State owes debt of gratitude to ethanol pioneers

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

As the demand for ethanol soars because of high gasoline prices, the people of Nebraska need to say a big thank you to the state's ethanol pioneers.

These men and women of vision realized more than a quarter of a century ago that ethanol was the wave of the future. By using renewable resources -- principally corn and milo -- the ethanol supporters foresaw the day that the nation's gasoline supply could be extended by using alcohol from grain as an additive.

Many, many groups and individuals played a role, including a number in Southwest Nebraska. On the state level, two of the people who stand out for their ethanol support are Todd Schneller, director of the state's ethanol board and a nationally recognized ethanol authority. A debt of gratitude is also owed to Loran Schmit, a former state senator from Bellwood who now serves as a lobbyist for the ethanol industry. During his days in the Legislature and in the years since, Schmit has worked diligently to establish and expand ethanol production and use.

We've come so far from those early days. For a number of years, the amount of ethanol produced was offset by the energy cost to produce it. But technological advances have greatly improved efficiency, making ethanol an excellent extender for motor fuel grade gasoline.

Nebraska is among the nation's leaders in ethanol production and use. According to an article which moved on the Associated Press wire, "Nebraska is the No. 3 ethanol-producing state in the nation and already had one of the highest rates of ethanol use in the country." The story goes on to say, "About 50 percent of the gasoline sold in the state includes corn-derived alcohol."

Compared to the very limited use of ethanol 20 years ago, that's amazing. But it makes sense, especially when you consider the potential cost savings over regular unleaded gasoline. Savings range from 1 cent to 7 cents per gallon for E-10 (which is a blend of 10 percent ethanol and 90 percent gasoline) and a savings of 40 cents to 50 cents per gallon for E-85, which is 85 percent ethanol.

Right now, only 20,000 vehicles in the state are equipped for the use of E-85, but as improvements are made and more vehicles can use E-85, the savings over conventional motor-grade gasoline could be astronomical.

At a savings of 7 cents a gallon for E-10 unleaded versus regular unleaded, the Nebraska Corn Board estimates the annual savings to the state's motorists would be $60 million. With E-85 the savings would be many times that, showing -- in dramatic form -- why Nebraskans owe so much to the state's ethanol pioneers. Their leadership has placed Nebraska in the forefront of national ethanol development.

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