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Understanding the reductions in US corn ethanol production costs: An experience curve approach

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  • Hettinga, W.G.
  • Junginger, H.M.
  • Dekker, S.C.
  • Hoogwijk, M.
  • McAloon, A.J.
  • Hicks, K.B.
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    Abstract

    The US is currently the world's largest ethanol producer. An increasing percentage is used as transportation fuel, but debates continue on its costs competitiveness and energy balance. In this study, technological development of ethanol production and resulting cost reductions are investigated by using the experience curve approach, scrutinizing costs of dry grind ethanol production over the timeframe 1980-2005. Cost reductions are differentiated between feedstock (corn) production and industrial (ethanol) processing. Corn production costs in the US have declined by 62% over 30 years, down to 100$2005/tonne in 2005, while corn production volumes almost doubled since 1975. A progress ratio (PR) of 0.55 is calculated indicating a 45% cost decline over each doubling in cumulative production. Higher corn yields and increasing farm sizes are the most important drivers behind this cost decline. Industrial processing costs of ethanol have declined by 45% since 1983, to below 130$2005/m3 in 2005 (excluding costs for corn and capital), equivalent to a PR of 0.87. Total ethanol production costs (including capital and net corn costs) have declined approximately 60% from 800$2005/m3 in the early 1980s, to 300$2005/m3 in 2005. Higher ethanol yields, lower energy use and the replacement of beverage alcohol-based production technologies have mostly contributed to this substantial cost decline. In addition, the average size of dry grind ethanol plants increased by 235% since 1990. For the future it is estimated that solely due to technological learning, production costs of ethanol may decline 28-44%, though this excludes effects of the current rising corn and fossil fuel costs. It is also concluded that experience curves are a valuable tool to describe both past and potential future cost reductions in US corn-based ethanol production.

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    Bibliographic Info

    Article provided by Elsevier in its journal Energy Policy.

    Volume (Year): 37 (2009)
    Issue (Month): 1 (January)
    Pages: 190-203

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    Handle: RePEc:eee:enepol:v:37:y:2009:i:1:p:190-203

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    Web page: http://www.elsevier.com/locate/enpol

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    Keywords: Ethanol Production cost reductions Experience curve;

    References

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    1. Tiffany, Douglas G. & Eidman, Vernon R., 2003. "Factors Associated With Success Of Fuel Ethanol Producers," Staff Papers 14155, University of Minnesota, Department of Applied Economics.
    2. Marland, G. & Turhollow, A.F., 1991. "CO2 emissions from the production and combustion of fuel ethanol from corn," Energy, Elsevier, vol. 16(11), pages 1307-1316.
    3. McDonald, Alan & Schrattenholzer, Leo, 2001. "Learning rates for energy technologies," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 29(4), pages 255-261, March.
    4. Shapouri, Hosein & Duffield, James A. & Wang, Michael Q., 2002. "The Energy Balance of Corn Ethanol: An Update," Agricultural Economics Reports 34075, United States Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service.
    5. Grubler, Arnulf & Nakicenovic, Nebojsa & Victor, David G., 1999. "Dynamics of energy technologies and global change," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 27(5), pages 247-280, May.
    6. Shapouri, Hosein & Duffield, James A. & Graboski, Michael S., 1995. "Estimating the Net Energy Balance of Corn Ethanol," Agricultural Economics Reports 34005, United States Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service.
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    Cited by:
    1. Crago, Christine Lasco & Khanna, Madhu & Barton, Jason & Giuliani, Eduardo & Amaral, Weber, 2010. "Competitiveness of Brazilian Sugarcane Ethanol Compared to US Corn Ethanol," 2010 Annual Meeting, July 25-27, 2010, Denver, Colorado 60895, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association.
    2. Karel Janda & Ladislav Kristoufek & David Zilberman, 2011. "Modeling the Environmental and Socio-Economic Impacts of Biofuels," Working Papers IES 2011/33, Charles University Prague, Faculty of Social Sciences, Institute of Economic Studies, revised Oct 2011.
    3. Méjean, Aurélie & Hope, Chris, 2010. "Modelling the costs of energy crops: A case study of US corn and Brazilian sugar cane," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 38(1), pages 547-561, January.
    4. Yeh, Sonia & Rubin, Edward S., 2012. "A review of uncertainties in technology experience curves," Energy Economics, Elsevier, vol. 34(3), pages 762-771.
    5. Pacini, Henrique & Assunção, Lucas & van Dam, Jinke & Toneto, Rudinei, 2013. "The price for biofuels sustainability," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 59(C), pages 898-903.
    6. Bright, Ryan M. & H. Strømman, Anders, 2010. "Incentivizing wood-based Fischer-Tropsch diesel through financial policy instruments: An economic assessment for Norway," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 38(11), pages 6849-6859, November.
    7. Stephen, James D. & Mabee, Warren E. & Saddler, Jack N., 2013. "Lignocellulosic ethanol production from woody biomass: The impact of facility siting on competitiveness," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 59(C), pages 329-340.
    8. Jang, Heesun & Du, Xiaodong, 2013. "Trajectory of Maturity: An Empirical Analysis of US Biofuel Innovations," 2013 Annual Meeting, August 4-6, 2013, Washington, D.C. 150132, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association.
    9. Mindy L. Mallory & Dermot J. Hayes & Scott H. Irwin, 2010. "How Market Efficiency and the Theory of Storage Link Corn and Ethanol Markets," Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute (FAPRI) Publications 10-wp517, Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute (FAPRI) at Iowa State University.
    10. Janda, Karel & Kristoufek, Ladislav & Zilberman, David, 2011. "Biofuels: Review of Policies and Impacts," Department of Agricultural & Resource Economics, UC Berkeley, Working Paper Series qt5v1112qr, Department of Agricultural & Resource Economics, UC Berkeley.
    11. Blanco, Luisa & Isenhouer, Michelle, 2010. "Powering America: The impact of ethanol production in the Corn Belt states," Energy Economics, Elsevier, vol. 32(6), pages 1228-1234, November.
    12. Grogro, Ole, 2012. "Global energy trade flows and constraints on conventional and renewable energies: A computable modeling approach," ZEW Dokumentationen 12-02, ZEW - Zentrum für Europäische Wirtschaftsforschung / Center for European Economic Research.
    13. Festel, Gunter & Würmseher, Martin & Rammer, Christian & Boles, Eckhard & Bellof, Martin, 2013. "Modelling production cost scenarios for biofuels and fossil fuels in Europe," ZEW Discussion Papers 13-075, ZEW - Zentrum für Europäische Wirtschaftsforschung / Center for European Economic Research.

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