A Case for Cuban Ethanol?

Commenter “OldTimeLefty” has put forth this interesting energy proposal…

We contract with Cuba for its sugar cane then refine the sugar into an ethanol based product. U.S. capital could invest in a refinery (on Guantanamo for example?). This keeps corn for food, employs the resources of Cuba and The United States in a joint venture that would profit both countries and go a long way towards establishing a peaceful coexistence between neighbors.
Wired Magazine carried an article on this suggestion a few months back…
Cuba has the potential to produce 3.2 billion gallons of ethanol annually, according to an analysis by Juan Tomas Sanchez of the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy. Another Cuba expert, Jorge Hernandez Fonseca, puts the figure closer to 2 billion gallons but even that figure would place Cuba third — behind Brazil and the United States — in worldwide production.
Of course, reaching either of those numbers would require Raul Castro to open the door to foreign investment, but that may not be as unlikely as it sounds. The Washington Post notes there’s speculation that Fidel’s exit opens the door to economic reform like we’ve seen in China, and it’s worth noting Cuba is quietly modernizing its ethanol infrastructure.
Raul Castro is seen as a pragmatist who is more concerned with improving Cubans’ daily lives than spreading la revolución, and according to Reuters he is believed to favor loosening state control on Cuba’s economy.
However, Fidel Castro is opposed to any new ethanol production, as illustrated by this report from Reuters published just yesterday…
A Cuban official said on Wednesday the Caribbean island is modernizing its sugar industry but that plans to increase ethanol production have been scaled back.
Galvez, who announced plans for a derivatives conference in October, refused even to use the word ethanol, stating plans for “alcohol” were reduced due to the market, land use and the country’s strategy.
Cuba’s leadership is, of course, dutifully following the kinds of land-use and “country” strategies that have made the idea of communist agricultural planning into the laughingstock of history. Two illustrations of the results of a half-century of Cuban land-use strategy were presented on the Wall Street Journal’s Environmental Captial blog earlier this yeat, on February 19 and February 22 respectively…
[According to Antonio Gayoso], another of the academics at the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy. Cuba is presently neither self-sufficient nor sustainable. According to Cuban government figures, it imports about 85% of its food. The collapse of the country’s sugar industry has left huge swaths of cropland overrun by a type of Caribbean kudzu.
Before Castro’s 1959 revolution, Cuba was the world’s biggest sugar producer; today, its battered sugar mills and neglected land produce about 10% of what they did.
So, Cuba’s land-use strategy eschews using currently unused land to produce a crop the rest of the world would be interested in buying. If the price of Cuba becoming more self-sufficient and more economically viable is a lowering of world oil-prices, then Fidel Castro is against it. Castro is painfully aware, in a globalized world, that spreading around cash raised from the sale of easily obtained-natural resources is the only means the world’s remaining totalitarian dictators have for holding on to their power. For his own warped ideological reasons, Castro is willing to pay any price — including decimating his own nation — to defend the advantage of other totalitarians.
But biofuels are coming. With oil prices as high as they are, it’s only a matter of when and of who’s going to profit…

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15 years ago

Contracting with Cuba to make ethanol from sugarcane is a nice idea however there are plenty of US states that already grow or could grow sugarcane as a production crop. The largest producer of sugarcane ethanol is Brazil and only receives a yield of 662 gallons per acre.
University of Illinois has proven miscanthus and switchgrass produces 1,500 and 1,000 gallons of ethanol per acre respectively and does not take away from food stock. Why would I invest in a 662 gallon yield in another country when I can get up to a 1,500 gallon yield at home?
In Hawaii a 6 acre microalgae biodiesel plant is under construction next to a converted electric power plant to provide sustainable 90,000 gallons of biodiesel a year with animal feed stock as a by product. Proof of concept testing has been completed at the Hawaii National Energy Laboratories.
The energy content of ethanol is about 67% of gasoline. The energy content of biodiesel is about 90% of petroleum diesel
Ethanol and Biodiesel Yield per Acre from Selected Crops
Miscanthus (U.S.) 1,500 gal/acre
Switchgrass (U.S.) 1,000 gal/acre
Sugar beet (France) 714 gal/acre
Sugarcane (Brazil) 662 gal/acre
Cassava (Nigeria) 410 gal/acre
Sweet Sorghum (India) 374 gal/acre
Corn (U.S.) 354 gal/acre
Wheat (France) 277 gal/acre
Microalgae 15,000 gal/acre
Oil Palm 650 gal/acre
Coconut 230 gal/acre
Canola 150 gal/acre
Rapeseed 102 gal/acre
Peanut 90 gal/acre
Sunflower 82 gal/acre
Soybean 50 gal acre

15 years ago

the CBS show Cane staring Jimmy Smits is entirely based on this premise.
Only difference is Smits’ character’s company battles with a rival sugar cane grower for land in Florida, anticipating that sugar-based ethanol is the future.
All the while he continues to cultivate (no pun intended) contacts in Cuba, to prepare for the day Castro dies and the vast cane fields of Cuba will be (more) available for the same use.
The problem he keeps running into is that the farming industry of the Midwest wants corn to power the future, and have exponentially more political power to prevent sugar growers from getting “their” money.
Can’t be that far of, can it?

15 years ago

To make a joint Cuban-U.S. agreement on any subject requires that each country give up its myth about the other.
In order to permit U.S. capital into the country, Cuba needs to assure itself that such investment would not be the camel’s nose in the tent – you know the story – the camel asks to put its nose in the tent to keep warm during a cold night and, little by little, first with head, then shoulders, then with its entire body pushes the man out of the tent and takes over completely.
The U.S. needs assurances that Cuba will honor the investment and that reasonable return on capital will be assured.
The people of both countries will have to give up their knee-jerk reaction that “their system is bad and ours is good”. This, I do not see happening until the political posturing on each side changes.
As to the numbers offered by Ken, the yield per acre from sugar cane can be increased based upon more modern refining techniques. And, by all means grow sugar for ethanol in both the United States and Cuba. It might decrease the profit margin, but after all, we’re talking about the good of the country taking precedence over private profit.

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