Bioenergy Articles on Ethanol

Explosive growth of ethanol production brings adjustments to U.S. agriculture that reach far beyond the corn sector.

U.S. ethanol production climbed to almost 5 billion gallons in 2006, up nearly 1 billion gallons from 2005. Despite the speed and magnitude of this increase, the industry is stepping up the pace of expansion, with production expected to top 10 billion gallons by 2009.

The U.S. and Brazil are the Western Hemisphere’s leading ethanol producers. During the past few years, however, Colombia has emerged as the second largest ethanol producer in Latin America. Colombia’s energy self-sufficient production process uses byproducts from ethanol processing such as bagasse, the product remaining after crushing and extracting the juice from the cane, and vinasse, the product generated after the distillation of fermented molasses.

The expanding U.S. ethanol sector is stimulating demand for corn, but alternatives to corn may dampen that demand.

Crop residues from agricultural field crops represent a potential source of vegetative (cellulosic) matter to be used in ethanol production. Crop residues may be particularly attractive if technologies for producing cellulosic ethanol become viable before dedicated crops, such as switchgrass, are commercially available. However, crop residues are not “free goods”—they provide soil nutrients and organic matter and help control erosion and retain moisture on cropland. Thus, the costs of shifting from production of corn-based ethanol to production of cellulosic ethanol from crop residues may offset the benefits.

The surge in the use of corn in ethanol production is increasing the price of corn received by producers, thereby reducing the income support received by the Nation’s feed grain sector.