Tuesday, November 27, 2007


A friend invited me to opening night at the annual Auto Show in Boston, and I thought it would be a nice break from health care, so I went. With much of my background in the energy field, I was of course attentive to the degree to which the auto industry is making efforts to be more efficient. I am sorry to say I had to look really hard tonight at the auto show to find much evidence of those concerns. I guess the manufacturers and dealers figure that the public really is not going to focus on energy efficiency, even with gasoline at over $3 per gallon.*

My favorite vehicle in that regard was a Yukon. When you are driving around, you really don't get a sense of how BIG this truck is. City mileage was given at 16mpg, and highway mileage was 19mpg. But, in an attempt to offset this, there was a sign pasted across the windshield bragging that it uses ethanol 85.

With no offense meant to the farmers in the Midwest, this is not a solution to our energy problems. According to this report and others I have seen, ethanol production from corn apparently is slightly better, in terms of total energy use, that using petroleum directly; but we would really be better off if the ethanol were made from the cellulose is woody, fibrous plants.

And, of course, whether gasoline or ethanol, we would be still better off if the vehicles we used achieved more miles per gallon. On this front, Congress (yes, both under Republican and Democratic majorities), has been noticeably deficient in nudging the auto industry to higher mileage standards. Instead, they have pushed the country toward creating subsidies to corn farmers in the cause of encouraging ethanol use. Maybe those Iowa presidential caucuses are scheduled so early to ensure that neither party forgets the farmers! In any event, I see little or nothing in the national public debate on energy issues that improves on what we knew or were trying to do 30 years ago, when the first bump-up in prices occurred. Perhaps the real leadership in this arena will come at the state level and from corporations that are forward-looking in their own operations and in anticipating and satisfying consumer demand. As an example, check out today's announcement by Google and see what you think.

*My European readers will laugh at this when we say this is a high price, as they pay about that amount per liter.

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