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Ethanol: Losing Steam

January 2008

The Fuel of the Future? Ethanol may be losing the race.

A large percentage of US ethanol is blended with gasoline in order to reduce emissions in cities like Houston, Texas where automobile pollution is extreme. BP is reported to have blended more than 700 million gallons of ethanol into its U.S. gasoline supply last year. The standard blend at your local gas station may be either E10, or E15 (ethanol percentage).
Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), the world's largest ethanol producer, reported the slowest earnings growth between July 2006 and July 2007, blaming issues in the non-ethanol related section of the business. Even so, ethanol production is expected to increase by 50 percent in 2008, bringing ethanol production capacity to 1.6 billion gallons.

Ethanol Production and Distribution.

BP produces nearly 4 million barrels of oil equivalent per day of oil and gas and, while they may be the self-proclaimed king of green, they don't actually produce a drop of the alternative fuel. According to Tony Hayward, BP's chief executive, BP is not in the ethanol production business but, they do want to be involved with the next generation of biofuels.

Blending ethanol with gasoline (as many producers are doing) BP is also endeavoring to sell E85 ethanol (an alternative fuel that is 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline) through many of the already established BP gas stations in the Midwestern US. BP hopes to become a a major provider of E85 fuel, which is already widely available in the Midwest and is spreading to other localized areas in the US.

Not the only Fuel of the Future.

Even with the government touting corn-ethanol as the best substitute for gasoline, many companies and consumers alike are becoming increasingly skeptical about this 'fuel of the future. Corn based ethanol is losing its luster as ethanol fuel results in less efficiency, and lower energy output when compared to gasoline.

Another problem with ethanol is that once it has been produced, the alternative fuel has more stringent handling requirements than gasoline or diesel. Ethanol cannot be stored in conventional tanks, or transported through conventional pipelines, train cars, or trucks such as the way pure petroleum products are handled. Ethanol is corrosive, and tends to absorb moisture, so specific storage and containment procedures are required.

Production and the Populace.

Critics argue that ethanol requires more energy to make than it produces, and when burned, its carbon dioxide emissions aren't significantly lower than that of pure petroleum fuel. Then there is the issue with ethanol production from corn, competing with corn as a world wide food source. Corn is not only a food staple for the citizens of Mexico, it can be found as an additive (corn meal) in many other consumables, including pet and livestock food products.
Corn based ethanol alone, won't be able to address our oil dependency, this will require multiple alternative fuels and alternative energy supplies. Ethanol accounted for less than 4 percent of the U.S. fuel supply last year, and our current domestic corn crop capacity, would not be able to produce enough ethanol to match our growing fuel demand. Currently, only a small percentage of the U.S. corn crop is used to make ethanol, to meet our energy demands, ethanol production would require millions of acres dedicated to growing corn, more than what is available.
It is widely accepted that no single fuel source will replace petroleum products; Ethanol may be a step in that direction, but it's only the first of many. Corn is not the only ethanol feedstock, sugar based resources are being used and other crops have or will be tested for making ethanol. Other technologies like the hydrogen fuel cell, rechargeable batteries, and liquid propane gas (lpg) engines will need to be developed, researched, and improved.

 Related:
 The Cost of E85
 Food Versus Fuel
 A Gallon of E85
 Outlook for Ethanol Industry
 Ethanol Production Costs
 Texas Gas Tax Relief


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