The ethanol bust
The ethanol boom is running out of gas as corn prices spike.
By Jon Birger
Cargill announces it’s scrapping plans for a $200 million ethanol plant near Topeka, Kan. A judge approves the bankruptcy sale of an unfinished ethanol plant in Canton, Ill.. And that was just Tuesday.
Indeed, plans for as many as 50 new ethanol plants have been shelved in recent months, as Wall Street pulls back from the sector, says Paul Ho, a Credit Suisse investment banker specializing in alternative energy. Financing for new ethanol plants, Ho says, “has been shut down.”
How can the ethanol industry be slumping only two months after Congress passed an energy bill most experts consider a biofuels boon? The answer is runaway corn prices.
Spurred by an ethanol plant construction binge, corn prices have gone stratospheric, soaring from below $2 a bushel in 2006 to over $5.25 a bushel today. As a result, it’s become difficult for ethanol plants to make a healthy profit, even with oil at $100 a barrel.