Ethanol fuel production has tended to be more geographically concentrated than biodiesel, but it is typically broadly distributed among different facilities within a specific production region. In the United States, this production is concentrated predominantly in Midwestern states that have abundant corn supplies, such as Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, Nebraska, and South Dakota. In Brazil, sugar cane and ethanol production are concentrated in the center-south region, mainly in the state of São Paulo.
Despite the two countries’ somewhat similar overall ethanol output, Brazil is home to three times as many ethanol plants as the United States. Accordingly, the average capacity of plants in the U.S. is three times greater than the average capacity of those in Brazil. The largest plant in Brazil produces 328 million liters per year by crushing sugar cane, whereas in the United States the largest corn dry-milling ethanol plant produces 416 million liters per year. There are various reasons for the differences in plant capacities. One key reason corn-to-ethanol plants can be larger is because substantial amounts of harvested corn can be stored for long periods of time, whereas sugar cane must be processed shortly after it is harvested (preferably within 24–48 hours) to avoid deterioration of the sugar.
Since the 1970s, Brazil has been at the forefront of efforts to produce ethanol from sugar cane, the leading feedstock to date. Three decades of government support and private investment have allowed Brazil to steadily improve the efficiency of its production processes and to make ethanol economical for consumers. During the same period, the United States has been the leader in converting grains (mainly corn) into ethanol fuel, improving efficiency and lowering costs. Germany has been a leader in the large-scale production of biodiesel fuel from rapeseed and sunflower seed, crops commonly used to produce vegetable oil for human consumption. (See Tables 1 and 2.)