sábado, junho 17, 2006

104) Etanol, energia do futuro, num editorial do Wall Street Journal

O Wall Street Journal, o jornal mais capitalista que possa haver (bem, deve ter outros mais, mas sem o poder deste), publica neste sábado 17 de junho de 2006, um editorial sobre o etanol, no qual ele começa falando do Brasil.
Parece que nós somos incontornáveis nessa matéria. A revista Exame desta quinzena edição 870, de 21 junho 2006) publica ampla matéria sobre o mesmo assunto.

An Energy Field of Dreams
Ethanol is fine--if it competes in the market with other fuels.

WSJ, Saturday, June 17, 2006 12:01 a.m. EDT

"Be like Brazil" have never been words to live by except perhaps in soccer or samba. But suddenly Americans are being told we should imitate Brazil in its expensive devotion to driving cars that run on ethanol. VeraSun Energy, the second-largest U.S. ethanol producer, was the talk of Wall Street this week with its IPO. Wal-Mart wants to install pumps to cater to cars that run on a largely ethanol blend. Even Rudy Giuliani was plumping for the stuff this week, a sign that an Iowa campaign stop may be in his future.

We'd say the world had gone mad, except that this is a fairly typical case study in how political meddling distorts energy markets. Weary of high gas prices, drivers can be forgiven for desiring a "miracle" fuel that is allegedly cheap and clean. But the corn farmers, ethanol producers, politicians and environmentalists who have promoted the new ethanol mania have no excuse for peddling misinformation.

We have nothing against corn-based ethanol per se, assuming it competes in the market on the same basis as other fuels. Ethanol's problem is that it is expensive to make and provides far fewer miles per gallon than gasoline. So its supporters have worked the political system to subsidize ethanol, and more recently to force Americans to buy it.

U.S. taxpayers today pay twice for ethanol: once in crop subsidies to corn farmers and again in a 51-cent subsidy for every gallon of ethanol. Without such a subsidy, ethanol simply wouldn't be cost competitive with gasoline. Then last year, Congress went further and passed a new ethanol mandate, requiring drivers to use at least 7.5 billion gallons annually by 2012.

The immediate consequence of this new mandate was higher gasoline prices this spring, since the ethanol industry was ill-equipped to meet the new demand. Ethanol must also be carried by truck or rail, rather than through pipelines, and it requires special blending facilities. All this has both raised prices and created gas shortages around the country. But rather than blame their new mandate for the higher prices, the Members of Congress blamed, of course, Big Oil.

Ah, but what about the other alleged virtues of ethanol? One favorite is that every gallon of ethanol will supplant a gallon of gasoline imported from tyrannical Mideast oil regimes. Thus, a la Brazil, ethanol can help the U.S. achieve the miracle of "energy independence."

Sorry. The most widely cited research on this subject comes from Cornell's David Pimental and Berkeley's Ted Patzek. They've found that it takes more than a gallon of fossil fuel to make one gallon of ethanol--29% more. That's because it takes enormous amounts of fossil-fuel energy to grow corn (using fertilizer and irrigation), to transport the crops and then to turn that corn into ethanol. The Saudis ought to love the stuff.

As for Brazil, few in ethanol's cheering section admit that the country's ethanol infrastructure required huge taxpayer subsidies over decades. And the U.S. already produces more ethanol than Brazil because the American automobile market is about 23 times larger. To produce enough ethanol for the entire U.S. car market would mean planting over much more of the country than Iowa.

Ethanol is also said to be vital for reducing smog. This fiction is even written into the Clean Air Act, which mandates the use of "oxygenates"--of which ethanol is the leading type. But studies from the National Academy of Sciences and the Environmental Protection Agency's own Blue Ribbon Panel have shown that oxygenates don't do much to clear up hazy air. That's especially the case now with ever more clean-burning engines.

Alas, none of these facts seem to count for much in the current U.S. energy debate. Ethanol has powerful promoters in the farm states especially, and its lobbyists have skillfully marketed their product as the answer to dirty air, global warming and even military deployments in the Middle East. The share price of America's largest ethanol producer, Archer Daniels Midland, has climbed by 80% in the last year alone, though you won't find anyone in Washington lamenting that windfall profit.

Meanwhile, Congress is discussing the prospect of ginning up a subsidy for sugarcane ethanol as part of its next farm bill--as if U.S. sugar growers need more aid and protection from the government. President Bush, for his part, has been promoting research in "cellulosic" ethanol, produced from things like switch grass or wood chips. A scientific breakthrough is said to be just around the corner, which may or may not be true but is the kind of thing we've been hearing since Jimmy Carter's day.

Perhaps all of this will prove to be the political investment of the century. Perhaps the subsidies and mandates will lead to new private investments, which will lead to new scientific breakthroughs, which will let us produce vast amounts of ethanol cheaply and cleanly from homegrown blades of grass. Perhaps the House of Saud can then go back to the camel trade.

We certainly hope so, given how much all of us are spending in search of the great ethanol grail. But in our experience this isn't how such things usually turn out. In the movie fantasy "Field of Dreams," Shoeless Joe Jackson returns to a baseball diamond cut from a corn field and asks, "Is this heaven?" No, was the reply, "it's Iowa."

Nenhum comentário: