It’s funny, really, hearing Ford Motor Company chairman William Ford express his frustration over the slow pace of biofuels development.
In his recent missive on the woes of the ethanol market, Ford has this to say:
It certainly appeared a year ago that we were going to have a national push on ethanol, and we wanted to have the vehicles ready. But we always knew that food-based ethanol would not be the answer. The shift to cellulosic ethanol has been slower than we were led to believe.
If we don't end up with cellulosic ethanol quickly, we are going to hit the wall on ethanol.
To me, it sounds like a severe case of buyer’s remorse. In essence, instead of investing in the hybrid—and other--technologies it had on hand to increase the number of fuel efficient choices in their fleet, Ford banked on a complete unknown—rapid, massive ethanol development, including technological breakthroughs on cellulosic ethanol (ethanol derived from grasses, waste wood, corn stalks, or other pulpy material).
Now, reality has finally set in for Bill Ford, and, to an extent, on the biofuels market as a whole. I credit Mr. Ford with stating the need to push forward with cellulosic ethanol development, but, again, in the absence of the larger picture it is merely another “silver bullet” solution. What the fuels market needs for its long term viability is to “count carbon and make carbon count” through the development of a strong low carbon fuel standard. Indeed, that is the whole subject of UCS’s first dedicated report in its “Smart Bioenergy” series, Biofuels: An Important Part of a Low-Carbon Diet. Biofuels can be done right, but it needs to be done carefully, and it was never going to be done quickly.
It could have been a different story for Ford. You’ll remember that in 2005, Bill Ford decided to rapidly expand their hybrid production to 250,000 a year by 2010. They were going to aggressively expand their hybrid team, and become America’s leader in hybrid production. The “king of green” label definitely seemed headed to the blue oval. Well, that was 2005, and, unfortunately, this idea was beaten back a year later by a “business as usual” model—go for what’s cheap. So instead of truly trying to go green, Ford tucked its hybrid tail between its legs and went yellow instead.
Now, hints of what might have been for Ford abound. Ford’s engineers did a bang-up job tweaking the Escape and Mariner hybrids to increase fuel economy; so much so that they’re having trouble keeping production up to match the sales. Alas, at the LA Auto Show, it was GMs Tahoe muscle hybrid that ironically took the Green Car of the Year award (I actually posted a comment up on this article, which is good overall but gets the mpg math wrong—scroll down and look for ScottN)—and the green hype—even as Ford takes more important, yet less “showy” steps forward, like actually taking a very positive step forward by replacing some of their gas thirsty V8 engines with turbocharged V6 engines, downsizing to save fuel while maintaining performance.
And this brings us back to standards. Be it the California clean car standards, a strong low carbon fuel standard, or the Senate’s 35 mpg by 2020 fuel economy standard, raising the bar on emissions or efficiency can help keep the transportation industry pointed toward fiscally beneficial, longer-range technological goals. Without these standards, we seem doomed to industry’s annual werewolf hunting expeditions. I for one am tired of paying the price at the pump every time they shoot themselves in the foot with another silver bullet.
Posted by: ScottN