LANSING -- Could ethanol be the key to Michigan's renewable energy future?
Ethanol has become more popular as a renewable energy source. It's promoted as an eco-friendly tool to reduce air pollution because it can be made from common crops such as sugar cane, potatoes and corn.
In Michigan, ethanol production has increased significantly. The number of gas stations selling E-85 -- fuel mixture that typically contains 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline -- has also risen from two in 2003 to 117 in 2008.
Currently, there are five ethanol plants in Michigan, including Caro, Woodbury, Albion, Marysville and Riga. They're able to produce nearly 50 million gallons per year.
However, plans have been abandoned to build more ethanol plants -- in Corunna, McBain, Alma, Watervliet and Niles -- except for one in Ithaca, where work stopped several months ago, said James Byrum, president of the Michigan Agri-Business Association.
There's an ongoing debate over how useful ethanol will be in replacing gasoline, said Stanley Pruss, director of the Department of Energy, Labor & Economic Growth (DELEG), "because we need to utilize food products to make fuel, and it's questioned whether ethanol has an effect on reducing greenhouse gas emissions."
Western Michigan University chemistry Professor Steve Bertman said ethanol from corn is not a long-term solution to transportation fuel.
"This is a very important issue that ties into the entire future energy question," he said. "We can't grow enough corn for ethanol. We should be searching for alternative liquid fuels from something other than corn."
A Stanford University scientist also found that E-85 creates at least as much greenhouse gas emissions as gasoline, resulting in ozone-related asthma, hospitalization and deaths.
Cellulosic ethanol is produced from wood, grasses or the non-edible parts of plants. It's a second-generation ethanol fuel and has little or no impact on food supplies, said Steven Pueppke, director of the Office of Biobased Technologies at Michigan State University.
Hyonhee Shin writes for Capital News Service at Michigan State University.