Is ethanol ready for its big break?

This could be the summer of reckoning for ethanol fuel, according to a recent AP article. After a year of increased hype brought out by a congressional mandate to double biofuel output by 2012, a presidential endorsement during the State of the Union and aggressive marketing campaigns by automakers like GM with its “Live Green, Go Yellow” ads, ethanol stands at the precipice of mainstream acceptance. But is this country’s ethanol industry ready for primetime?
The article cites distribution as the industry’s worst enemy. Ethanol can’t be pumped through pipelines as easily as gasoline due to its highly corrosive nature, which means the burdon of bringing the fuel to refineries will be placed on this country’s rail, truck and barge infrastructure, any one of which could bottleneck the production process and drive up the fuel’s final cost.

One interesting footnote in all of this is the recent ban of MTBE, an oxygenate that when added to gasoline enables it burn more cleanly. MTBE has been found to pose health risks, so when it becomes phased out completely by May 5th, the refining industry will be looking to ethanol to take its place. Time will tell whether or not the ethanol industry can cope with its product's newfound popularity.

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