Vinod on ethanol

The other day I mentioned something that got a lot of feedback over email, the gist of which can be boiled down to:

- It’s a Shell executive saying biofuels are bad because they want to sell more fossil fuels
– We already make enough food to feed the world, it’s a distribution problem getting food to everyone

and yeah, I understand those points, but I was thinking 50 years out when most fuel we use isn’t fossil fuels, but biofuels and how we might have to make tough choices at that point. But then I realized we make those tough choices already, today.

Speaking of biofuels, I’d heard that super VC Vinod Khosla‘s Google talk “Biofuels: think outside the barrel” on ethanol was worth watching and will convert anyone into a backer of ethanol. I’ve always heard corn-based ethanol took too much fossil fuel to produce (in the form of fertilizer and pest control) and was so energy intensive that the benefits were small.

I listened to Vinod’s entire talk today while taking a long drive and I have to say he makes some compelling arguments. Vinod describes how even with corn-based ethanol, we can make some improvements in terms of lower cost gas, less pollution, and less use of crude oil. If we move to prairie grasses we can make some serious improvements to all those plus help restore the Midwestern US to more native plants while at the same time getting good animal feed as a by-product. After seeing this, I would love to see E85 pumps gain some traction and flex-fuel cars become the norm. It’s win-win-win, but the oil companies seem to stand in the way.

Don’t take my word for it, I encourage you to watch it yourself. I’ll drop the Google Video code here, but you can also check out the page on it where you can download versions to play on your iPod or desktop.