The U.S. ethanol industry is reeling, with only the financial crisis preventing massive consolidation as more and more companies face the prospect of bankruptcy, according to the New York Times. The drop in oil prices, coupled with wildly fluctuating corn prices, have conspired to sap energy from the industry.
VeraSun, a large ethanol producer, has already filed for bankruptcy, and several others may follow suit. Even agrichemical giant Archer Daniels Midland is losing money on its ethanol endeavors.
Ethanol, which in the United States is made from corn, will never replace gasoline in its present form. It takes too much land -- land that, in many cases, would otherwise be planted with food -- and too much energy, in the form of fertilizers derived from fossil fuels, to solve America's energy woes. Planting all that corn has led to record or near-record dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico, as excess fertilizer runs down the Mississippi and other rivers, emptying into the Gulf and setting off a cascading series of events that upends the ecosystem that supports valuable commercial fisheries.
Corn ethanol may be a useful stepping stone to a better renewable fuel. Many believe cellulosic ethanol, which would be made from wastes and marginal crops like switchgrass, holds more promise.
Hopefully the consolidation in the industry won't curtail research into cellulosic ethanol. In the meantime, Congressional mandates require ethanol to be blended with gasoline in ever higher concentrations.
Enter your city or zip code to get your local temperature and air quality and find local green food and recycling resources near you.