Sugar Cane Ethanol Hits Hollywood
The most recent episode of CBS’ new Tuesday-night drama, CANE, was themed by the plans for a Florida-based sugarcane ethanol refinery. Lead character Alex (Jimmy Smits) had recently taken the reign as CEO to Duque Rum. Initially Alex was presented with the idea of selling off the company’s sugarcane fields, a move that would allow the Duque Company to focus entirely on the production of its popular-selling rum. Instead Alex decides to meet with a US Senator over the future of sugarcane ethanol. The proposal by the federal government is to contract for the first US-based sugarcane ethanol refinery: a move that would cost $100 million but would be subsidized by half from the government. Although the cost is heavy, Alex explains to his family, sugarcane ethanol is the future and it would behoove the Duque family to retain their sugarcane fields and invest in the production of ethanol.
As the highest rated new show on Tuesday nights, this episode of CANE brings the idea of biofuels and renewable energy right into our living rooms. As a biofuel growing in popularity, ethanol is an ideal alternative to fossil fuels. It is higher in octane levels, which produce power. Ethanol also reduces tailpipe emissions of carbon monoxide, and reduces harmful particulates as well. Perhaps most importantly, ethanol is a renewable form of energy that would reduce our country’s dependence on foreign oil. But just how real is the government’s interest in sugarcane ethanol?
The truth is that the federal government is interested and it heavily subsidizes its own ethanol industry: a 51-cent subsidy per gallon of ethanol produced. Most of this production, however, is in corn-based ethanol: an idea we as a public are being acquainted with slowly through the various shows on the Discovery Channel or the Auto Industry’s advertisements for Flex-Fuel vehicle designs. Yet the ideas brought forth by CANE are not only increasing our awareness of such alternative fuels, they are in fact more real than we imagined. In addition to corn-based ethanol, the US Government’s farm and energy bills are currently proposing to allocate billions of dollars towards the development of non-corn ethanol sources. There are energy bills calling for the doubled use of ethanol and other fuels derived from agricultural products. This includes sugar-based ethanol. These bills are supported by numerous groups as well: farm-state congressmen and women, consumer and environmental groups, even some labor unions. Coupled with the soaring prices of oil, the idea of sugarcane ethanol may in fact become more of a reality as a money-saving substitute for petroleum-based fuels produced in foreign countries.