On the outskirts of Garnett, Kan. (pop. 3362), the horizon is broken by what at first sight seems to be a grain elevator rising above the cornfields. But closer inspection reveals a tall, skinny distillation column among the silos and fermenters, identifying the complex as part of the nation’s energy future: It is East Kansas Agri-Energy’s ethanol facility, one of 100 or so such heartland garrisons in America’s slowly gathering battle to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels. The plant processes about 13 million bushels of corn to produce approximately 36 million gal. of ethanol a year. “That’s enough high-quality motor fuel to replace 55,000 barrels of imported petroleum,” the plant’s manager, Derek Peine, says.
How far can you drive on a bushel of corn?