Evidence that Ethanol Works

John Davis

IndyCar Driver Jeff SimmonsThe ethanol industry in Brazil has been developing some major traction. Marcos Jank, President of UNICA, says the demand for ethanol in Brazil is now matching that of the demand for gasoline. He says ethanol is gaining ground and Brazil “won’t move back to gas.”

Marcos was one of seven speakers at today’s Ethanol Summit held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway today. General Motors sponsored the event. The object of the Summit was to explore Brazil’s strong and sustained success with ethanol while also taking a look at where and how the U.S. ethanol industry has room to grow.

Marcos and Indy racing legend Emerson Fittipaldi – a Brazilian ethanol producer – highlighted a number of milestones the Brazilian ethanol industry has already attained:

  • All fuel sold in Brazil contains a 20 to 25 percent blend of ethanol
  • The unsubsidized ethanol industry offers a fuel that is on average one dollar below the price of gasoline
  • Virtually all 33,000 gas pumps offer E100
  • Just one percent of the 40 percent of arable land in Brazil is being used to produce sugarcane ethanol
  • Forty-five percent of fuel for cars is from sugarcane
  • Sugarcane ethanol production is 100 percent self-sufficient
  • The food industry is growing faster than the ethanol industry
  • Ninety percent of all new automobiles sold are flex-fuel automobiles
  • One-hundred percent of GM vehicles produced in Brazil are flex-fuel
  • Twenty percent of all cars are flex-fuel vehicles today
  • Fifty percent of all cars will be flex-fuel vehicles by 2012
  • Three percent of electricity is from sugarcane
  • Honda and Yamaha are introducing flex-fuel motorcycles this year

Marcos and Emerson stressed ethanol’s role in reducing fuel emissions. They also pointed out that the combined production of ethanol in Brazil and the U.S. amounts to 75 percent of all ethanol produced globally. They both urge the U.S. to develop political policies that enable better cooperation between the Brazilan and American ethanol industries. Marcos says there is certainly still room for the Brazilian ethanol industry to grow. He says Brazil can produce 2 to 3 times more ethanol than the country’s current production. He also points out that 100 countries could potentially supply biofuels to 200 nations as compared to the 20 oil producers who are currently supplying the rest of the world.

Michael Ladisch, the chief technical officer of Mascoma Corp. and Bill Becker, the president of LifeLine Foods spelled out how the U.S. ethanol industry has the potential to achieve a success beyond that of Brazil. Mike said Mascoma Corporation is focused on cellulosic ethanol, which he says is the next generation of ethanol in the U.S. He says his company has simplified the production of ethanol. He also points out that cellulosic ethanol would reduce greenhouse gases by ninety-five percent.

Bill explained that his company, LifeLine Foods, demonstrates that the discussion about food versus fuel is simply not relevant with ethanol. In a television interview, Bill said LifeLine is “a food company that happens to sell ethanol.” He says ethanol is produced with the least-valuable part of the corn crop. Ethanol is formed from the leftovers of producing food items like corn oil and feed items like distilled grains. Bill also sees no reason why corn-based ethanol should contribute to food prices. A single corn crop can be used for food and fuel and feed and fiber and more. He says corn has the potential to triple in production tonage per acre. Bill says LifeLine can also extract a significant source of protein from corn and use it as a supplement for feeding the world, while still using the crop to produce ethanol.

This is all great news to General Motors. Beth Lowery, the vice president of Environment, Energy and Safety Policy for GM says the auto manufacturer is fully committed to stimulating the market for E85 in the U.S. She says “performance vehicles and ethanol can go together.” She reminded listeners that there are 7 million flex-fuel vehicles on U.S. roads today. Plus, by 2012 biofuel vehicles will make up fifty percent of GM’s total production of American automobiles. Beth says GM will offer 15 different models of flex-fuel vehicles in 2009, including the Crossover – America’s first four-cyllander FFV. Beth stressed that as the use of ethanol continues to grow in the U.S., it is important for the industry to get the economics right. She says there needs to be more ethanol offered to consumers at the pumps and auto manufacturers need to continue developing flex-fuel vehicles.

You can listen to the entire panel discussion here. It’s about an hour and twenty minutes of dialogue, but I think it’s well worth it. There’s a TON of interesting information. Not to mention that you get to hear from an Indy legend!

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