A reader writes:

What needs to be added to this debate is Methanol (Methyl Alcohol). Also known as Wood Alcohol, Methanol has a simpler chemical structure than Ethanol and can be produced from a far wider range of feedstock materials. As the name Wood Alcohol implies, Methanol is easier to make from cellulose than is so called Cellulose Ethanol. Methanol can be easily generated from virtually any available carbon-based material: corn stalks, wood chips, grasses, human and animal wastes, coal, natural gas, etc. The resources available for creating Methane are vastly greater than all the oil reserves worldwide.

Adding Methanol to the equation kills most of the objections offered by Jacoby and Philpott.

Corn based Ethanol could certainly be used. It becomes more profitable if farmers can sell the whole plant, seed for Ethanol and thresh for Methanol, instead of just selling the corn.
Since Flex-Fuel Engines have been easily and cheaply designed to burn an infinitely variable mixture of Gasoline, Ethanol, and Methanol this allows us to create a flexible market for fuels. As Oil prices go up, we increase the mix of Ethanol and Methanol thus reducing our demand for oil, thus reducing the price of oil.  The one requirement: we have to mandate that all cars sold in the U.S. are Flex-Fuel capable for Gasoline, Ethanol, and Methanol.

As our Ethanol/Methanol infrastructure builds, the costs fall and the availability increases. We will see a foreign policy bonus too. We will be able to start importing needed biomass from very poor countries at competitive rates. This would have the effect of boosting the income and stability of those countries by bringing them into the world market. This would lessen political tensions, increase political stability, and raise the standard of living world wide. It would also progressively shrink the economic stranglehold that Saudi Arabia and the other OPEC members have on the price of oil.

The one significant objection is the environmental impact. There still will be an impact, but far less than what an Ethanol-only solution would provide. Adding Methanol to the mix would decrease the ground-water requirements by taking advantage both gathered (waste chips, sewage, etc) and extracted (Coal, Natural Gas) materials. Release of greenhouse
gases can be mitigated by increasing the proportion of grown (and thus near carbon neutral) materials. The remainder of excess Carbon Dioxide will need to be addressed using a mix of sequestration technologies and market-based "cap and trade" systems. We will need to do this anyway if we continue to be Oil-based. The advantage is that biofuel sources will
reduce the overall quantity of greenhouse gases we need to address, and thus reduce the overall cost of the CO2 that needs to be sequestered.

Robert Zubrin did an excellent job of exploring these options in his recent book Energy Victory. Most of my arguments above are synthesized from his book. It is a good read and very informative. Dr. Zubrin is one of the leading practical thinkers of our age.

I can only add that we should take an Engineer's Approach to solving problems rather than a Bureaucratic approach.  By busting these big unsolvable problems in to lots of little solvable problems we will be able to meet worldwide energy needs while also protecting our environment and reducing worldwide poverty. If we continue to follow the bureaucratic instinct, we will keep lumping all of our problems together into one giant problem that will never be solved.