Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Do Cars Get Drunk on Ethanol?

"After nearly three decades of work, Brazil has developed a cost-effective alternative to gasoline... (and ) expects to become energy independent this year (down from importing 80% in the 1970s--the U.S. imports about 60% currently)...Brazil can make ethanol from sugar cane for about $1 a gallon, according to the World Bank. That compares with the international price of gasoline of about $1.50 a gallon. Even though ethanol gets less mileage per gallon than gasoline, in Brazil it's still much cheaper per mile driven."

"Using carbohydrates instead of fossil-fuels to run cars is not a new idea. Henry Ford's first car was made to run on ethanol...During World War II, the U.S...and other nations relied on ethanol to extend gasoline supplies. In the postwar period, gasoline was so plentiful and cheap that ethanol lost its allure.

"India and China have sent a parade of top officials to see Brazil's program..."

David Luhnow and Geraldo Samor, "As Brazil Fills Up on Ethanol, It Weans Off Energy Imports", The Wall Street Journal, Monday, January 9th, 2006, front page


  • Andrew,

    One thing the WSJ article didn't mention is why Brazil can produce ethanol so much more cheaply than we can produce corn-based ethanol. There are at least three important reasons:

    1. It is more efficient -- and less energy intensive -- to make ethanol from the sugar in cane than from the starch in corn.

    2. Brazil has huge tracts of inexpensive land and a climate that are conducive to growing cane.

    3. Brazil uses dirt cheap manual labor to do much of their farm work instead of expensive diesel-powered farm machinery that can consume as much as 20-25 gallons of fuel per hour.

    It would be a mistake thinking Brazil' success with sugar cane-based ethanol is a model we can emulate with corn-based ethanol.

    By Anonymous Gary Dikkers, at 1/10/2006 10:46 PM  

  • Gary,

    Thank you for the informative points. I didn't assume the US could simply emulate the Brazilian plan, but it's certainly worth researching. We have a huge surplus of corn, so finding a way to extract ethanol efficiently seems like a good idea. I'm surprised, however, that we don't have a more efficient method of planting/fertilizing/and harvesting corn. Cheap manual labor still have other costs involved such as housing, food, clothing, etc. Is American farm machinery really that inefficient?

    By Blogger Andrew, at 1/14/2006 8:58 PM  

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