You're right. We have a very real non-fossil, non-nuclear fuel solution, environmentally friendlier than fossil.
We have been running cars on sugar cane ethanol in Brazil since the 70'. The technology is very mature already, and most (if not all) cars made in Brazil now are "flex-fuel" (can run on any mixture from pure ethanol to our gasoline, which actually already has 24% of ethanol).
It always annoys me how few people have heard about this outside Brazil, and how the (american) media tries to create every possible bad news/stats/study about it.
I had to send some furious emails to Road&Track because everytime they mentioned "ethanol" as fuel they'd list disadvantages associated only with corn ethanol, as if it was general to any ethanol source, never mentioning the existence of our established system here. Only recentlyI could I finally see "corn ethanol" correctly identified in the magazine when identifying a disadvantage.
It looks to me the media likes to bash ethanol fuel and ignore the Brazilian success with sugar cane ethanol because: 1 - They are against the corn subsides, 2 - They don't want it to look as a good idea until the US can produce its own ethanol (I don't think we could handle the US demand for ethanol anyway), and 3 - "not made here"
(so please, before posting gossip about "sugar cane ethanol harming food production", "sugar cane ethanol causing rain forest damage", "ethanol fuel bad for environment", do check your sources for hidden agendas)
I won't debate about this, so some points in advance:
- CO2 emissions at the exhaust pipe are no better than fossil (maybe worse, since you burn about 30% more fuel in volume per km), but most of that "C" was arrested from CO2 in the air when the sugar cane was growing.
- unlike corn ethanol, the complete cycle (from production to engine) returns 4 to 5 times more energy than it was "invested" in production, so only a small amount of CO2 is produced by other energy sources (specially considering that most electricity in Brazil comes from hydroelectric). The rest is "solar power" - the only real renewable source, as it is the only significant energy being "added" to the Earth all the time.
- along the years while ethanol production grew in Brazil, food production also grew. We're not stopping producing food to produce ethanol. Food production is (as everywhere capitalist else) regulated by market price. Nobody will produce food if it costs more to do it than what you can sell it for.
- Road&Track (Dennis Simanaitis) once mentioned a paper where it said the rain forest was being cut due to ethanol production. First, the rain forest region is not good for sugar cane. Second, when I found&read the paper, it actually suggested that corn ethanol subsides made many US farmers drop soy production for corn, that made the soy international value rise, some Brazilian farmers could have expanded soy plantations in the rain forest region (I have not verified this fact, but one can see how far the prejudice can go).
- ethanol production got to a point where we have big sugar cane plantations close to the ethanol production (thus reducing the need for fossil diesel for trucks to carry the cane to the plant), the vegetal matter not converted in alcohol is burned to provide heat for the conversion process, and in at least one case excess heat is used by a power plant which supplies electricity for the site and nearby community (again, the CO2 produced by this burning is "renewable")
It is not cold-fusion perfect, but it is a way better, not pie-in-the-sky, alternative for fossil fuels, real, tested, mature, and in use for some 30 years.
(even cold fusion worries me a bit. what are we going to do with all the He produced when/if all energy we use comes from cold fusion? will we all talk funny? or will it take the ozone layer's place in high atmosphere?)