Rising corn prices make lawmakers rethink ethanol

Lawmakers we spoke with say ethanol plant are still the wave of the future, but maybe not from grain.

We showed you on KHQA's News at Five about how the price of corn is on the rise. That's raised questions about the future of ethanol plant. Lawmakers we spoke with say ethanol plant are still the wave of the future, but maybe not from grain. KHQA's Bret Buganski shows you how lawmakers plan to keep the ethanol dream alive despite rising food prices.

U.S. Iowa Representative, 2nd district, Dave Loebsack said, "ethanol is the beginning of the renewable fuels revolution, so it's not the end by any means, it's a part of it."

U.S. Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley said, "using kernel corn might not make ethanol after 15 billion gallons, but we're then getting ready for what you call cellulosic ethanol."

That's an environmentally friendly and renewable fuel that can be produced from feedstocks, agricultural wastes, switchgrass and woodchips. The conventional fuel ethanol uses only a portion of the edible parts of corn or other grains, but cellulose ethanol is made from the non-food portion. It also doesn't need fertilizers, pesticides or water.

But the refining process for cellulosic ethanol is more complex than corn-based ethanol.

"I don't think you're going to have cellulosic ethanol probably until the year 2011 and then maybe that's more of a demonstration project," said Grassley.

Grassley told me it's a slow process because scientists have to do more research to commercialize this and make the price competitive. Cellulosic ethanol produces more energy than the grain-based kind and produces lower greenhouse gases.

"We're looking at what's good for the environment, we're looking at what's good for our national security, we can reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and we're looking at more jobs," said Loebsack.

By the way...the price of corn surged to a record high of $6.39 per bushel this month. That's another reason why lawmakers are looking for more alternative fuels.