|The projected increase in corn ethanol production for next year will use 27% of the corn crop. Click to enlarge.|
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) anticipates corn ethanol production of 9.3 billion gallons for the crop marketing year 2007/2008, up 58% from the 5.9 billion gallons for the 2006/2007 year. The USDA earlier this year had expected ethanol production for 2007/08 to grow to 8.8 billion gallons.
In this latest estimate, the USDA said that 27% of the 2007/08 corn crop, or 3.4 billion bushels, would be converted into ethanol, up from 20.4% for the current year. The earlier forecast anticipated that 26.5% of the crop would go to ethanol production next year.
The announcement came on the same day as the agency’s release of an analysis of two alternative scenarios of rapidly accelerating biofuels production. One scenario projects corn ethanol production of 15 billion gallons by 2016, the other, more aggressive scenario forecasts production of 20 billion gallons by then. The current USDA baseline forecast anticipates 12 billion gallons of corn ethanol production by 2016.
The 9.3 billion gallons of production now projected for next year is closer to the first scenario, which modeled 9.4 billion gallons, than to the existing baseline forecast with its 8.8 billion gallons.
Under both scenarios, the increase in the quantity of corn used for ethanol leads to a net increase in the total demand for corn and a corresponding increase in price. The higher corn prices causes producers to shift even more land from soybean production to corn, with ripple effects on soil erosion, nutrient loading, crop mix and livestock prices.
Not all of the increase in corn production would come from expansion of plantings. USDA’s current long-term projections estimate that corn yields will increase from 151 bushels per acre in 2006/07 to 170 bushels per acre by 2016/17. That change represents a 12.6% increase over 10 years, or almost 1.3% per year.
The report also considers the role of cellulosic ethanol, which, even under the most aggressive scenario, needs to begin rapidly supplying an increasingly large component of the overall ethanol supply if the US is to meet more aggressive renewable fuel supply goals of 35 billion gallons by 2017.
The US Department of Energy (DOE) expects that research, science, and technological developments can reduce the cost of cellulosic ethanol to be competitive with corn ethanol by 2012. However, it will take time to deploy cellulosic technology through new plant construction and expected retrofitting of existing grain ethanol plants.
The USDA report suggests that corn stover (crop residue) and forest and mill residues are the most likely biomass feedstocks to be used initially. The abundance of corn acres provides ample supplies of corn stover, and the forestry industry has an infrastructure in place for harvest and collection of woody materials and mills are well established.