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Ethanol could leave the world hungry

Lester Brown, Fortune
The growing myth that corn is a cure-all for our energy woes is leading us toward a potentially dangerous global fight for food. While crop-based ethanol -the latest craze in alternative energy – promises a guilt-free way to keep our gas tanks full, the reality is that overuse of our agricultural resources could have consequences even more drastic than, say, being deprived of our SUVs. It could leave much of the world hungry.

We are facing an epic competition between the 800 million motorists who want to protect their mobility and the two billion poorest people in the world who simply want to survive. In effect, supermarkets and service stations are now competing for the same resources.

This year cars, not people, will claim most of the increase in world grain consumption. The problem is simple: It takes a whole lot of agricultural produce to create a modest amount of automotive fuel.

The grain required to fill a 25-gallon SUV gas tank with ethanol, for instance, could feed one person for a year. If today’s entire U.S. grain harvest were converted into fuel for cars, it would still satisfy less than one-sixth of U.S. demand.

Worldwide increase in grain consumption

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that world grain consumption will increase by 20 million tons this year, roughly 1%. Of that, 14 million tons will be used to fuel cars in the U.S., leaving only six million tons to cover the world’s growing food needs.

Already commodity prices are rising. Sugar prices have doubled over the past 18 months (driven in part by Brazil’s use of sugar cane for fuel), and world corn and wheat prices are up one-fourth so far this year.

For the world’s poorest people, many of whom spend half or more of their income on food, rising grain prices can quickly become life threatening.
(16 Aug 2006)

Ethanol, Corn Users May Deplete US Supplies By 2008

Charles Abbott and Lisa Haarlander (Reuters), Planet Ark
US ethanol manufacturers, foodmakers and livestock feeders are consuming so much corn (maize) that stockpiles could be depleted by 2008, unless plantings expand sharply, analysts said on Friday.

In its first forecast of the fall harvest, the USDepartment of Agriculture estimated on Friday the corn crop at 10.976 billion bushels (278.8 million tonnes), the third-largest crop ever.

Corn usage now exceeds production by a small margin.

But in the 2006/07 marketing year, which opens Sept. 1, importers and US industry will consume 839 million bushels or 7 percent more corn than is being grown, according to USDA.

“There’s definitely need for more corn,” said analyst Mark McMinimy of Stanford Washington Research, especially with the ethanol industry growing “bigger and hungrier” each year.
(14 Aug 2006)

Africa looks to shrubs and sugar to beat oil price

Nick Tattersall, Reuters
Some of Africa’s poorest nations are clubbing together to try to position themselves as global suppliers of biofuel, hoping to use everything from shrubs to sugar to offset the economic impact of rising crude prices.

Inspired by Brazil, where three quarters of new cars run on a mix of biofuel and gasoline, 13 nations met in Senegal on Thursday to form the African Non-Petroleum Producers Association (PANPP), aimed at developing alternative energy sources.

“Our continent should have as its vocation to become the primary world supplier of biofuels,” Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade told delegates meeting in the capital, Dakar.

“This step to develop clean energy is all the more pertinent because it calls for immense areas of cultivable land, where Africa benefits from a clear advantage,” he said.

Investment in biofuels, including ethanol derived from sugar cane and biodiesel from oils, is booming on the back of high oil prices, energy security fears, limited spare refinery capacity and concerns about greenhouse gas emissions.
(28 Jul 2006)

OPEC President Discusses Ethanol

AP, Houston Chronicle
OPEC’s president discussed Brazil’s booming ethanol industry with the chief executive of Brazil’s state-owned petroleum company Tuesday and will visit Brazilian factories that turn sugar cane into the fuel.

Edmund Daukoru, OPEC’s president and Nigeria’s oil minister, met with Sergio Gabrielli of Petrobras and the two discussed alternative energy and liquefied natural gas _ which Brazil is interested in importing to reduce its dependance on gas from neighboring Bolivia amid demands by the Andean nation for higher prices.

Daukoro heads a committee charged with pushing forward plans to use and produce ethanol in Nigeria.

Brazil plans to export ethanol to Nigeria while helping the nation build its own ethanol industry. Daukoro is also scheduled to visit key ethanol production facilities in Brazil’s Sao Paulo state, said Petroleo Brasileiro SA.

Brazil is a world leader in production and use of ethanol. Seven out of every 10 new cars sold in Brazil are “flex fuel” vehicles that can run on gasoline, ethanol or any combination of the two.

Ethanol is available at virtually every gas station in Latin America’s largest country.
(15 Aug 2006)