The world’s largest ethanol production plant has opened in South Bend, Indiana. The $186 million factory is capable of converting, each week, 20 million bushels of corn into more than a million gallons of fuel ethanol (to be used as an octane enhancer in unleaded gasoline). In addition, the plant is expected to produce some 186,000 tons of animal feed and 150,000 tons of carbon dioxide annually. The facility, built with the help of the largest loan guarantee ever granted under the Department of Energy’s alcohol fuels program ($141 million), is lauded by some but criticized by others as an example of the industry’s — and the government’s — tendency to support a few large, centralized production facilities rather than develop a wide network of many smaller operations.
Our domestic ethanol output, however, pales in comparison to Brazil’s, where annual alcohol fuel production is expected to top the 3 billion gallon mark this year. In the face of near-record low international prices for sugar (they’ve been as low as one-third the cost of producing the substance!), the country will convert much less of its cane sugar crop to sweetener for export and much more to ethanol. Since American alcohol fuel producers use primarily corn — an increasingly expensive commodity — the Brazilians expect to be able to broaden their share of the market in this country, which already consumes about 90% of Brazilian ethanol exports.