China's stock market plummeted from record highs on Monday, when the Shanghai Composite Index tumbled nine percent -- its largest decline in 10 years.
On Tuesday, the Dow plunged 416 points -- its largest single-session loss since Sept. 17, 2001, the first day of trading after the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.
And the Commerce Department reported this week that orders for U.S. Durable Goods fell nearly 8 percent in January, as demand for new cars and aircraft plummeted.
Amidst the doom and gloom of this weeks reports though, one sector of the U.S. economy is enjoying a renaissance. America's farmers and ranchers are receiving some of the best prices in history, thanks in large part, to the boom in alternative fuels. And this week, the ethanol industry received another shot in the arm from Uncle Sam.
Department of Energy Secretary, Samuel Bodman this week announced his intention to award up to $385 (M) million in federal grants to six companies using different technologies and materials to make cellulosic ethanol.
Bodman expects the grants to cover up to 40 percent of the cost of the projects. One of the largest allocations – up to $80 million– is going to the Broin Companies of Sioux Falls, South Dakota –to build a cellulosic ethanol plant in northwest Iowa ... using corn and corn stover.
Jeff Broin, Broin Companies, Sioux Falls, South Dakota: "By using corn fiber in stover our costs will yield possibly 11% more ethanol from a bushel of corn, 27% more ethanol from an acre of corn, while using 24% less water and 83% less fossil fuels to power the facility."
The DOE says Broin and the other five companies were chosen because they have a proven track record in alternative fuel production and the government officials believe these firms can bring cellulosic ethanol to mass commercial production.
Brian Foody, President, Iogen Biorefinery Partners. "This facility has been carefully configured to be the template for a large scale, rapid deployment of plants all across the United States. When replicated across America, with the feedstocks we will have tested and proven, like corn stover, switchgrass and wheat straw, could produce up to 32 billion gallons per year of cellulosic ethanol, support fuel production in more than 25 states, substantially improve U.S. energy and economic security and spur billions of dollars of investment in rural communities."
Like the Broin companies, the Canadian company, Iogen is slated to receive up to $80 million dollars.
The DOE says the exact financing of each project will depend on how well the facilities progress and how much Congress will allocate each year.
Samuel Bodman, Secretary, Department of Energy: "We don't want to get ahead of ourselves in terms of dealing with Congress. Congress is, if you will, our partner in this endeavor in terms of the funding source."
While Secretary Bodman has high hopes for the success of these six projects in an attempt to meet the president's initiative to produce 35 (B) billion gallons a year by 2017 ... but a lot will depend on the cost of production.
Samuel Bodman, Secretary, Department of Energy: "If we're able to get the cost of operation down to $1.00 gallon level, it would put us in a very strong position to have these technologies compete with any technologies in the world."