“Halt needed on number of biofuel plants”

30-01-2007 | |

Governments should introduce a halt on the number of biofuel processing plants until they are certain of how many are being built and are in control of the sector’s growth, according to environmentalist Lester Brown from the ‘US Earth Policy’ Institute.

Speaking in Brussels, Brown said he was concerned about the competition that
will arise around the world between food and feed if governments continue to
push biofuels as an alternative to petrol and diesel. The Chinese government
said in January that it had suspended the approval of new ethanol projects that
use maize as a feedstock to limit the industrial consumption of the grain and
avoid jeopardising food production. The move came after US maize prices raised
15-20% in a couple of weeks.

Number of ethanol

Brown said the US government should implement a similar halt
on the construction of ethanol projects, claiming the sector’s growth was
getting out of hand. According to a EPI compilation, the 116 plants in production on December 31,
2006, were using 53 million tons of grain per year, while the 79 plants under
construction (mostly larger facilities) will use 51 million tons of grain when
they come online. Expansions of 11 existing plants will use another 8 million
tons of grain (1 ton of corn = 39.4 bushels = 110 gallons of ethanol).
addition, easily 200 ethanol plants were in the planning stage at the end of
2006. If these translate into construction starts between January 1 and June 30,
2007, at the same rate that plants did during the final six months of 2006, then
an additional 3 billion gallons of capacity requiring 27 million more tons of
grain will likely come online by September 1, 2008, the start of the 2008
harvest year. This raises the corn needed for distilleries to 139 million tons,
half the 2008 harvest projected by USDA. This would yield nearly 15 billion
gallons of ethanol, satisfying 6% of U.S. auto fuel needs. (And this estimate
does not include any plants started after June 30, 2007, that would be finished
in time to draw on the 2008 harvest.)


Lester Brown


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