I can't speak to the "future technology" that Bush alluded to in his SOTU address, but the history of ethanol gives me no confidence that there is anything here. Ethanol is all about rent-seeking, not energy Independence. Quality studies have consistently shown that the whole life-cycle energy use of ethanol is far higher than what it provides. In other words, at least with current technologies, every gallon of ethanol used actually INCREASES total petroleum use. Its hard to find any scientist outside of the ADM boardroom or the state of Iowa that takes ethanol seriously. If we took the small step of moving the Iowa caucuses out of the first primary position in the presidential race, ethanol might go away.
Right now, I am running out the Phoenix Mardi Gras, where a golf tournament often breaks out mid-party, so I don't have a lot of time. However, trust me that this USA Today article has bent over backwards to cherry pick scientific studies in favor of ethanol. The figures mentioned for ethanol providing 26% more energy than it consumes are the absolute most optimistic study, not the consensus average, of scientific studies. Also, the Berkley study is on "potential" technologies, and even it admits that using current technologies actually deployed ethanol consumes more energy than it provides. But even at 26%, note that this means that more than 4 gallons of ethanol substitute net out only 1 gallon of gasoline, which is pretty pathetic. Anyway, more later. I am sure others in the blogosphere will be hacking away at this mess today, and I will try to link some of them tonight.
Update: I am in sports heaven today, at the golf tournament all day and watching the Superbowl tonight, so I still have not gotten back to this topic in depth, but our commenters have taken over for me on this one anyway, so I may just kick back with another beer let y'all do the work for a while. No one would be happier than me to find that we could grow things cheaply to net increase our supply of clean fuels. Unfortunately, I am not optimistic about the interaction of the government with any market for things that grow.
For some time, I have secretly harbored the theory, without any scientific knowledge to back it up, that somehow bioengineering might long term lead to the most efficient solar conversion technology. And in a sense, this is what we are talking about here -- finding a
biological solution to converting sunlight into energy in a usable form. I suspect we are on the cusp of an exponential growth curve in biology like we experienced with thermodynamics, electromagnetics, and semiconductors over the last two centuries. But if we are at such an inflection point, it just highlights how hopeless it is for government in general and George Bush in particular to pick winners at this point. What combustion technology might the government have locked us into in 1800? What computing technology might we have been locked into in 1950?
More at the Knowlege Problem.