Purdue News


A call for a national strategic plan for energy independence

The time is now to chart a strategic plan to make America less dependent on foreign oil.

The reasons — geopolitical and economic — have never been so clear or so compelling. As Sen. Richard Lugar states, "We must do it if for no other reason than our own security. A majority of the world's oil reserves are controlled by troubled nations, leaving the world vulnerable to manipulation."

The United States — with 4.6 percent of the world's population — produces 17.5 percent of our planet's energy, but it consumes 23.6 percent. Events of the past several years have made it clear that we cannot continue to tolerate this domestic undersupply and overconsumption.

Fortunately, we have the means to correct this imbalance— if we make a strong commitment to the solution. We depend on oil for about 40 percent of our energy, and we have both the technology and the resources to reduce that dependency. America is blessed with the richest farmland anywhere. We also have ample supplies of coal. These vast resources can be converted to liquid fuels to run our vehicles, factories and farms. If we move with enough conviction, America — with Indiana leading the way — can produce enough bio-based and coal-derived energy to significantly reduce the need for oil imports.

This reduction ultimately would reduce the price of oil on the world market and decrease the enormous costs of security now needed to keep oil moving through global markets. American farmers and the coal industry would benefit from the increased demand for their products. Because biofuels are a renewable resource and coal supplies are so large, this would not be a short-term fix. It can change the numbers in America's favor permanently.

As Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels points out in his recent message about our state's energy strategy, Indiana already has more than 40 gasoline pumps that offer E85 fuel, several ethanol plants and the world's largest soy biodiesel facility. The state recently established a "BioTown," in Reynolds, Ind., a town in White County that strives to use biofuels for all its energy needs.

Biofuels transform renewable plant materials — such as corn, soybeans, trees and even manure — into transportation fuels and gas. Our state's ethanol fuel industry already is a role model for others. Just two years ago, Indiana had one ethanol-producing plant. This year, we have 11 ethanol plants, three biodiesel plants, and more are planned. The Purdue College of Agriculture and our Laboratory for Renewable Resources Engineering lead the Midwest University Consortium for Sustainable Biobased Products and Bioenergy.

Ethanol is produced from fermentation of starch and sugars and, in the United States, about 90 percent of ethanol comes from corn. During the past 25 years, ethanol has been an industry that existed on government subsidies— now $2.5 billion annually nationwide. However, with oil prices now around $70 a barrel, for ethanol to be profitable we need only very modest price guarantees, not subsidies.

Indiana is rich in coal resources, too. The Hoosier state is part of the Illinois Coal Basin Deposits, which hold more than 130 billion tons of coal, representing 25 percent of the national coal reserves and enough to meet the current U.S. coal demands for more than 100 years. Coal can be converted to a various forms of energy.

Clean-coal technology research at Purdue's Coal Transformation Laboratory in Discovery Park's Energy Center shares an $85 million federal Department of Energy grant with Illinois and Kentucky to further develop clean coal technologies. Research also is focusing on developing liquid coal for transportation and other uses.

Indiana is doing more than studying clean-coal technology and biofuels to make America less dependent on foreign oil. Purdue and other universities, as well as the state and industry, are investing expertise, time and funding to develop or convert:

• Biomass conversion to biogas. Using technology to produce electricity from animal waste and other biomass.

• Wind turbines for high-efficiency wind power and decreased noise.

• Nuclear power that uses "passive cooling systems," that will keep operating during electrical power interruptions.

• Solar energy efficiency improvements with low-cost production of solar cells that collect sunlight and generate electrical energy.

• Electrochemical methods and hydrogen energy systems that change the way we generate, store and use energy.

The state's political, educational and business leaders are ready to create a new future of alternative fuels. Indiana can lead the way, but we need a national commitment as well. Together we can make the future secure.

It's time for a declaration of energy independence.

Martin C. Jischke is the president of Purdue University and serves on the U.S. President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.


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