Genesis Morocco

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Genesis Morocco

Project Genesis is a strategic sustainable development framework for Morocco to translate from being a net importer of energy and a country facing water shortage issues, into the number one producer both of clean renewable energy and water in the region.

Friday, January 11, 2008    <<Home

High Energy Thursday: Can ethanol avoid an oil curse?

Roger Cohen
(The New York Times )

Today I’d like to draw your attention, loyal readers, to Roger Cohen’s column in our newspaper. Cohen asks whether countries that make ethanol, especially ethanol derived from sugar, will escape the fate that oil and gas producers have suffered over the past century. Where oil and gas revenues have mainly benefited a narrow elite, could ethanol enrich economies in a more egalitarian way?

Cohen doesn’t see many promising signs now. The workers who harvest sugar cane in Brazil, where ethanol is produced most efficiently, are paid little and live in difficult conditions. The United States doesn’t help their wages by subsidizing its own industry and slapping tariffs on Brazil’s ethanol. And Brazil, I might add, already has some of the most extreme income inequality in the world.

Things could change, though. Brazil’s incentives-driven social welfare program is starting to cut into that inequality, and it’s helping the next generation of workers to grow up healthier and better educated than their parents. Undoubtedly, they’ll be looking for more efficient, less labor-intensive ways to harvest cane. Wages will rise as more capital is applied to the harvest. Brazil is also fortunate to have a much more settled political situation than many of the countries now coming into some oil wealth. Yet it’s still a corrupt political situation, and one only has to look across the Atlantic to Nigeria to see how corruption can make all the benefits of energy wealth disappear.


Using food as fuel is a terrible idea. We have already faced situation of dire hunger either episodic or endemic in diverse parts of the planet, not to recall past ages.

What is going to happen when fuel competes with food? What is it going to mean when taking a 5-mile hike means higher sugar prices? Or do we assume that the poor can do without sugar, but that we can’t do without fuel?

If it works for Brazil, fine; ethanol is not a solution for the rest of us. It is at the very least a dangerous idea as far as Africa is concerned.

(From Morocco)

Posted by: El Aid El Othmani — 10 January 2008 2:18 pm

The determinate will be demand. And can ethanol be used in as many products as oil?

First you would have to show carmakers that it is viable alternative to oil, for a car maker to do the research and development on a car that runs on ethanol. Then consumers will have to want (demand) a car that runs on ethanol.

Then there is product packaging; oil based products and other items that are made from oil. Would ethanol be able to be used? Ethanol would have the same curse as oil, if you had countries that are able to produce it and are in the same category as Nigeria.

Posted by: Michael Windfield — 11 January 2008 4:25 pm

// will be updated with further comments //