Sunday, March 02, 2008

Hoodoo, who do you think you're fooling?

Last spring I wrote a little something about E85 on ye olde blog.  Now I realize this is a bike related blog and one of the more tangible benefits of commuting to work via bike is that I don't have to buy nearly as much gas as the average schmoe.  I drive a big tank of a station wagon that I can haul kids, dogs and building supplies in.  But I can't remember the last time I put gas in it.  But I consider this a secondary motivation.  In reality, I just like riding my bike.  Perhaps it's the daily challenge of doing something that requires forethought and adapting to the ever changing world outside instead of encapsulating myself in a series of boxes (home to car to work to car to home, lather rinse repeat) that makes me enjoy it.  I don't really know why I like it.  I don't really care.
Now, back to ethanol.  Because saving the planet isn't my primary objective for biking, I don't have a lot of strong feelings about alternative fuels and hybrid cars and whatnot.  Unless it's stupid.  And ethanol is looking more and more stupid.  And the interesting thing is that more and more people are realizing it.  In March of 2007 Jon Birger wrote the following for Fortune magazine:
[In the summer of 2006] when corn was $2 a bushel and oil was $70 a barrel, ethanol plants were minting money. They averaged $1.06 in profit for every gallon of ethanol sold, according to Credit Suisse. Today, with oil at $60 and corn at $4, ethanol producers typically net an average of only 3 cents...

If corn spikes to $5 -- a real possibility, says A.G. Edwards commodities analyst Dan Vaught -- or oil declines to $50, ethanol's once-fantastic margins would turn negative. That possibility is creating tensions between ethanol producers and corn growers, two groups whose lobbyists are normally attached at the hip.

And here we are in spring of 2008 with corn over $5.25 a bushel.  If these prices are sustained, or increase, ethanol producers will lose money.  And they know it.  Earlier this week Cargill abandoned their plan to build a new ethanol plant in Kansas.  And in Canton, Illinois an unfinished ethanol plant was just sold in bankrupcy court.  Gee, didn't Congress just mandate that we use 36 billions gallons of biofuel by 2022?  Who's going to be able to afford to refine it?

Date: February 27
Mileage: 18
Ride type/Bike: Commute/Triumph
February mileage: 209
Year to date mileage: 518

Date: February 28
Mileage: 12
Ride type/Bike: Commute/Triumph
February mileage: 221
Year to date mileage: 530

Date: February 29
Mileage: 18
Ride type/Bike: Commute/Triumph
February mileage: 239
Year to date mileage: 548

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Anonymous said...

You're just bitter because you're paying full price for gas when your friends and neighbors are increasingly paying a much lower price for E85. E85 is the future.

Jim T

midway cyclist said...

Have there been any analyses of the economic case for growing rapeseed or other plant matter for biodiesel production? I wonder if it's any more or less efficient than creating ethanol from corn. Biodiesel seems like a better bet because it can be made from plants that aren't otherwise used as a major food source, but i haven't seen an article on the efficiency of production. Ethanol is pretty inefficient, market price aside.

bother yam said...

One of the big problems with ethanol is that there are a bunch of hidden inputs that are rarely reported. The amount of water needed to keep corn growing and how much fertilizer is needed for modern agriculture. Fertilizer that is made from natural gas.