Samuel Bodman, U.S. Energy Secretary, says that although ethanol should be considered the alternative fuel of the future for America, researchers first must find a way to make it efficiently from material other than corn.
The U.S. produces enough ethanol to take care of 5% of the country's motor fuel needs, but the amount of corn needed for the current U.S. ethanol production levels takes up 15-20% of the U.S. corn crop, Bodman said at the Chicagoland Innovation Summit.
Bodman spoke about the benefits of ethanol, especially in regards to helping the U.S. wean off of a dependence on foreign oil. "We have to figure out first that this is a domestic product," Bodman says. "The money goes to the farmers and goes to the investors who are creating these products here in this country and it does not go abroad."
However, he says that "eventually, we're going to run out of the ability to make ethanol from corn."
Bodman suggested cellulose as a replacement for corn in ethanol production and corn varieties that would provide a higher yield per acre to help meet ethanol demand.
According to the Renewable Fuels Association, the U.S. is home to 106 operating ethanol plants, with 44 new ones on the way. The industry has the capacity to produce over 5 billion gallons annually.