Sugar beets are a more efficient source for ethanol production than corn for a lot of reasons: they use less land, less water and, they can grown in many regions during the winter where it's too cold to grow corn.

Sugar beets, which are mostly water, use 40 percent less water for growth than corn does, and require about half as much land, according to oil-industry website OilPrice.com. Also, there's little waste involved in processing sugar beets to alcohol because much of the waste material can be converted to either fuel or fertilizer.

Finding new sources for ethanol is topical because of both rising federal quotas for renewable fuel and the push by many to cut corn-based ethanol production because of concerns over food shortages, waterway contamination and water and electricity requirements. Late last month, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency boosted its 2012 goals for production of non-corn-based biofuels by about 36 percent. This includes quota hikes for sugarcane and algae-based ethanol and cellulosic biofuels, or biofuels produced from grasses, wood and plants. Could sugar beets be the next reasonable large-scale ethanol crop?


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  • 65 Comments
      Neil Blanchard
      • 3 Years Ago
      Have you heard of diesel from Jatropha oil? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jatropha_oil It grows in marginal scrub land, is drought resistant and is not edible, and I think it is a perennial bush, so no plowing and much less erosion, etc. Neil
        marcopolo
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Neil Blanchard
        @Neil Blanchard Indeed I have heard of Jatropha! In many ways Jatropha is an excellent crop for Bio-fuel. It does possess a lot of the virtues you have stated. Between 1992 and 2009, Jatropha was the exciting new fuel for African, India and third world countries.(makes a good cattle hedge). Many large corporations, governments of developing countries and foreign-aid organisations poured billions into this new agricultural boon crop. Sadly, the result were very disappointing for large scale production. Like cannabis, jatropha has many varieties some of which become feral pests and are very difficult to eradicate. Although jatropha will grow in arid condition the yields become very low, and uneconomic. I still have an investment in jatropha at a small scale village co-op level.(all that remains of a proposed giant BP backed failed plantation) . The small scale production runs the irrigation pumps for 5 villages, and powers all the villagers needs for electricity, including the small clinic and school. There are many successful small scale power projects fuelled by jatropha all over the developing world. But they all fail when large scale commercialisation is attempted.
          marcopolo
          • 3 Years Ago
          @marcopolo
          @Ezee Electronx16 is obsessed with his hatred of oil companies, (but not Oil products) and anyone who actually gets involved in doing something! he follows me about like a small and irritating child butting into everything with inane but abusive comments. Curiously, his environmental principles stop at actually doing anything! (except annoying me) It's only natural that Oil corporations see bio-fuels as the most promising compatible alternate energy source, since it can be made to fit with currant oil infrastructure. Far from being a competitor, the only organisations to be able to develop and distribute Bio-fuel on an industrial scale are oil companies. But, it's yet to be seen if anyone can solve the problem of Feedstock. The PRC's PLA is committing gigantic resources to bio-fuel, because of it's strategic value for defence. But, that sort of development may not be economic in a commercial sense. Still the world of Bio-genetics is an exciting new frontier, and that's where most investments will be made in the near future.
          electronx16
          • 3 Years Ago
          @marcopolo
          Bio fuels really are a main focus your Big Oil advocacy business aren't they? So far in this thread an endless barrage of unsubstantiated claims about bio fuels and yourself of course to make the whole thing more credible. The usual recipe really. I learn from this that bio fuels are really considered a major threat by the oil interests and I'm not alone in this: http://green.autoblog.com/2008/10/29/big-oil-is-behind-ethanols-bad-press/ OTOH according to BP: widespread cultivation of biofuels in the US and tar sands developments in Canada, will transform North America from having a substantial "energy deficit" to a "small surplus" by 2030 Source: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/china-and-india-set-to-drive-up-hybrid-car-sales-6291492.html Guess Big Oil takes biofuels serious but not while peak oil still earns them record profits and only variants where they control the production cycle.
          EZEE
          • 3 Years Ago
          @marcopolo
          I don't believe there was any positive statement concerning 'big oil'. Even the comments concerning this article referred to, 'many large corporations.' the investment was in a 'failed plantation' from BP. You are reading into his statement... Now, he may actually love oil companies and have a shrine to JD Rockefeller down on the ranch near the billabong by the Barbie (I started typing in Australian), but this post suggested none of that.
          electronx16
          • 3 Years Ago
          @marcopolo
          EZEE: Still astroturfing the astroturfer? The games people play....
          electronx16
          • 3 Years Ago
          @marcopolo
          I wouldn't say I don't do anything as your annoyance indicates. I think exposing the lies and manipulation of people who run some sort of big oil advocacy business on this forum under the guise of EV advocacy is a pretty noble cause...
      PR
      • 3 Years Ago
      Corn ethanol mandates will be frozen at 15 Billion gallons a year starting 2 years from now. Up from their current roughly 14 Billion gallon mandate. This is the freeze point where the bean counters figured out that corn for ethanol would work to eliminate the massive excess corn production we've already talked about lower in this comment section, without cutting into food corn. (Keep in mind that one of the outputs of corn ethanol production is distiller's grain which is fed to cows, so corn isn't completely lost from the food chain in the ethanol production process.) The reason why folks are looking at sugar beet ethanol now is that it and cane sugar ethanol will both satisfy the mandate for non-corn ethanol that started in 2009. It really isn't about what is better between corn and beet ethanol. Both will be required to meet the mandates. http://www.epa.gov/otaq/fuels/renewablefuels/index.htm http://www.agmrc.org/renewable_energy/biofuelsbiorefining_general/proposed_biofuel_mandates_for_2012_and_the_blend_wall.cfm
      EZEE
      • 3 Years Ago
      Thanks for the insight PR.
      Letstakeawalk
      • 3 Years Ago
      I can support ethanol from plasma gasification plants... http://www.ens-newswire.com/ens/aug2008/2008-08-20-091.asp
      DaveMart
      • 3 Years Ago
      'Big Ears?'
      PR
      • 3 Years Ago
      Marco has explained quite well how market speculators caused an artificial and temporary crash of the ethanol industry in order to leach the profits out of the hard work of others, leaving destruction behind them. As Marco said, industrial investors over-hyped the market to make the stocks look massively profitable. Then they sold off to low-information investors based upon previous returns that they themselves over-hyped and "took profits" and ran. This was the same as every other victim of the bubble economy, no different than housing. It doesn't invalidate biofuels, they are just going to have to recover from the damage caused by speculators, just like the housing market.
      M
      • 3 Years Ago
      Too bad the Sugar Beat industry doesn't have they lobbing power of corn so they can get tons of welfare dollars.
      marcopolo
      • 3 Years Ago
      @ EVnerdGene Gene, PR is quite right. Most bio-fuel projects arose as a solution to oversupply of a particular type of agricultural crop. In the USA it was corn, Australia, Brazil, sugar cane, Eastern Europe, sugar beat, etc.... Politically, governments saw ethanol as killing a number of birds with one stone. It helped the Farming communities (and voters) stabilised the commodity market, provided local employment (voters) might lower the price of gasoline(voters) reduce pollution (voters) and reduce foreign debt(voters). Every thing looked really rosy, and investment capital ( me included) poured into Bio-fuel projects with government encouragement. A bio- bubble began it's heady boom on the world stock markets. But after the initial enthusiasm, reality returned and the smart capital analysed the future, took their winnings and left the table ( me included) . In most countries bio-projects without massive direct government subsidies, collapsed. The exceptions were those countries where the agricultural production was so economic that the feedstock price could sustain the industry. Now, I'm speaking only of large scale production. many small c-ops and enthusiasts can still produce bio-fuels, especially bio-diesel economically. (unless prevented by law) . Bio-fuel are like EV energy storage devices, frustratingly near to breakthroughs and with an army of enthusiastic supporters, unable to comprehend the scientific and logistical difficulties.
      EVnerdGene
      • 3 Years Ago
      Why didn't they figure this out 20 years ago before 100 something Billion in subidies ? But still food for fuel.
        PR
        • 3 Years Ago
        @EVnerdGene
        They went with corn because of the corn silos overflowing with massive rotting excesses (even after paying farmers NOT to grow corn on their own land).
      harlanx6
      • 3 Years Ago
      But do the beet growers have as good a lobby as the corn growers? That is the only question that seems to matter.
        EZEE
        • 8 Months Ago
        @harlanx6
        :D Big Corn...up to their lobbying antics again....(I just wanted to use 'Big Corn' in a sentence). Or...wait... 'Big Corn - Corn-hole-ing The American People' I crack me up sometimes...
        PR
        • 8 Months Ago
        @harlanx6
        Actually, the what that matters is this: 1) Whether or not beet producers have excess production capacity, 2) Whether or not the by-product of beet ethanol production can be used for cattle feed like distiller's grain can be used after ethanol is made out of corn. The key to corn ethanol is that it produces not just one beneficial output, but two. The first is ethanol, the second is the left over mash that is highly valued by the cattle industry. I guess I could research beet ethanol by-products, but there are so many complete stupid politically motivated posts already here that frankly, it's not worth the 30 seconds it would take.
          PR
          • 8 Months Ago
          @PR
          Dammit! I didn't even want to learn about beet by-products. And low and behold while watching the Republican Debate, Gingrich brings up beet sugar. The next thing you know, my wife volunteers that beet by-products are put into a product called "beet pulp" where it is mixed with molasses and sold as a premium horse feed, and also sold for other animals. I hate that even when I explicitly make it a point NOT to learn about something, I end up learning about it anyways against my will. My wife is laughing now. I blame it all on EZEE.
      EVnerdGene
      • 3 Years Ago
      Just went to an entreprenial summit this morning. If you let the free market decide what makes sense, it will probably be a much better decision than the government guessing and political interests seeding decisions. Private investors and markets will provide all the money needed for any viable product. Good plan, viable market, good people, equals $$$. Not deficit spending and flushing money down toilets like ethanol, and Solyndra, and , , , ,
        marcopolo
        • 8 Months Ago
        @EVnerdGene
        @EVnerdGene Good for you! Although some 'entrepreneurial seminars' can be just thinly disguised attempt to sell you something, they can be educational and motivating. There is only so much the free market can do. Governments do have a role in providing services that private enterprise either can't, or would be inappropriate to become involved in. It's true most government intrusion into the private sector is either to rectify previous bad government policies, or to achieve political ambitions. The real problem is governments measure success by activity, while private enterprise measures success by profit. No organisation can fix the unfixable. Just wanting something to be work, and throwing huge sums of tax-payer money at a problem, only makes the tax-payer poorer. But governments can invest taxpayer money in development banks, which if properly run, can prove useful in helping finance private enterprise to develop initially marginal industries, which the government deems valuable for national development. In this way, the government becomes the customer on behalf of the tax payer. Sadly, the left always see things to the prism of the nanny state. Oil dependence? No problem the government will fix it, billions of dollars later, and no result, Remedy? Pass laws to make private enterprise do it! (Still no result except oil shale from Canada and Natural Gas}. Housing problems? No problem! Erect vast housing projects (soul destroying slums) etc But slowly, private enterprise adapts and somewhere, someone, starts seeing a way to profitable solve bits of the puzzle. Nationalised Industry, huge government involvement, always fails! Tax-payer incentives can work, as long as the government ensures the incentives are efficient and last only long enough to establish a carefully planned objective.
          EVnerdGene
          • 8 Months Ago
          @marcopolo
          here's just one problem of the government getting involved (happened to a company I worked for) : We're building EVs, and uncle sugar subsidizes our competitor (who seemed to only be in business to make a fast buck, instead of building an industry). They failed (and tarnished the concept). They (and the government) helped us fail. Oil independence? Maybe, just maybe, there was an advantage of using OPO (other people's oil) while we kept ours in the ground? Maybe, just maybe; it was cheaper (as our government burned thru Billions funding and subsidizing stupid replacements like ethanol). The answers are right in front of us, but we (and our government doesn't like them). Like an original honda insight that would cut our oil consumption by a third and stop the need for imports. As our government subsidizes Hummers? The insanity and stupidity just never ends.
          EVnerdGene
          • 8 Months Ago
          @marcopolo
          2 different EV start-ups; neither one aptera I interviewed at Aptera. Didn't get the job. Got the impression they didn't want experienced engineers. Went away thinking: "kids on cad terminals" one of the two EV start-ups I worked for did get gov'ment money; the worst of the two ideas (and management teams) of course I was just a paid hand, but could'a told'em it was a bad concept - if anyone had ever asked
          PR
          • 8 Months Ago
          @marcopolo
          EVnerdGene Ah, so you worked for failed EV manufacturer Aptera, and you are still pissed off at not getting the loan dollars? Well that explains a whole lot.
        PR
        • 8 Months Ago
        @EVnerdGene
        If the free market is so awesome, why hasn't it already fixed our Oil Independence problem? And why did the free market allow it to happen long before the gov't got involved? Every President going back to Nixon have all made the exact same call for Oil Independence. They have had plenty of time. The facts are that the free market cannot fix this problem. It enforces the problem.
          PR
          • 8 Months Ago
          @PR
          Why is it that I'm not at all surprised that none of the free-market fanatics even attempted to respond to my question? They never do.
      Neil Blanchard
      • 3 Years Ago
      Corn is the "SUV" of crops, and it takes much more fertilizer than any other major crop. It has always been questionable efficiency for a fuel feedstock. The soil erosion is another major problem that makes fuel from many crops unsustainable. Pumping water out of deep aquifers is another unsustainable practice -- we are running out of so-called fossil water in these, and it will take a very long time for them to be replenished. The fertilizer is made from natural gas, which kills off the natural fertilization "bugs" in the soil, and it runs off in the first rain, and poisons the water, causes algae bloom, which then causes excess oxygen, which then kills off the aquatic animals, which then rot and in the end you have oxygen depletion and dead zones. Also, the nitrogen combines with oxygen forming nitrous oxide which is a strong greenhouse gas. So, using chemical fertilizers is a lose/lose/lose/lose situation. Do you think we ought to keep doing it? Neil
        marcopolo
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Neil Blanchard
        @ Neil Blanchard "Do you think we ought to keep doing it?' Personally, I would agree. Corn based ethanol production will never be viable economically. I understand and sympathise with those farmers and rural communities who rely on ethanol to support their way of life, but no it's a bad product economically and environmentally.
        EZEE
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Neil Blanchard
        Not a fan of ethanol (sort of an agnostic), but as PR mentioned, it started with excess corn that was already in the silos, rotting, even after being paid not to grow it. It seems with any type of fuel (alternative or otherwise) there seem to be big problems. Which are the least, least desirable?
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