For those looking to the government for cues on ethanol, Thursday must have been awfully confusing. While senators were sipping happy hour cocktails and congratulating themselves on a symbolic, politically-motivated vote attacking ethanol, the Department of Energy was rewarding innovative students for finding ways to improve fuel consumption and emissions in American-made cars.
The same day that senators bemoaned the tax credits given to the ethanol industry, the Department of Energy, in conjunction with contestant co-sponsor General Motors announced that the overall winner of the EcoCAR: The NeXt Challenge was an extended-range electric vehicle using E85 designed and built by a team of Virginia Tech University. They awarded second place to another E85 EREV from Ohio State. For the DOE, ethanol was a huge winner.
The contest is important as it is a joint government and industry challenge to re-engineer a GM-donated vehicle to minimize the vehicle’s fuel consumption and emissions, while maintaining its utility, safety, and performance. The Virginia Tech team achieved the equivalent of nearly 82 miles per gallon—a 70 percent improvement in fuel efficiency over the stock vehicle. They did it using 85 percent ethanol as the conventional fuel.
So as the nation’s top energy regulators told the our nation’s future engineering leaders that ethanol was a winner with them, senators deemed ethanol unworthy of assistance despite its ability to provide a clean, sustainable domestic energy source. Yes, this was the same crew who voted to keep massive Big Oil subsidies. No, no contest winners made vehicles of the future using the fuel of the past.
It’s time to ask our senators in Washington what they are thinking. These men and women were not elected for the scientific knowledge, but officials at the DOE were chosen for theirs. If you have a senator who voted against ethanol, take a moment to ask why he or she continues to ignore what scientists endorse: ethanol.