Thursday, February 12, 2009

Corn-based ethanol is on life support. And here's why you should be bummed out about it, even though it was always a huge corporate boondoggle.

Here's an excerpt on the industry's troubles from today's Times:

VeraSun Energy, one of the nation’s largest ethanol producers, has suspended production at 12 of its 16 plants and is planning to sell production facilities. In recent days Renew Energy, Cascade Grain Products and Northeast Biofuels have filed for bankruptcy protection. Pacific Ethanol said it would suspend operations at its Madera, Calif. plant.
Bob Dinneen, president of the Renewable Fuels Association, a trade group, estimated that of the country’s 150 ethanol companies and 180 plants, 10 or more companies have shut down 24 plants over the last three months. That has idled about 2 billion gallons out of 12.5 billion gallons of annual production capacity. Mr. Dinneen estimated that a dozen more companies were in distress.

No biggie, right? I mean, the corn-based ethanol thing was always a giant corporate boondoggle for the mega agribusinesses to make even more money off of corn. This is the market correcting itself.

Well here's the bad news: research for cellulosic ethanol (or ethanol that comes from plant waste like sawdust, or corn stalks, or grass) is suffering greatly as a result of the overall industry's collapse. And cellulosic ethanol could be one huge key (or maybe THE huge key, along with plug-in hybrids) to solving our fossil fuel (and emissions) problems. This is a big and disappointing setback.