Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Ethanol can be made from corn or sugarcane

For as long as I can remember, I've been excited about environmentally-friendly solutions.

For energy, my dream for clean energy centered around solar and wind power. For barren soil, it was composting. For everyday fuel, I thought of renewable sources such as ethanol or hydrogen. Now I'm glad it's becoming more widely adopted; I thought I'd never see the day when such things would actually become economically feasible.

There's an ethanol craze sweeping America at the moment, and I hadn't bothered to read much about it until this week's Economist leader, "Castro was right," pointed out that there are two main ways of producing ethanol on an industrial scale: corn and sugar.

Ethanol advocates often point to Brazil as a shining example of a large country that uses ethanol on a large scale. Knowing that Brazil is doing fine with massive ethanol deployment made me more excited about having it in the United States, until I found out that their ethanol is made from sugarcane, not corn. The advantage to having it made from sugarcane is that the energy requirements are lower, and it's much less subject to the anti-ethanol accusation that it costs more energy to make the fuel than we can get by using it.

Now, the idea of making ethanol from corn is more likely to fly in the United States. I like to think practically, and I know that the farm lobby is a formidable force in American politics. Corn-based ethanol has broad support, and it's likely to enjoy subsidies.

According to the USDA, sugarcane is already grown in Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana, and Texas. The Economist article named developing countries with tropical climates (India, the Philippines, Cuba) as possible sources of sugarcane-based ethanol. If that were feasible, that would be a great way to get business going again in the Philippines, where my father shut down his factory due to intense competition from China and Vietnam. The energy business can be very lucrative.


Steven Loi said...

You forgot to mention my backyard grows sugarcane too.

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