Ethanol – A Big Boom or a Big Bust?

Ethanol has essentially been one of the great snake oil cons of the new millennium. It is nothing more than a band aid fix for the US energy markets. Unfortunately, a band aid only covers up an “ouwie” for a couple of days, falls off, and exposes the same wounds over and over. My apologies for the antagonistic humor, but each time I’ve heard the miracle savior speech from ethanol supporters I shake my head and wonder if these proponents are really this clueless on the macro scale.

Ethanol, while a great product and manageable renewable resource, does not provide any significant bonus from oil based fuel systems. What you don’t hear are the difficulties in mass production of ethanol, the resources required to support its production on a nationwide scale, and the pollution it generates. Not to mention, the time and cost of converting a national infrastructure from one fuel source to another.

The amount of land area required to support the US energy market alone is prohibitive. Considering the amount of food production that would be lost to energy production is staggering, not to mention the possibility of soil nutrient depletion. The current technology of using corn to produce ethanol is also rather poor. Even the best process engineers in the world agree that the cost estimates would approximate $ 3.50 per gallon. Not a substantial financial incentive in my opinion.

The amount of time required to convert our current infrastructure to ethanol is anyone’s guess. Sure its easy to say “we should convert now” yet if this person just bought a new gas guzzling SUV there is no way they would appreciate its immediate devaluation since it currently uses a oil based, fuel burning engine.

Pollution generated from ethanol production is often the least discussed subject regarding its usage. The biomass of corn based ethanol production is massive, and considering the ethanol generated per kilogram of biomass if inefficient at best. Thus, its not a valuable investment in time, resource depletion, or basic economics.

I’m a firm believer in an alternative energy production. While I hold many alternative energy companies in my investment portfolio, I still hold several of the “evil oil monopoly” companies in my portfolio as well. The truth be told, we don’t have a better solution at this time. So its irrelevant if you are a stout environmentalist or CEO of a global oil corporation, we all have to accept that oil will still be around for a long period of time. The big question is: what is going to replace it when its all gone?

Do we convert our energy sources to a temporary fix, or do we wipe the slate clean and start anew with a naturally occurring, non polluting energy source like solar, wind, or geothermal power? Take a lesson from the passive income proponents who love the concept of making money while you sleep. Spend the money up-front to build an efficient and upgradable infrastructure as technology improves over time, then sit back and let the Earth’s natural properties power our futures. Think of it as, the Earth’s way of paying us back for not polluting mother nature anymore!