Iowa Public Television


Supply Issues May Limit Corn's Long-Run Potential as Ethanol Feedstock

posted on June 2, 2006

The Iowa Farm Bureau added that the state's livestock industry has faced 29 new rules packages in the past five years and five more revisions are pending. But even as producers spend more money trying to hit the moving target of environmental compliance, rural America is enjoying a boom in alternative fuel production. Again this week, new ethanol plants were announced in several Midwestern states. Corn is, by far, the dominant feed stock for U.S. ethanol production, but a recent study questioned corn-based ethanol's viability as a substitute for petroleum.

Supply Issues May Limit Corn's Long-Run Potential as Ethanol Feedstock

As the summer travel season begins, solutions for high gasoline prices might seem too far off for many drivers. But, experts say rising oil and gas costs are influencing quicker development of alternative fuels and energy sources.

Efforts are especially apparent in the nation's heartland, where there is a boom in ethanol production. U.S. ethanol production presently is underway or planned in 20 states, primarily in the central and western Corn Belt. Ethanol production currently accounts for about 1.6 percent of America's gasoline consumption, or 14 percent of total U.S. corn production.

Corn accounts for about 90 percent of the feedstocks used in making the additive. However, this may be cause for concern. According to a recent report by the Congressional Research Service, or CRS, ethanol will most likely never be a meaningful substitute for petroleum imports as long as corn is the principal feedstock. In 2005, slightly more than 75 million acres of corn were harvested, but the report claims nearly 140 million acres would be needed to produce enough ethanol to replace 50 percent of current petroleum imports. The study notes corn acreage hasn't reached 76 million acres in 35 years.

The report added if the country's 2005 entire corn crop of 11.1 billion bushels were used to make ethanol, the 30 billion gallons of the additive produced would represent less than 15 percent of the nation's projected annual gasoline consumption of 139.1 billion gallons.

Cellulosic ethanol production may offer promise because of its inexpensive feedstock. Cellulosic ethanol is made by using biomass such as switchgrass. The Congressional study states the ability to produce ethanol from low-cost biomass ultimately will be the key to making it competitive as a gasoline additive. The Department of Energy agrees. It says by using other crops and forest waste along with the entire corn plant, not just the kernels, enough cellulosic ethanol could be produced by 2030 to lower U.S. gasoline consumption by 30 percent.


Tags: agriculture biofuels corn ethanol news renewable fuels