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Indy Racers Go Green

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  IndyCar Series, Ethanol

Indy Racers Go Green

Paul Sisco
March 28, 2007

If it works for one, the rest usually follow suit. That's the way it is in motor racing. This year all 33 race cars in the Indianapolis 500 are running on ethanol, not gasoline, not methanol, not natural gas. They will use 100% ethanol, made from corn. Paul Sisco reports.

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“Lady and gentlemen, start your engines,” the announcer said at the start of the 2006 race.

At this year's Indianapolis 500, all 33 cars will be running on high-powered ethanol, made from corn.

Indy is going green. Race car driver Jeff Simmons, of Team Ethanol, says "Hey, we should be getting our fuel from the Midwest, not the Middle East."

President Bush agrees.

"I like the idea that farmers are growing energy that power our cars,” Mr. Bush says. “I'd rather be paying American farmers than people overseas for the energy that fuels this economy."

President Bush wants Americans to cut gasoline consumption by 20% over the next decade, and says ethanol will play a big part in that.

But many say producing ethanol from corn is inefficient. It takes too much cropland, water and energy. This has an impact on food production and supplies, affecting food prices and U.S. exports.

Lester Brown, who directs the Earth Policy Institute, says much more research is needed to produce ethanol more efficiently from sources other than corn.

"If we can get the cost of producing ethanol from woodchips, or switchgrass, down to a level where it is competitive with ethanol from corn, then I think we have a chance of making some substantial progress in producing fuel for cars without disrupting the world food economy,” he says. “But short of that, I don't see how we are going to be able to do it."

Biofuel crops, like corn, used to produce most of America's ethanol absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while growing. That offsets the greenhouse gases released when conventional fuel such as gasoline is burned. When ethanol and other biofuels are used instead of petroleum, the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere is reduced even further.

Besides making race cars run even faster, ethanol's green reputation appeals to race car drivers like Danika Patrick. "We really all need to do something about this earth, and about the world and take better care of it and so I'm glad we are going with ethanol," she says.

Research is underway to make ethanol production more efficient. In the meantime, if the fastest race cars in the world can run on ethanol, it is safe to say more drivers will want their cars to do the same.

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