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17 febrero 2007

Corn-based ethanol's a flawed concept

El etanol sacado del maíz no es la panacea... al fin y al cabo, ¡También se necesita petróleo para hacer crecer el maíz, transportarlo y refinarlo!!


There have been numerous studies completed regarding the energy efficiency of ethanol vs. its production," said John Eichberger, vice president of government relations for the National Association of Convenience Stores.

"These range from a positive net energy return in excess of 30% to a negative net energy return of more than 30%," he said. "Researchers on both sides of the issue argue that the other research is significantly flawed."

Even so, policymakers insist that ethanol is a "positive replacement product for crude-oil based fuels and have proceeded down a path to subsidize and mandate its use," said Eichberger, whose trade organization represents the convenience and petroleum-retailing industry.

Invest energy to get energy

"Some of the warts associated with ethanol production are [real] -- it does use a lot of water, electricity and natural gas," said Newsom.

So "the problem with corn-based ethanol is that, at best, you don't get more energy out of it than it costs to grow and make it," said Sean Brodrick, a contributing editor at MoneyandMarkets.com.

"At worst, you lose energy."

It's eating at corn

But ethanol's impact on the corn market has been "dramatic," said DTN's Newsom.
"If ethanol demand increases to projected levels, corn supplies will be incredibly low at the end of the 2006-2007 marketing year in August 2007," he said.

The U.S. produced an estimated 4.9 billion gallons of ethanol last year and used more than 5.5 billion, according to the Renewable Fuel Association's Hartwig. Ethanol is blended in more than 46% of the nation's gasoline, he said.

"It would seem that the corn market is poised for a long-term rally in price," said Newsom. He predicts that the high of $5.54 a bushel from 1996 seems like a "reasonable price target."

Meanwhile, limitation in the corn market itself should be considered.

"Corn-based ethanol will be of limited supply," said Charles Perry, chairman of energy-consulting firm Perry Management. The U.S has a limited amount of productive land so we "can spare only a limited amount of our corn crop for ethanol."

At the same time, this corn use for ethanol has been "hampering feeding, with some talk in the livestock industry of herd reduction due to higher feed costs," said Newsom.

"Our food prices will go through the roof -- $4-$5 corn makes for very expensive beef, pork and chicken," said Bernie Feshbach, president of investment firm Feshbach & Sons.

Also, "the use of corn makes ethanol a regional (Midwest) issue as the U.S. lacks the infrastructure to move the product around to meet demand," said Newsom.