While gas prices have skyrocketed during the past five years in the US and the provisioning of fuel seems to be as dark a proposition as its color, a new alternative which has been growing in America at a rate of 30% annually opens a new window of opportunity to end the country’s dependency on oil: ethanol.
This biofuel not only pollutes less than gasoline, it is also easier and cheaper to produce since it is created out of renewable raw materials like sugar, wheat or corn.
The need for this energy alternative is becoming so important that even President George W. Bush included it in his January State of the Union address.
"We’ll also fund additional research in cutting-edge methods of producing ethanol," said the President. "Our goal is to make this new kind of ethanol practical and competitive within six years."
Additionally, the US Government, under the Energy Policy Act of 2005, calls for the gradual increase of ethanol from 4 billion gallons in 2006 to 7.5 billion gallons by 2012; which is half of what Brazil, the largest ethanol producer in the world, generates nowadays.
The United States’ increased interest in this alternative is such that today there are 97 ethanol production plants in the country, with another 31 under construction. Each month sees the opening of an average of two new ethanol refineries.
For doubters, evidence that this new biofuel is legitimate can be seen in the fact that as of next year, the Indy Racing League, home to some of the highest-performing automobiles on the planet, will be powered solely by ethanol.
And because of this need to our oil addiction, forums and events to discuss the qualities of ethanol and other alternatives are also in great demand. One of them, Fispal Latino International Forum 2006: Sugarcoating the Fuel Economy, will take place from May 10-12th, 2006 in Miami, Florida.
Present at this event will be Brazil’s Minister of Agriculture, Roberto Rodrigues, along with various other top-level executives from countries that have been pioneers in producing ethanol for day-to-day use.
A Fuel of World Interest
The benefits of ethanol have not only been called to attention by the US. China has just completed construction on the largest ethanol production plant in the world, while the Venezuelan government is studying the possibility of opening 15 ethanol refineries and planting 700,000 new acres of sugar cane within the next three years. Brazil, already the world’s largest ethanol producer, plans to duplicate its production by 2013.
"The entire world has been exposed to the benefits of ethanol," stated Oscar Dominguez, President of Fispal Latino. "Latin America and the Caribbean have a golden opportunity with their extensive cultivatable acreage to become the largest ethanol providers in the world."
As mentioned, Brazil has been the first Latin American country to realize this fuel’s potential. Presently, the country has over three million cars running on ethanol. Also, Embraer, a Brazil-global aircraft manufacturer, has announced plans to produce the first airplane to run on this biofuel.
Additionally, Brazil has focused its efforts on the international market. In February of this year, the country exported 38,331 gallons of ethanol, 20% more than what was exported during the same month in 2005.
The majority of this volume is shipped to the USA, who, together with South America’s giant, accounts for 85% of the world’s total consumption.
And though these numbers are cause for hope, the gap that exists between gasoline and ethanol production is still staggering.
"Taking into consideration that annual gasoline consumption is about 7.7 billion barrels per year, ethanol production worldwide is minimal since it only represents 2.5% of current gasoline consumption," commented Eduardo de Carvalho, President of Brazil’s Sugar Cane Agro Industrial Union of São Paulo (Unica).
With such great growth potential and the appetite that governments worldwide are beginning to demonstrate for ethanol, the only conclusion that can be arrived at is that slowly, but surely, consumers will be replacing the famous black gold for what most likely will be called the sweet fuel.