Monday, February 28, 2011
This post updates some statistics on US ethanol production.
The first graph (below) shows total production of ethanol in the US (almost of all of which is from corn). The data are from the Renewable Fuels Association - yearly through 2008, then monthly, with Dec 2010 and Jan 2011 being averages of the weekly data for those months:
You can see the steady rise through the eighties and nineties, then the big take off as oil prices shot up in the 2000s and both policy and commercial advantage dictated converting more of the corn crop to ethanol. Things have slowed down a little bit in 2010, but ethanol production is still growing. We are now approaching a million barrels/day of ethanol production. However, recall that ethanol only has about 2/3 the energy content of oil products like gasoline, so we are at about 0.6mbd in an energy equivalent basis. This can be compared to US crude oil production of about 5.3mbd in 2010, and US consumption of about 18.8mbd of oil products in 2009.
The next graph shows the total potential ethanol production if the entire US field corn crop had been converted to ethanol (pale pink - methodology here). Also shown in the darker tones are the production capacity of ethanol plants in production, and under construction:
Clearly, more and more of the crop is being converted to ethanol. You can see the big surge of plants under construction during the 2005-2008 oil shock, and how the expansion has slowed down since - however, production has not declined.
Finally, we see the estimated fraction of the corn crop devoted to ethanol (based on actual production data, not plant capacity):
We are now at almost 40% of the crop being devoted to fuel, rather than food. Furthermore, the fraction still appears to be growing.
Clearly, this has got to be a significant contributor to food prices. I will try to quantify that a little more in coming posts.