The Week in Cleantech (Nov. 18 to Nov. 24) – Ethanol: Making Losers Of Many People

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On Monday, Joe Carroll and Mario Parker at Bloomberg News argued that the current ethanol bust was making losers of Bush, Gates and D.E. Shaw. We are proud to say that at, we have always been corn ethanol bears, even when many of these stocks were trending up. But beyond bragging about our foresight, which, by the way, was shared by several people, the current fiasco is a cautionary tale of the dangers of government trying to create a winner industry when that industry makes no sense on most levels. Things may change, but to date all that ethanol has managed to achieve is: cost American tax-payers millions of dollars, fill the coffers of already-millionaire farmers, destroy billions of dollars in shareholder value, deplete scarce water resources, inflate food prices, prevent an open global market for biofuels that would benefit nations with a true comparative advantage such as Brazil, and placate a handful of inefficient farmers who account for a fraction of the total US population. Might it be time to pull the plug and let this white elephant die off before it tramples anything else? Apparently not. On Monday, Mark Gongloff at the WSJ’s Energy Roundup discussed the difference between peak and plateau. Whether oil supply is currently peaking or plateauing, one thing is certain: demand is steadily growing. So if the debate really has shifted from whether supply is increasing to whether it is peaking or plateauing, basic microeconomics is quite clear about what the outcome will be on prices. The only question remaining, then – and this comes back to peak Vs. plateau – is “how fast will prices rise?” On Thursday, Climate Progress reported what could, if true, be the story of the week. Well, I suppose that’s open for debate, but I do agree with the author that this announcement should be taken with a grain of salt. Nevertheless, Chinese officials making these types of declarations in public is likely a signal that China is warming (no pun intended) to the idea of seriously negotiating on this issue. China is, after all, the world’s largest source of CDM carbon credits, and regional players are betting that it may soon seek to formalize its position as a major environmental market. On Thursday, James at Green Investments discussed India’s cleantech – a huge opportunity for investors. As in other areas, India’s cleantech potential is often overshadowed by China’s. But India is no cleantech joke. I’m surprised the author omitted to discuss Suzlon and the REpower deal, which squarely put India on the global alternative energy map. On Friday, Jennifer Kho at Greentech Media told us all about turning coal’s CO2 into biomass. Coal is plentiful and cheap, and, despite the way many folks feel about it, it just ain’t going away anytime soon. In terms of investment, I have discussed in the past opportunities related capturing greenhouse gases from power gen facilities. While very speculative and closer to pure tech plays than alternative energy, companies in this field could nonetheless one day be offering solutions in very high demand. I believe this is a space worth keeping an eye on. The Week in Cleantech is a weekly roundup of our favorite cleantech and alt energy blog posts and stories from across the web. If you know of a good piece that you think should be included here, don’t hesitate to let us know!


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