It’s natural to cling to the past, but it’s time to let go, open our arms to the future and embrace the wonderful energy gifts that nature has laid at our feet—the sun, the wind, the oceans, biomass and geothermal energy. I imagine our great-great-grandchildren will wonder why we continued to pollute their earth with fossil fuels when there was so much clean energy at our disposal. They will be amazed at our lack of energy ingenuity, just as we are stunned that we actually killed whales by the thousands for their oil.

In time, automobiles can and will be powered with electricity generated by nature’s clean resources. It’s time to get past the debate about the RFS and accept the fact that ethanol and biodiesel are just logical steps in the energy transition from where we are today, to where we need to be tomorrow.

That’s the way I see it!

Author: Mike Bryan
Chairman, BBI International