Franklinton, N.C. Trying to draw attention to his domestic agenda, President Bush on Thursday extolled the science of turning grasses and wood chips into ethanol to lessen the U.S. thirst for foreign oil.
"If you really want to reduce the amount of oil that you consume, you have to reduce the amount of gasoline you use," Bush said on a road trip to push energy initiatives he announced last month in his State of the Union address.
Bush has proposed ramping up the production of alternative fuels such as ethanol made from something other than corn. The president wants to require the use of 35 billion gallons a year of ethanol and other alternative fuels, such as soybean-based biodiesel, by 2017 - a fivefold increase from current requirements.
The call for sharp increases in ethanol use will get bipartisan support in Congress. But production of ethanol from corn is expected to fall far short of meeting such an increase. So Bush envisions a major speedup of research into production of "cellulosic" ethanol made from wood chips, switchgrass and other feedstocks.
Each year, the United States consumes about 7 billion gallons of ethanol, made primarily from corn. The demand for corn for agricultural uses as well as energy, however, is causing corn prices to rise.
"The problem is we've got a lot of hog growers around the United States, and a lot of them in North Carolina, who are beginning to feel the pinch as a result of high corn prices," said Bush, who participated in a panel on cellulosic ethanol at Novozymes North America Inc., which is researching enzymes to break down crops such as corn waste and spruce chips to produce ethanol.
"The question, then, is how do you achieve your goal of less dependence on oil without breaking your ... hog farmers?" Bush said. "Here's how: You develop new technologies that will enable you to make ethanol from wood chips, or stalk grass or agriculture waste."
Bush also said a lot of private money is being invested in new energy technologies.