Sugar Not So Sweet For Ethanol

Cindy Zimmerman

Producing ethanol from sugar cane or sugar beets in the U.S. would cost about 2 1/2 times more than it costs to produce it from corn. That is according to a long-awaited USDA study on the economics of producing ethanol from sugar authored by the agriculture department’s top economist Keith Collins. The detailed report compares production scenerios for sugar cane, beets, raw sugar and molasses adding the net cost of the feedstock to the processing cost to derive a total cost per gallon.

The bottom line, according to the report, is this:USDA

Corn ……………. 1.05/gallon ethanol
Cane ……………. 2.40/gallon ethanol
Beets …………… 2.35/gallon ethanol
Raw sugar ……… 3.48/gallon ethanol
Processed sugar.. 3.97/gallon ethanol
Molasses ……….. 1.27/gallon ethanol

While the report does indicate that molasses is the only feedstock that compares favorably to corn in terms of production costs, Collins notes that molasses is a by-product of sugar production and “if you took all the molasses in the United States and you turned it into ethanol, you would have 150 million gallons. We’re going to produce five billion corn-based gallons of ethanol this year. So, academically it’s true that it’s our most cost effective option among the sugar feedstocks, but practically it doesn’t represent much of an opportunity.”

More on this report later – audio, graphics and links to come.

Ethanol, Production