This is a revealing story.
A UW-Madison research center that has used the university’s largest-ever federal grant to develop ethanol technology over the past decade will shift its focus to other alternative fuels after winning another major award from the U.S. Department of Energy.
The Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center will use the five-year grant to learn more about how to sustainably produce energy from switchgrass, poplar trees, sorghum and other dedicated bioenergy crops — those that, unlike ethanol, are not also used for food, director Tim Donohue said Monday.
The center received $267 million over 10 years from the Department of Energy for its ethanol research, which Donohue said will wind down over the next six to 18 months.
Ethanol has been embraced by the energy industry over the years, Donohue said, and putting greater emphasis on research to develop other biofuels fulfills the center’s mission “to generate next-generation technologies.”
Donohue said the Department of Energy encouraged the shift, pushing researchers to focus on potential fuels that would not be grown on land that is now used for agriculture, or compete with other uses for crops such as corn — what he described as a “food-vs.-fuel” issue.The other biofuels could also have greater potential than ethanol when it comes to replacing fossil fuels across different transportation industries, said Donohue, a professor of bacteriology.
It is a maxim of employee compensation models that people will do what they are paid to do. It is a nod to human nature that people will usually act within their own self interests. That is not a bad thing, but it is something that one must acknowledge and understand when crafting policies. It is something that our Founders understood when creating our Constitution based on competing self interests instead of appealing to people’s idealistic nature.
Many of us have long argued that a significant amount of the “science” that supports some political initiatives like global warming policies or ethanol subsidies are the result of the fact that the scientists are being paid to have those opinions. Look at this story as an example of that. For a decade, the researchers at Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center received hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer money to conduct research on the use of ethanol as a fuel. Accordingly, they have spent the last decade telling us that ethanol is great and a wonderful fuel alternative.
Now they will receive a ton of money to study other biofuels. And right on cue, here is the director telling us that “other biofuels could also have a greater potential than ethanol…” Of course they could, because that is what he is being paid to study. The money would dry up pretty quickly if he said, “nah, ethanol is still the best.”
People do what they are paid to do.