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?