Arctic Explorer Steger: "Corn Ethanol is a Bridging Technology"

Phoning into the conference call from Iqaluit, Nunavut, the northernmost Canadian territory, arctic explorer Will Steger stressed that we have the answer to global warming. “One of the most promising solutions is really in the transportation sector — and that’s the development of ethanol,” Steger said. “Ethanol is really something we need right now.”

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With first-hand experience of the dramatic effects of global warming on the earth’s poles — he’s watched several giant ice shelves that took him weeks to traverse in previous polar voyages crumble due to rising temperatures — Steger is preparing a fresh-faced international team for the 2008 Ellesmere Island Expiation.

His particular penchant for ethanol, however, might be partially explained by the backers of his latest trek. The Renewable Fuels Foundation, Chippewa Valley Ethanol, investment bank Piper Jaffray, and ethanol plant builder Fagen are all expedition sponsors with considerable ethanol interests. And this marks the first time we’ve noticed ethanol companies sponsoring global warming research.

Steger admits that corn ethanol is an imperfect solution, but noted that the technology is constantly evolving, and said it’s something we can start implementing on a larger scale now.

He foresees work in corn ethanol leading to breakthroughs in cellulosic and waste stream biofuel production within a decade. “We have the technology and solutions at hand, it’s really getting the political will to move the markets in that direction,” said Steger, who has testified before Congress on polar and environmental issues. “There has to be an expense for carbon,” he added, adding that the fed’s move last week to suspend a loan program for new rural coal-fired power plants was a sign that the government doesn’t expect emissions to remain free.

Last year, Steger led the Global Warming 101 expedition, which included Virgin CEO Richard Branson. The billionaire recently tested biofuel in one of his Virgina Atlantic jets. “Richard has been a real proponent of ethanol,” Steger said. “I think Richard sees it very similarly to the way I see it. He is really into the developing of the new technologies, the grass-based technologies.”

So while the big oil companies have their legions of lobbyists, ethanol has got a dog-sled team blazing a trail across the melting arctic. Will the malamutes defeat the oily malcontents?

Photo: Training at Iqaluit, Baffin Island, Nunavut, Canada. Ben Horton, Photographer

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