Bill Menke's BLOG Page: Brazilian E85 not a Model for the US

ethanol from sugarcane

More on E85, the gasoline substitute that contains mostly ethanol (grain alcohol) ...

Much has been recently said of Brazil's use of sugarcane-derived ethanol, which, togther with its indegenous petroleum resources, has made that country more-or-less self-sufficient in fuel*.

Brazilians can rightfully be pround of their accomplishments, but Brazil's successful ethanol program ought not to be used as a model for the US.

The reason is that the US already produces roughly the same amount of ethanol as Brazil (4 billion gallons per year each), That's really no suprise: the two countries have similar land areas and both have big agricultural sectors. But Brazil has a somewhat smaller population and a much smaller economy (its GDP is only 10% the size of the US's). Brazil's ethanol goes a long way, accounting for 40% of its fuel. The US's ethanol, though roughly similar in amount, is but a drop in the tank of gas guzzling American SUV's (less than 2% of fuel). And yet we consume about ten percent of the US corn crop making that ethanol.

An improvement in US automobile fuel economy from 20 to 21 miles per gallon would do more to reduce US gasoline consumption than would doubling US ethanol prodction (or buying all of Brazil's).

*e.g. With big boost from sugar cane, Brazil is satisfying its fuel needs, by Larry Rohter, New York Times, April 10, 2006.