|forums map | news magazine | posting guidelines|
|General Developments and Discussions » Bridges | Cycling | Maritime|
As a general reminder, please respect others and respect copyrights. Go here to familiarize yourself with our posting policy.
|January 16th, 2008, 07:02 AM||#41|
Join Date: Sep 2002
Likes (Received): 24165
Ethanol growth tied to efficient rail terminals
CHICAGO, Jan 15 (Reuters) - As U.S. ethanol production and demand steadily climb, construction of new rail terminals that can quickly and efficiently unload unit trains is critical to sustained growth in the biofuels sector, a transportation industry specialist said on Tuesday.
The majority of ethanol produced in the United States is shipped via railcar, much of it from major production areas in the Corn Belt to blending facilities near large cities along the coasts.
Unit trains, seen as the most efficient and cost effective method of shipping the biofuel, can haul about 1.5 million gallons to 3.25 million gallons at a time.
"Most of the ethanol plants that are being built currently have the ability to ship unit trains, but we have very few destination terminals that can receive trains," said Thomas Williamson, founder and principal of Kansas City-based Transportation Consultants Co.
"When you have 100-some ethanol plants, probably 75 of which can ship unit trains, and you've only got seven destinations, it's a problem," he said, speaking at the Reuters Global Agriculture and Biofuel Summit.
Those terminals can unload unit trains from 50 to 110 cars long in under 24 hours, Williamson said. Some smaller terminals can unload trains that long, but only in multiple phases, he said.
U.S. ethanol capacity increased more than 40 percent in 2007 to nearly 7.6 billion gallons a year.
There are currently 137 ethanol plants operating, with another 62 plants under construction and eight undergoing expansion. If all those plants and expansions come on line, the total U.S. capacity would rise to about 13.3 billion gpy.
The high cost of adding infrastructure has thus far limited investment in new terminals and formed some bottlenecks in the system, but tax breaks or state mandated minimum blending requirements could spur additional infrastructure investment.
An executive at CSX Transportation, a unit of CSX Corp. , told Reuters that it plans to build three ethanol terminals this year in the southern United States, which is seen as the next likely growth area for the U.S. ethanol market.
Union Pacific Corp , which runs the largest U.S. railroad, views expansion of destination terminals as "one of the key pieces of our strategy," Paul Hammes, UP's vice president and general manager for Agricultural Products, said at the summit on Monday.
"I see it as a very gradual ramping up of terminals and I think we will have a lot of inefficient moves in the interim, but it's not unlike what happened in the coal industry or the grain industry," Williamson said.
"Mandated blending is certainly going to draw the investment because the petroleum companies will pay whatever it is that they have to pay to get the ethanol in order to meet that requirement," he said.
Fuel blends in the enormous California market are set to increase in late 2009 to include up to 10 percent ethanol, while Florida, another key fuel demand market, is poised to begin blending more ethanol into its fuel supply. (For summit blog: http://summitnotebook.reuters.com/ )
|January 24th, 2008, 09:42 PM||#42|
Join Date: Aug 2006
Location: São Paulo
Likes (Received): 7621
Ethanol use in the US will not increase because of the huge subsidies ganted to oil. It would be much better to gradually decrease such subsidies gradually, as they're moved toward local-producing Ethanol farmers. It's better than financing the spectacular growth of Arab nations or local power-thirsty dictators-to-be such as Chávez in Venezuela.
Besides, Brazil implemented a large-scale ethanol use back in the '70s (as stated before), but it wasn't untill the late '90s that it really became largely popular, mainly due to bi-fuel cars (which run in any mixture of ethanol and gas), that have really layed the competition between the two fuels according to market rules, and the high prices of oil. It wasn't just because of government action, it was a market-oriented turn of events.
Vinho e Gastronomia - Desfrutar sem complicar!
|February 20th, 2008, 08:44 AM||#43|
Join Date: Sep 2002
Likes (Received): 24165
Poll says farmers have concerns on using corn stover for ethanol
19 February 2008
CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (AP) - Proponents tout left over plant materials from corn harvest to make ethanol as an environmentally friendly way to produce the renewable fuel. But a new poll shows that many farmers are concerned that the practice could lead to soil erosion.
The Iowa State University Extension polled farm operators on the issue in the 2007 Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll. Seventy-five percent of the nearly 1,100 respondents said that removing the plant residue, called corn stover, will increase soil erosion.
David Laird, a professor in the ISU Department of Agronomy, agrees with the farmers and writes in a report that although corn stover is often referred to as waste, it is a vital component of soil agrosystems.
"Crop residues contain substantial amounts of plant nutrients. If crop residues were harvested every year, these nutrients would have to be replaced by increased fertilizer use," he said in his report. "If all aboveground crop residues were removed year after year, the quality of our soils would rapidly deteriorate."
Laird's report is titled "The Charcoal Vision: A Win-Win-Win Scenario for Simultaneously Producing Bioenergy, Permanently Sequestering Carbon, while Improving Soil and Water Quality."
The Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll has been conducted annually since 1982. The 2007 poll focused on the bioeconomy and its impact on Iowa farming. The ISU Extension mailed a questionnaire to a statewide panel of 1,473 farm operators and surveys were returned by 1,095 producers, for a response rate of 74 percent.
They were asked to rank their level of agreement on a five-point scale ranging from "strongly disagree" to "strongly agree."
Moving the state toward energy independence was considered a worthy goal by 86 percent of the respondents, and 77 percent said Iowa should lead the country in research and innovation on the bioeconomy.
While almost half of the farm operators said ISU's top research priority should be biorenewable energy, 75 percent believed that research on biofuels should not take the place of traditional crop and livestock research.
|March 17th, 2008, 10:10 AM||#44|
Join Date: Sep 2002
Likes (Received): 24165
Corn-derived biofuel already has dramatically altered the economic reality of the American heartland and promises boom times for Ontario farmers.
But how can we possibly keep up with demand? And what about the spiralling cost of food?
March 16, 2008
NEAR MELBOURNE, ON–In the deep cold of the too-long winter here, ice pools in the fields just outside Larry Cowan's two-level backsplit, creating a worrying, if not unfamiliar, predicament.
"We get concerned about that," says Cowan, squinting, as he guides his truck along the salty blacktop that quilts the tilled earth here into tidy packages of farmland. "That's got to disappear real quick."
It's nothing Cowan hasn't seen before; 32 years spent on his own 728 hectares here at Chimo Farms, growing corn, wheat and soybeans, don't leave a lot of room for surprise. Out here in the fields, at least.
Back inside is a different story, courtesy of an unlikely source: The business report on CNN.
"The head of one of the big investment firms in New York City was talking about gold going to $1,000 an ounce," Cowan recalls, his eyes wrinkling with a pinched smile. "And then he talked about Chicago corn going to $6. And that is the first time I ever, in 32 years, have ever, ever heard a stock broker talk about corn in the same breath as gold. So there's some frenzy in the marketplace, yes."
Cowan, laconic and soft-spoken, carries with him a certain world-weariness that is the farmer's right. Things are never easy in the world of agriculture, and Cowan, like most of his kind, tends to temper any enthusiasm with a strong dose of common sense, if not outright pessimism.
IN THE '80S, with interest skyrocketing and commodity prices bottoming out, it was all Cowan could do to stay afloat. "We almost went bankrupt," he grins. "But we managed to rejig and survive."
Cowan can be forgiven a touch of skepticism. But at the same time, in the corn patch, this is an historic moment. It is the stuff of pure paradox: An agricultural boom. Corn prices have soared in the past year, both here and especially in the U.S., where the industry standard Chicago Exchange pegged it around $5.75 (U.S.) a bushel. As recently as November, it was hovering around $3.50, and a year before that, under $3. And it has dragged soybeans and wheat up along with it, both of them up more than 50 per cent in the past year.
Cowan has seen prices jump before. In 1997, corn leapt briefly to $7, due largely to a drought that crippled supply, before it crashed back down. "That's what history teaches us," Cowan sighs.
This time, there is no drought, no blight, no yield disaster making corn stocks much coveted in the face of scant supply. Some point to a growing appetite in China and India, and they do play their part. But that would be ignoring the elephant in the room, growing fatter by the day.
Ethanol, the corn-derived alcohol now being used as a gasoline additive by most big retailers, has already drastically altered the economic reality of the American heartland. In 2005, the Bush administration introduced incentives for the ethanol industry meant to stimulate its growth and throw the country's quest for renewable fuel and decreased dependence on foreign oil into fast forward.
It's a tantalizing hypothesis, and in Brazil, it's already been achieved. Already the world's biggest ethanol producer – from sugar cane – 85 per cent of the cars sold there are "flex" vehicles, which can run on either ethanol or gas. Brazil, once a voracious consumer of foreign oil, now imports not a drop. (The U.S. heavily taxes Brazilian ethanol imports to protect its own industry.)
In the U.S., the Bush plan has been working, largely to the benefit of midwestern farmers and agricultural giants like Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland, who act as middlemen between farmers and the ethanol plants, which have been coming online as fast as they can be built.
In 2002, there were 61 plants in the U.S. Today, there are 134, producing 7.2 million gallons of ethanol a year, prompting U.S. farmers last spring to plant their largest corn crop since World War II. With 77 more under construction, and Federal production goals set at 36 billion gallons by 2022, there's no end in sight.
Canada and Ontario have been a little slower to the ethanol craze, but they're making up for lost time. Last year, the federal government introduced a $200 million grant program for new biofuel projects, through 2011. At the same time, the McGuinty government introduced a mandate for all gasoline sold in the province to contain at least 5 per cent ethanol. That's due to increase to 10 per cent by 2010 – the highest content a conventional engine can use without modification.
It was enough incentive for Suncor, one of the founding giants of Northern Alberta's oil sands, to set up shop on the cusp of Ontario corn country in Sarnia last year with an ethanol plant of its own. "Basically, the market is growing, and that's because of the government mandate," said Jason Vaillant, a manager at the Sarnia facility. "It made more sense for us to make it ourselves than buy it from someone else."
Suncor's Sarnia plant produces 200 million litres of ethanol a year, consuming 20 million bushels of Ontario corn in the process. Vaillant estimates that the plant consumes about 10 per cent of the province's annual corn production all by itself. When it reaches full capacity, those numbers will double. The other operating plants in the province collectively produce another 250 million litres – and consume another 12 per cent of the crop.
BUT, AS INCENTIVES lure more investors into the ethanol business, Ontario's corn supply starts looking increasingly short. Six more plants are either planned or under construction. If they all reach capacity, the province's ethanol production would jump by another 1.63 billion litres, to more than 2.2 billion, total.
Quick math tells a potentially troublesome tale: At a ratio of 10 litres per bushel, the proposed ethanol production in Ontario would consume virtually all of the province's corn production of 250 million bushels a year. "That was a real question when we were building," Vaillant says. "Where are we going to get all the corn?"
The ethanol industry isn't the only one asking that question. Among all the crops humans grow, corn is perhaps the most essential. Of all the things in your local supermarket – more than 45,000, says Michael Pollan in The Omnivore's Dilemma – about a quarter of them contain corn.
It is the ultimate staple in the broadest sense: It's in processed foods like cereals. Its starch is used in sauces as thickener, its sugar in soft drinks as sweetener. It's a binding agent, a colourant, the alcohol in your beer. It's in coffee whitener, ketchup, candies, canned fruit and condiments.
Go to the meat counter and you'll find beef and pork fattened by corn feed, chickens and turkeys raised on kernels. Your eggs are laid by corn-fed hens. Commercial fish feed is largely corn-based, and even the carnivores among them, like salmon, have been sufficiently genetically engineered to be raised on a corn-based diet.
And forget about just the things you eat: Corn is in toothpaste and lipstick, eyeshadow and batteries, diapers, cleaners, plastic products, paper and cardboard. Touch the grubby drywall at your local super-grocer, smudged with the fingers of a thousand errant children, and you'll be in direct contact with it: Corn is a binding agent in plaster products, too.
Ancient civilizations, like the Mayans, were built on its nourishment, and Third World countries remain dependent on it. This is the ugly side of the corn boom: Food and fuel economies are intertwining, and the market is revealing an unpalatable truth about which one the markets deem to be more essential.
Rising corn prices to feed the ethanol industry invariably impact food prices, too. And the entire chain can be disrupted.
Hog and beef producers are suffering badly due to the high price of corn-based feed. Last week U.S. Pilgrim's Pride, one of the country's biggest poultry producers, cut 1,100 jobs and closed one of its massive processing plants and half its distribution centres. Its justification: "Unprecedented increases" in feed costs.
And this is relatively comfortable First World suffering at the hands of the corn boom. In Mexico, where corn is a revered component of an ancient diet – until recently, it was considered sacrilege to feed it to animals – large-scale protests about the cost of tortillas, a Mexican diet staple made from corn flour, have become commonplace, touched off when 75,000 took to the streets of Mexico City last year when tortillas quadrupled in price in just a few months. Once again, the voracious U.S. ethanol industry was cited as the culprit.
IT ALL SERVES as something of a cautionary tale to Ontario's still-nascent ethanol industry. Ontario corn, by its own description, is "basically an in-house operation," Cowan says. Very little is exported; almost none is imported. But in an ethanol-fuelled future, that will have to change.
"If we had a below-average yield one year, where would it all come from?" asks Bill Deen, a professor in the plant agriculture department at the University of Guelph.
Deen, who studies cropping systems and agronomy in the province, doesn't see a solution. "Virtually all the farmable land base in the province is in use," he says. "What we're using is pretty much it."
That means increasing demand would mean stealing it from other crops, upsetting rotations and potentially damaging yields. And current prices provide a potent incentive.
How times change. Two years ago, Deen was recruited by the Ministry of Agriculture to give a series of talks to farmers about the importantance of keeping up their corn production.
"The price was so low, growers were looking at a loss," he recalls. "They couldn't possibly make money."
A year later, with prices spiking alongside the U.S. ethanol boom, Deen had a new message: "I had to tell them 'don't grow too much corn – you need to maintain a rotation to keep your crops healthy,'" he says.
The lure is certainly there. For Rick McCracken, who farms his 769 hectares with his wife Betty just outside Melbourne, boom times have spread the wealth around. In the buoyant corn economy, everyone prospers.
"If you want to buy a tractor or a combine, you're going to have to wait until next year to see it," he says. McCracken, who's also a seed dealer, shares Cowan's leavened optimism. "It's an exciting time," he says. But the disaster years of the '80s, when high interest rates drove over-leveraged farmers into bankruptcy by the dozens, are never far from mind.
"We're only a few months into this. We don't want to get too optimistic and see it happen again."
One thing they don't have to worry about is the crop itself. A remarkably adaptable, hearty crop that spread from Mexico into Ontario long before the arrival of Columbus, corn has natural genetic variability that allows it to grow and flourish in almost every climate imagineable. In the agricultural world, corn is relatively reliable, thanks to genetic engineering, drought and disease are no longer major concerns.
BUT OVER-GROWTH has consequences, Deen says, and not just because of basic agronomy. Crops are rotated – beans one year, corn the next – to keep one or the other from depleting the soil of the different nutrients they require.
Corn-based ethanol , to those who follow the industry, contains a central paradox: Among the crops grown here, corn is the most machine intensive and demanding, spewing exhaust into the air to collect the very material meant to deliver us into a carbon-neutral fuel future. Corn also cries out for more herbicides and nitrogen fertilizer than any other crop, and erodes soil more quickly than any other as well.
For all the hype, the future of corn-based ethanol is less than assured. Research is pouring into deriving ethanol from less intensive, non-food crops like prairie grass, and even crop waste.
"That, at least, makes sense," says Ann Slater, the president of the Ecological Farmers' Association of Ontario. "I haven't seen anything that leads me to believe that corn-based ethanol is in any way sustainable, here or anywhere else."
Cowan has seen too much, been here too long, to buy into hype. He's rotating his crop as per usual this year, reducing corn acres and increasing beans. Despite the frenzy, most responsible farmers will do the same, he says.
"All it takes is a stroke of the pen from a new U.S. president to lower that tariff on Brazilian ethanol, and it's over," he says.
Jitters reverberate through the market. Earlier this month, buyers, wary of betting too much on corn's upswing, pulled their bids for 2009/2010, fearing overpayment and a drop in a price that, by all accounts, seems only to be going up. "It's volatile," Cowan shrugs. "I guess they're getting a little nervous."
Under a slate-grey March sky, Cowan pulls his truck into his storage area, where corrugated metal silos store last year's grain. Birds wheel overhead, dropping earthward to light on the frozen ground to peck at the kernels scattered in the muck.
Here, surrounded by the fruits of his long labours, Cowan allows the unshakeable pragmatism he has cultivated for the past 32 years to soften. Slightly, at least.
"Optimistic? I don't know if I'd say that," Cowan allows. His eyes wrinkle again with that smile. "Let's call it optimism, with a side note note of caution."
|March 18th, 2008, 01:11 AM||#45|
Ordo Ab Chao
Join Date: Aug 2007
Location: Past: Northampton, UK (19 years), Auckland NZ (7 years), Now: Stockholm, Sweden
Likes (Received): 11780
Ethanol as a biofuel is a bit of a con. The net energy release from corn derived ethanol is very low and is only just positive (it even comes out as negative in some studies). Also, if EVERY SINGLE food crop in the USA was switched over to corn for biofuel production only 13% of petrol demand in the USA would be satisfied.
Great for augmentation but not so good for long term oil replacement.
I'm a much larger fan of biodiesel from soybeans as the net energy benefit is much greater though again it can't satisfy total demand. New technologies must be at the forefront of peoples minds rather than continuing to rely upon the internal combustion engine.
|March 19th, 2008, 01:36 AM||#46|
Join Date: May 2006
Likes (Received): 26903
In Europe, there is a Volkswagen which runs 30km on one liter of petrol. That's about 70 miles per gallon. But nah, that car doesn't do anything for me. It's a small box without any luxury or safety options. A slowpoke's or elderly car.
I expect more from a better electrical power car, like the Toyota Prius.
|March 20th, 2008, 02:28 AM||#47|
Join Date: Mar 2006
Location: New York, NY
Likes (Received): 89
Anybody think of the cost of food? It has increased quite a lot over the past couple of years, almost 10-20% in my area.
|March 20th, 2008, 07:36 AM||#48|
Join Date: Mar 2005
Location: Florida, USA/Moscow, RU
Likes (Received): 375
No I don't think ethanol could reduce American oil dependence but there seems to be alot of research to make fuel from algae which appears to be sustainable.
Last edited by Whiteeclipse; March 20th, 2008 at 08:49 AM.
|March 27th, 2008, 06:19 PM||#50|
Join Date: Mar 2006
Location: New York, NY
Likes (Received): 89
|March 31st, 2008, 01:03 PM||#51|
Join Date: Mar 2006
Likes (Received): 86
Well Ethanol can be made out of some chemical reaction, not only fermentation. Cost of producing 1l 96%ethanol from synthesis is about 1$(gallon 3.8$)
Cost of fermented alcohol is 1.5$/l so the difference is quite big.
The other solution is Methane, it is way better than ethanol, cheaper, more enviromental friendly, and can be produced virtually of any organic piece of shit.
|April 14th, 2008, 06:09 PM||#52|
Join Date: Sep 2002
Likes (Received): 24165
EU defends biofuel goals amid food crises
BRUSSELS, April 14, 2008 (AFP) - The EU Commission on Monday rejected claims that producing biofuels is a "crime against humanity" that threatens food supplies, and vowed to stick to its goals as part of a climate change package.
"There is no question for now of suspending the target fixed for biofuels," said Barbara Helfferich, spokeswoman for EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas.
"You can't change a political objective without risking a debate on all the other objectives," which could see the EU landmark climate change and energy package disintegrate, an EU official said.
Their comments came amid growing unease over the planting of biofuel crops as food prices rocket and riots against poverty and hunger multiply worldwide.
UN Special Rapporteur for the Right to Food Jean Ziegler told German radio Monday that the production of biofuels is "a crime against humanity" because of its impact on global food prices.
EU leaders, seeking to show the way on global warming, have pledged to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 20 percent by 2020.
As part of a package of measures the 27 member states have set a target of biofuels making up 10 percent of automobile fuel by the same year.
"We don't have an enormous danger of too much of a shift from food production to biofuels production," said Michael Mann, spokesman for EU Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel.
Mann, like Helfferich speaking to reporters in Brussels, stressed that the 10 percent target would in part be achieved through higher yields and increased production.
Ziegler also accused the European Union of subsidising its agriculture exports with effect of undermining production in Africa.
"The EU finances the exports of European agricultural surpluses to Africa ... where they are offered at one half or one third of their (production) price," the UN official charged.
"That completely ruins African agriculture," he added.
In recent months, rising food costs have sparked violent protests in Cameroon, Egypt, Ethiopia, Haiti, Indonesia, Ivory Coast, Madagascar, Mauritania, the Philippines and other countries.
In Pakistan and Thailand, troops have been deployed to avoid the seizure of food from fields and warehouses, while price increases fuelled a general strike in Burkina Faso.
The European Environment Agency, advisors to the European Commission, on Friday recommended that the EU suspend its 10 percent biofuels target.
It argued that the target would require large amounts of additional imports of biofuels leading to the accelerated destruction of rain forests. The agency also questioned the environmental benefits of biofuels.
Also in a recent report the World Bank said bluntly "biofuel production has pushed up feedstock prices".
Meanhwile Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, head of Nestle, the world's biggest food and beverage company, last month argued that "to grant enormous subsidies for biofuel production is morally unacceptable and irresponsible."
"There will be nothing left to eat," he added.
European leaders are aware of the growing body of opinion opposed to biofuels but Dimas has stressed the use of "second generation" biofuels; including leaves, straw and pond algae.
The first generation of green fuels -- biodiesel and ethanol-- are made from wheat, maize, colza, sugar beet etc, also used for human and animal feed.
However, according to French Ecology Minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, the methods for utilising the second generation sources are far from complete.
"That will take 10 to 20 years," she told AFP.
The 27 EU nations are due on May 7 to approve strict criteria for the production of biofuels, according to the European Commission.
Speaking in Luxembourg on Monday French Agriculture Minister Michel Barnier, meeting with his EU counterparts, said that food production must be the priority.
|May 21st, 2008, 02:04 PM||#53|
Join Date: Sep 2002
Likes (Received): 24165
US ethanol policy under siege in food-for-fuel debate
WASHINGTON, May 21, 2008 (AFP) - Amid a surge in food prices blamed in part on US expansion of corn-based ethanol production, lawmakers, experts and industry officials are urging the government to rethink a new law mandating alternative fuels.
The United States is the world's top producer of corn-based ethanol, which the administration of President George W. Bush sees as a way of reducing dependence on foreign oil and curb fossil-fuel emissions, the main source of man-made global warming.
Politicians are under mounting pressure to look again at the effects of a landmark energy law enacted in December that raised vehicle fuel-efficiency standards for the first time in three decades and offered broad support for ethanol production.
The public outcry over using food for fuel has spurred interest in so-called "second-generation" alternative fuels, such as cellulosic-based ethanol, but they are still in an early stage of development.
"The solution to the issue of corn-fed ethanol is cellulosic ethanol, which is a fancy word for saying we're going to make ethanol out of switchgrasses, or wood chips," Bush said last month.
This week the US Department of Agriculture argued ethanol production does not pit food and energy interests against each other.
Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer said the effects of skyrocketing oil prices are an "often overlooked" major factor on food prices.
Oil costs for processing, packaging, transportation and other steps that bring food from farms to the marketplace account for about 80 cents of each retail food dollar, with the actual commodity only accounting for 20 percent.
With crude oil crashing through a series of price ceilings this year, Schafer said, "developing diversity in our portfolio of fuels is, if anything, an even more urgent matter than it has been in the past, and it is one that remains central to both our energy security and our national security."
While corn is the feedstock for over 90 percent of ethanol produced in the United States, foods using corn as an ingredient make up less than a third of retail food spending, he said.
And because processed foods represent such a large part of the diet in the US, a single ingredient typically has only a small impact on the retail food price, he said.
Schafer said that consumers in the US are fortunate to be dealing with moderate food price increases. US food prices increased about 4.0 percent higher in 2007, up from an average annual rate of 2.5 percent since 1990, and are expected to rise 5.0 percent this year.
By contrast, in low-income developing countries basic foodstuffs represent the bulk of the diet and consume the lion's share of household income.
On the international level, Bush's Council of Economic Advisors estimates that three percent of the more than 40 percent increase in global food prices this year is due to the increased demand on corn for ethanol.
Other factors sending food prices higher include weather problems, trade restrictions and heavy demand in developing countries, such as China and India.
The Democratic-controlled Congress has held several hearings in recent weeks to explore calls for a change in the energy law that mandates a six-fold increase in the use of ethanol, to 36 billion gallons (136 billion liters) a year by 2022, and the blending of corn-based ethanol into the nation's fuel supply.
Two dozen Republican senators have signed a petition asking the Environmental Protection Agency to consider waiving the mandate.
Nineteen organizations -- ranging from the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the American Meat Institute to Friends of the Earth and Oxfam America -- urged Congress in an open letter to "quickly transition toward supporting solutions that don't pit our energy needs against our food needs."
|May 22nd, 2008, 02:38 PM||#54|
Join Date: Sep 2002
Likes (Received): 24165
Ethanol's turmoil could prove a serious threat to some companies
21 May 2008
CHAMPAIGN, Illinois (AP) - Not long ago, the fledgling ethanol industry was the darling of investors, farmers, the federal government and a lot of Americans who liked the idea of turning corn into fuel.
But suddenly, it doesn't have nearly as many friends.
Rising worldwide food prices and shortages have spurred calls in Congress to roll back the federal requirement that increases the amount of ethanol and other biofuels blended with the nation's gasoline supply. Critics say so much corn is being used for ethanol that there's less available for people and animals to eat, raising prices of everything from tortillas to meat.
What's more, investors who bought into the industry in good times aren't seeing the returns they'd hoped for as once-record profits began to fall.
"Consumers are starting to get restless and Washington is starting to listen," said Morningstar analyst Ann Gilpin, who follows Decatur, Illinois-based Archer Daniels Midland, the second-largest U.S. ethanol producer.
The ethanol market would be severely limited if Congress rolled back the federal mandate that calls annual increases in the amount of biofuels added to the fuel supply -- 9 billion gallons by the end of this year, increasing to 36 billion gallons by 2022.
That would most hurt companies that rely exclusively or primarily on ethanol, which include a mix of small, often locally owned distillers -- already under pressure since ethanol prices fell and corn prices rose sharply -- as well as larger publicly traded firms like VeraSun Energy Corp., the top U.S. ethanol producer.
"If you sell one product and the only reason there's a market for it is because the government makes a law requiring consumption -- if that law goes away, obviously you're in trouble," Gilpin said.
The odds of Congress changing that mandate this year are slim because the 10 states -- mostly in the Midwest -- that produce over 80 percent of all American ethanol have between them almost half of the 270 electoral votes needed to win a presidential election, said analyst Kevin Book of Friedman, Billings, Ramsey & Co.
After the election, though, sentiment could change.
"I think we're still a long ways from anything actually being done on it, but at the same time there is a lot more serious support than there was at this time two or three years ago," said Rick Kment, an ethanol-industry analyst for agricultural data company DTN.
Congress was already willing to take a modest swipe at ethanol when it approved a farm bill this month with a provision that would shave a tax credit for refiners that blend ethanol into their gasoline from 51 cents to 45 cents. President George W. Bush vetoed the bill Wednesday, but since it had passed the House and the Senate with veto-proof majorities, his action was likely to be canceled out by new votes.
Investor disappointment also is weighing on ethanol-only companies, particularly those that are smaller and privately held, Kment said.
He said much of the public and private investment was made when profits were at record levels -- $2 (euro1.27) a gallon (3.8 liters) in some cases, meaning even a very small plant that distilled half a million gallons a year would clear $1 million (euro630,000).
"It is very unlikely we will see that kind of profit again," Kment said.
Shares of Brookings, South Dakota-based VeraSun have fallen more than 15 percent since April 1, and Pacific Ethanol, another major biofuels maker, has seen its stock drop by about 30 percent in the same period.
After VeraSun announced a first-quarter profit last week that fell short of investor expectations, some analysts raised worries about the pressures facing the industry.
"We remain cautious on the entire sector as we expect sustained higher corn and natural gas prices with little relief in sight," Calyon Securities' George Kotzias wrote in a note to investors. He said he was reviewing his earlier estimates of VeraSun's expected performance, while at least one other analyst downgraded his expectations.
VeraSun officials did not return a call seeking comment.
On the other hand, analysts say ethanol producers like ADM that distill the fuel additive as just one of many businesses appear better prepared to weather whatever's coming their way.
ADM doesn't break out the profit it makes from ethanol, but the division that includes the fuel additive operations accounted for about 20 percent of the company's earnings last year. In the most recent quarter, when profit in that division fell by almost a third, companywide profit increased 42 percent on the strength of ADM's other businesses.
"Today's quarter highlights the balance of ADM's model," Citigroup analyst David Driscoll wrote in a note to investors after ADM's results on April 29.
At the time ADM called the volatility in the quarter "unprecedented" as corn prices set a record above $6 (euro3.8) a bushel. But Chief Executive Patricia Woertz said retreating from biofuels would be a mistake. ADM said Tuesday that the company would have no further comment.
Ironically, the turmoil over ethanol has grown even as some of the industry's economic vital signs have been stabilizing.
Corn has eased back to about $5.90 (euro3.75). Ethanol is selling for more than it did last year but, at 60 cents to 70 cents a gallon (3.8 liters) less than wholesale gasoline, is still cheap enough to make it an attractive option for refiners looking to make their oil go further, according to Kment. And demand is steady.
Many analysts say the pressure on the industry would ease with a drop in food prices, and ADM agrees.
"I think globally it'd very good to have a large corn crop and a large oilseed crop," ADM Executive Vice President John Rice told analysts at a conference in New York last week. "I think it would eliminate some of this debate, the food versus fuel."
|June 11th, 2008, 08:49 AM||#55|
Join Date: Sep 2002
Likes (Received): 24165
ANALYSIS-US corn supply shrinks as floods ravage new crop
CHICAGO, June 10 (Reuters) - Deluges of rain that keep pounding U.S. corn-growing areas and floods that have heavily damaged the newly sown crop already are making the government's latest dire forecast for corn output look more like an optimistic Polyanna pronouncement.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on Tuesday shocked the corn market, revising its forecast for national corn output down 3 percent from last month's prediction. But experts said the picture probably will get even bleaker because the bad weather will force the USDA to lower its estimate of corn acreage in addition to the lower yields per acre that were announced on Tuesday.
With demand for corn for food and fuel forging ahead while huge corn areas remain under water even as more rainstorms loom ahead, analysts see the threat of a perfect storm.
"They've lowered yields ... and now people are going to start to adjust the acreage because of the rains we've had this last week," said Roy Huckabay, analyst with The Linn Group in Chicago. "It's wildly bullish corn."
The USDA June supply/demand report trimmed its forecast for this year's crop to just over 11.7 billion bushels, down from its May forecast of 12.1 billion. If the crop comes in as forecast, it would be a huge 10 percent reduction from last year's record crop of over 13 billion bushels.
The USDA tweaked its forecast earlier than some had expected as it cut corn yields by 5 bushels per acre but left the corn acreage unchanged at 86.0 million.
"The biggest surprise is how aggressive USDA was in dropping yield, it's the second biggest drop (ever). It only magnifies how much in jeopardy this crop is, it's starting off on the wrong foot for 2008," said Joe Victor, analyst for Illinois-based research and advisory firm Allendale Inc.
USDA also cut its outlook for the corn supply at the end of next summer (Aug. 31, 2009) to only 673 million bushels, the lowest in 13 years, a three-week supply and roughly half the expected stockpile at the end of this summer at 1.433 billion.
Torrential rainfall has damaged the crop in the heartland of the world's largest corn-producing country at a time every bushel is needed to meet the soaring demand for food and fuel.
Corn is the root stock for the growing U.S. ethanol fuel industry so the current market and weather turmoil in the Corn Belt is bound to stir further controversy about the use of corn as fuel versus feed and food.
U.S. corn prices on Tuesday soared to a record high of $7.20-1/2 per bushel for July CN9> futures in the new-crop marketing year. Persistent rains and flooding in key corn states Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Nebraska and Missouri should make the crop outlook more precarious and send corn prices still higher.
"The yield reduction was probably greater than what was anticipated, but here again, we have a lot of problems out in the country," said Shawn McCambridge, analyst for Prudential Financial. "We didn't see any acreage reduction, so that still remains a possibility."
CORN DEMAND FOR FUEL/FOOD HUGE DESPITE HIGH PRICES
The ethanol fuel industry next year is expected to use 4.0 billion bushels or nearly 35 percent of the corn crop -- up 33 percent from this year when 3.0 billion bushels of corn will be used as fuel, 23 percent of the crop, according to the USDA.
The U.S. Renewable Fuels Association said ethanol capacity at 8.8 billion gallons is 40 percent more than a year ago as producers expect government mandates and record oil prices to help open new markets for the alternative fuel.
As ethanol output booms, corn earmarked for exports is expected to slide and beef, pork and chicken producers are scaling back meat output because the record high corn prices are boosting feed costs and squeezing profit margins.
USDA said corn exports next year are expected to be 2.0 billion bushels, almost 20 percent less than this year.
On June 30th, the USDA will release an updated forecast for the amount of corn to be used by livestock and poultry feeders. Corn prices at record highs and nearly 75 percent above a year ago are bound to trim the amount being fed, reducing the output of beef, pork and poultry and likely boosting the price for each at the grocery store, the analysts said.
The stock price for leading U.S. chicken producer Pilgrim's Pride Corp fell over 10 percent early this week because of high corn prices and weak chicken prices, analysts said.
Shares of No. 2 producer Tyson Foods Inc. and No. 4 producer Sanderson Farms Inc also fell. The No. 3 U.S. chicken producer, Perdue Farms Inc., is not publically traded.
"Corn is the big thing and demand (for chicken) is ho hum so far this summer," said Len Steiner, a food industry consultant for Steiner Consulting Group referring to the declines in stock prices.
|June 12th, 2008, 07:05 PM||#56|
Join Date: Sep 2002
Likes (Received): 24165
U.S. biofuels industry presses for tax breaks
WASHINGTON, June 11 (Reuters) - The biofuel industry will need government support such as tax incentives to help develop the next generation of fuels and move away from crop-based production, industry officials told lawmakers on Wednesday.
One key concern is the looming expiration on Dec. 31 of the biofuel tax credit, they said, contending investors would get the wrong signal if the government does not extend the credit.
"Everyone really relies on private equities, banks to fund this technology," Jeffrey Trucksess, executive vice president of Green Earth Fuels, told members of the House Subcommittee on Rural and Urban Entrepreneurship.
"You start giving unstable policies and they pull back their money, and they don't start up again next year when you change the policy," he said of investors.
Trucksess urged subcommittee members to push Congress for a long-term extension of the the credit that provides $1 per gallon of biodiesel produced from virgin oils and 50 cents per gallon of biodiesel produced from recycled oils.
He said it was critical for the renewable fuel mandates to remain in place as it had "stimulated a lot of investment."
Under the 2007 energy bill, U.S. ethanol production is required to rise from 9 billion gallons in 2008 to 36 billion gallons by 2022.
The new U.S. farm bill also provides $1.2 billion for biofuel development, particularly for ethanol from cellulose.
Ethanol production is expected to consume more than one-third of the U.S. corn crop this year, which some blame for helping to ignite food inflation around the world.
Second generation biofuels would hush some critics, shifting production from corn-based to cellulosic ethanol, which relies on inedible products such as wood chips, corn cobs and grasses, to produce energy.
The subcommittee showed bipartisan support for the advancement of biofuels.
"Small firms should be given the opportunity to innovate in this critical area of the economy," said Subcommittee Chairman Heath Shuler, a Democrat from North Carolina. "Supporting biofuel production by family farmers and other entrepreneurs is not a novelty. It's a win-win proposition for the U.S. taxpayer."
Republican Rep. Roscoe Bartlett of Maryland said, "We need a program that has the total commitment of World War II, the technology focus of putting a man on the moon, and the urgency of the Manhattan Project."
Tom Todaro, CEO of Targeted Growth, said technology advances and the ushering in of third generation biofuels could mean "infinite" production of biofuels.
He said his company was making technological advances and hoped to produce 100 million gallons of fuel from the camelina seed -- from the mustard seed family -- by around 2011 and that level could double over time.
Scott Barnwell, general manager of Blue Ridge Biofuels, said, "We can produce fuel as long as there's feedstock to produce it from."
But Bartlett said he was concerned about "unrealistic expectations" since the sustainability of biomass has not been proven.
|June 14th, 2008, 05:11 AM||#57|
Join Date: Sep 2002
Likes (Received): 24165
Ethanol plants shut on record corn price: Citi
Fri Jun 13, 10:34 AM ET
Record corn prices pushed up by flooding in the Midwest have forced five small to mid-sized U.S. ethanol plants to shut and output of the biofuel could be slowed for months, a Citi research note said on Friday.
Storms this week have dumped rain on crop fields across the Midwest, where much of the world's food is grown. Corn prices have shot to a record near $8 per bushel, nearly double last year's price.
As much as 2 billion to 5 billion gallons of ethanol "could go offline in the next few months due to high corn prices," the note said. The United States has an ethanol production capacity of about 8.8 billion gallons per year from 154 distilleries.
"Corn prices have witnessed a structural shift, and are now confronted with near-term supply concerns associated with flooding in the Corn Belt," said Ron Oster, an analyst at Broadpoint Capital in St. Louis.
The Citi report did not say which companies had shut plants.
Citi has downgraded investment ratings on pure ethanol producers VeraSun (VSE.N) and BioFuel Energy (BIOF.O) to "sell" from "buy."
|June 14th, 2008, 05:30 PM||#58|
Join Date: May 2008
Likes (Received): 0
Corn is not the best source out there and its use is only leading to more food inflation. There are parts of the U.S. though that are ideal for growing switchgrass which has been mentioned as a source of ethanol and this can be done in places that are not as needed for food production. From what I've read algae has real potential as well (at least in the production of jet kerosene).
Overall though the lead for alternative fuel sources will have to come from some place outside of the U.S. We are just too much under the hand of big oil over here and unless those companies take a lead in alternative fuels (and it appears they are not) not much will get done in the U.S.
|July 1st, 2008, 05:58 PM||#59|
Join Date: Sep 2002
Likes (Received): 24165
Ethanol mixes finding way into traditional tanks
30 June 2008
GRANITE FALLS, Minnesota (AP) - To save money and support local corn farms, some Americans have begun mixing gasoline and cheaper, ethanol-based fuel in their cars, driving first to the gasoline pump, and then to the ethanol pump.
It has worked so well for Scott Dubbelde, who manages a local grain elevator in this Minnesota town, that he now mixes fuels for all three of his family cars, though only one was designed to handle ethanol-heavy blends.
The practice has caught the attention of the Environmental Protection Agency as a handful of filling stations install pumps that allow drivers to select different ethanol blends with the push of a button.
Auto manufacturers warn that ethanol can corrode fuel lines and damage hoses, seals and the fuel pump in cars not made to carry ethanol. That can lead to bad gas mileage, poor performance and may even affect the vehicle computers that warn of problems.
The EPA says it can damage emission control devices.
Yet with the price for a gallon of gas hitting a string of record highs this year, motorists are paying little heed, even at the risk of voiding their warranties.
"It works good, real good," Dubbelde said of the blends he uses in a Toyota and a Buick, which he improved through a couple years of experimentation. "No 'check engine' light comes on. I don't even think there's a difference in mileage."
The local Cenex gas station installed special blender pumps after managers saw customers mixing their own fuel just like Dubbelde.
Motorists at the station in this western Minnesota town can press a button and fill up with E85, a fuel mixture with up to 85 percent ethanol, or blends varying from 20 percent to 50 percent ethanol. There is little physical difference, except that blending pumps have buttons offering increasing levels of ethanol rather than 87-or 89-octane gas.
Dubbelde pumped E30 into his Buick Rendezvous SUV. He uses E20 in the family's Toyota Avalon and pumps up to 85 percent ethanol into his flexible-fuel pickup truck.
The savings at the pump are real. While regular gas was $3.93 a gallon ($1.03 a liter) at Cenex recently, E85 was going for $3.23 (85 cents). E20 was $3.81 a gallon ($1 a liter), E30 was $3.71 (97 cents) and E50 was $3.52 a gallon (92 cents).
In some Midwestern states, E85 can be as much as a dollar cheaper per gallon (3.8 liters) than gasoline.
A few dozen gas stations in at least four states -- Minnesota, Wisconsin, South Dakota and Kansas -- have the new blender pumps. More stations are beginning to ask about them.
Since two Cenex gas stations in Granite Falls and nearby Montevideo installed pumps in late March, overall ethanol sales at the stations have doubled, said Robin Enevoldsen, who manages promotions for the stores.
"At first we were seeing just basic, die-hard ethanol promoters and supporters using them," Enevoldsen said. "Now we see a large percentage of our community using them."
Ethanol advocates acknowledge that there is some misuse of the fuel.
"What an individual does is very difficult to control at the point of sale," said Tim Gerlach, assistant executive director for the Minnesota Corn Growers Association. "I think any retailer will tell you that misfueling is not an uncommon occurrence."
That concerns automakers, who say owners of conventional vehicles are putting their vehicle components and their warranties at risk.
The Alliance of Auto Manufacturers fears new blender pumps will confuse drivers, spokesman Charles Territo said.
"The best way to expand ethanol use is to expand the number of gas stations that offer E85 and not through the use of midlevel blends that could damage conventional vehicles," Territo said.
The EPA said that using blends that contain more than 10 percent ethanol in conventional vehicles could actually increase emissions and therefore violates the Clean Air Act.
"We are aware of this potential misfueling but cannot discuss specific investigations in process," EPA spokeswoman Roxanne Smith said in a written statement. "The EPA is working with industry sectors and states to assure compliance."
Robert White, of the Ethanol Promotion and Information Council, predicts demand for blender pumps will continue to rise. The Omaha, Nebraska-based group offers $5,000 grants to encourage more gas stations in South Dakota to bring blender pumps on line. The South Dakota Corn Utilization Council and the ethanol industry are paying for the grants.
"The premise behind it is offering consumers a choice, because they're screaming for it," White said.
Advocates cite studies showing that vehicles can do just as well on 20 percent or 30 percent ethanol as they do with 10 percent.
Gas mileage decreased very little on midlevel ethanol blends compared with gasoline containing 10 percent ethanol -- the standard fuel in Minnesota -- and the car's components seemed to handle the fuel fine, said Bruce Jones, a researcher at Minnesota State University, Mankato, who has helped lead the studies. Even on flexible-fuel vehicles, gas mileage was often better with a lower grade of ethanol than E85.
Jones, a professor who directs the Minnesota Center for Automotive Research, says more study is needed on ethanol blends, including on emissions. But from what he's seen, he's confident that states like Minnesota will be able to move ahead with plans to eventually mandate 20 percent ethanol in all gasoline sold.
General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and the Chrysler Group have pledged to double production of flexible-fuel vehicles by 2010, and there are also efforts to put flexible-fuel hybrid-electric vehicles on the market.
In rural Minnesota, where daily corn and soybean prices are read over the radio and grain silos far outnumber Toyota Priuses, motorists are not waiting.
"The word is starting to get around," said Rodney Gaffney, a Yellow Medicine County farmer who puts ethanol blends in his flexible-fuel pickup truck and occasionally in his '97 Buick Park Avenue. "We need to keep the money in rural America instead of overseas."