Ethanol Makes Fortune

Cindy Zimmerman

Fortune Mag How to Beat the High Cost of Gasoline. Forever! – from the current issue of Fortune magazine is the most comprehensive and well-written article about ethanol that I have ever read. My sincere thanks to Fortune reporter Adam Lashinsky for sending it to me. Great job, Adam! It is extremely well-researched and balanced, addressing many of the concerns and criticism about ethanol while at the same time conveying significant enthusiasm for the future of the industry.

Here are just a few choice excerpts:

Instead of coming exclusively from corn or sugar cane as it has up to now, thanks to biotech breakthroughs, the fuel can be made out of everything from prairie switchgrass and wood chips to corn husks and other agricultural waste. This biomass-derived fuel is known as cellulosic ethanol. Whatever the source, burning ethanol instead of gasoline reduces carbon emissions by more than 80% while eliminating entirely the release of acid-rain-causing sulfur dioxide. Even the cautious Department of Energy predicts that ethanol could put a 30% dent in America’s gasoline consumption by 2030.….

It takes about 30% more ethanol than gasoline to drive a mile, and the stuff is more corrosive, but building a car that’s E85-ready adds only about $200 to the cost. Ethanol has already transformed one major economy: In Brazil nearly three-quarters of new cars can burn either ethanol or gasoline, whichever happens to be cheaper at the pump, and the nation has weaned itself off imported oil.….

ADM aims to be a big player in what Andreas calls the shift “from hydrocarbons to carbohydrates.” But for now it’s ignoring E85 and cellulosic ethanol in favor of keeping pace with demand that is already booming. Corn ethanol’s main use is as an additive that helps gasoline burn more efficiently. ADM sells nearly its entire output to oil companies, which use ethanol as a substitute for MTBE, a petroleum-based additive that is toxic and is now banned in California and 24 other states. With two billion gallons of MTBE still in use annually and 25 states that have yet to ban it, the ethanol industry could grow 50% simply by replacing MTBE.….

With Brazilian ethanol selling for 45% less per liter than gasoline in 2003 and 2004, flex-fuel cars caught on like iPods. In 2003, flex-fuel had 6% of the market for Brazilian-made cars, and automakers were expecting the technology’s share to zoom to 30% in 2005. That proved wildly conservative: As of last December, 73% of cars sold in Brazil came with flex-fuel engines. There are now 1.3 million flex-fuel cars on the road.….

No one, not even a professionally optimistic VC, thinks we’re anywhere near getting rid of gasoline. The oil superstructure is simply too efficient and too entrenched to just go away. Nor could corn ethanol generate enough fuel to run America’s cars, pickups, and SUVs. Already ethanol gobbles up 14% of the country’s corn production. Converting a bigger share into fuel would pinch the world’s food supply–a favorite objection of skeptics. Critics also contend that producing fuel from crops consumes more energy than it yields. On this topic of endless Internet bickering, the Energy Department recently reported, “In terms of key energy and environmental benefits, cornstarch ethanol comes out clearly ahead of petroleum-based fuels, and tomorrow’s cellulosic-based ethanol would do even better.”….

Okay – that should be enough to get you hooked – now go read the whole article…. NOW!