FRANKLINTON, N.C., Feb. 22 -- President Bush touted his plan Thursday to reduce the projected consumption of gasoline by 20 percent over the next decade, predicting that alternative fuels such as ethanol made from wood chips and switch grass will play a major role in powering the country's automobiles.
Bush said the goal, which he outlined last month in his State of the Union address, is vital to the nation's future. "We are on the verge of breakthroughs to allow a pile of wood chips to become the raw materials for fuels that'll run your car," Bush said during a visit to a plant here that makes enzymes critical to ethanol production.
Using more alternative fuels not only will be good for the environment, Bush said, but also will reduce the nation's dependence on oil from unfriendly nations and insulate the U.S. economy from the shocks caused by sudden increases in oil prices.
Bush wants the country to be using 35 billion gallons of renewable fuels annually by 2017, and he would like to raise mileage standards for automobiles -- efforts that he said would allow the nation to meet his goal for gasoline consumption.
"I know it sounds like a pipe dream to some," Bush said, adding that the technology for increasing ethanol production is at hand. He said ethanol will be powering many of the nation's cars in the near future.
Almost all of the 6 billion to 7 billion gallons of ethanol used annually in the country is produced from corn. While corn-based ethanol is becoming common, particularly in parts of the Midwest, it is causing corn prices to increase, affecting industries as diverse as tortilla production and hog farming.
Because of the fast-rising demand for corn, Bush said, the nation will soon have to rely on ethanol made from switch grass, wood chips and agricultural waste to produce a larger share of ethanol.
Before chairing a panel discussion on ethanol, Bush toured a plant run by Novozymes North America, which makes enzymes crucial to making corn-based ethanol. The company is researching ways to make the fuel from other materials. Bush said Novozymes received a federal grant that helped it develop processes that have dramatically reduced the price of enzymes used to make ethanol.
Wearing a white lab coat and safety glasses, Bush was led through a laboratory where researchers are developing enzymes. He also was taken to a production facility where the raw materials used for ethanol are fermented in vats. Bush peppered researchers with questions about potential bottlenecks in the production of cellulosic ethanol and seemed satisfied that the problems that remain will be ironed out.
At one point, Bush hoisted a beaker of the clear ethanol and joked, "I quit drinking in '86."
Bush's energy proposal is among the few items in his domestic agenda likely to receive support from Democrats in Congress. Although Bush has not submitted specific legislation, White House officials have said that they hope the principles he has laid out will guide lawmakers when they consider energy policy.