Abercrombie rejects ethanol fuel report
Sugar-based ethanol is unprofitable in the long run, a study says
A NEW federal study questioning the long-term profitability of sugar-based ethanol "has nothing to do with us" in Hawaii, U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie says.
The study, released this week by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, says conversion of sugar cane, sugar beets, raw sugar and refined sugar to ethanol could be profitable in the short term because of recent high ethanol prices.
But spot market prices, currently about $4 a gallon, are expected to drop as more ethanol is produced from other sources, chiefly corn, making sugar-based ethanol less profitable, the study states.
The report focuses on the viability of sugar-based ethanol on a national scale. Supporters of ethanol in Hawaii say such studies ignore the state's unique island market and agricultural advantages.
"We've got the agricultural capacity," Abercrombie said. "That's the point of producing ethanol in sufficient quantities -- to replace a vast amount of the presently imported oil that is turned into gasoline."
He said concerns over the economic viability of ethanol from sugar are from people who have reservations about converting a food source like raw or refined sugar into a fuel additive.
"We're not going to go and make sugar and then produce ethanol," he said. "We're going to be using cane in much different ways, including molasses.
"The sugar lands can produce enough."
At least one ethanol producer, Oahu Ethanol Corp., has said it plans to import molasses to convert to ethanol until it can start growing sweet sorghum as a feedstock. Sweet sorghum is used to produce a syrup traditionally used in the southeastern United States, where it is often grown.
Supporters say ethanol will serve the dual purpose of lessening Hawaii's dependence on imported fossil fuels and reinvigorating the islands' agriculture sector.
"Instead of having hundreds of millions of dollars leaving the islands constantly, we'll be investing that money right in the islands and investing it in a renewable resource," Abercrombie said. "The whole question of ethanol revolves around its renewability, as opposed to fossil fuels."
Critics say ethanol and other biofuels are expensive to create, require a lot of energy to make, are not as efficient as traditional energy sources and will do little to displace oil consumption.