Skip to comments.Study Slams Economics Of Ethanol And Biodiesel
Posted on 07/06/2005 5:07:49 PM PDT by shrinkermd
A new joint study from Cornell University and University of California-Berkeley says that fuels produced from biomass are uneconomical as they use much more energy in their creation than the resulting ethanol or biodiesel generates.
"There is just no energy benefit to using plant biomass for liquid fuel," said study author and Cornell researcher David Pimentel. "These strategies are not sustainable."
The study, appearing in Natural Resources Research, entailed a detailed analysis of the energy input-yield ratios of producing ethanol from corn, switch grass and wood biomass as well as for producing biodiesel from soybean and sunflower plants. The researchers considered such factors as the energy used in producing the crop (production of pesticides and fertilizer, running farm machinery and irrigating, grinding and transporting the crop) and in fermenting/distilling the ethanol from the water mix.
For ethanol production, the study found that: Corn requires 29 percent more fossil energy than the fuel produced. Switch grass requires 45 percent more fossil energy than the fuel produced. Wood biomass requires 57 percent more fossil energy than the fuel produced.
For biodiesel production, the study found that: Soybean plants requires 27 percent more fossil energy than the fuel produced. Sunflower plants requires 118 percent more fossil energy than the fuel produced.
The researchers acknowledged that finding alternative fuel sources was of great importance but said that bio-fuels were not the answer. "The United State desperately needs a liquid fuel replacement for oil in the near future," says Pimentel, "but producing ethanol or biodiesel from plant biomass is going down the wrong road, because you use more energy to produce these fuels than you get out from the combustion of these products."
While bio-fuels may not be the answer to the looming specter of decreasing oil production, Pimentel does advocate the use of burning biomass to produce thermal energy (to heat homes, for example). In closing, Pimentel said the U.S. should focus its efforts on producing electrical energy from photovoltaic cells, wind power and burning biomass and producing fuel from hydrogen conversion. "Ethanol production in the United States does not benefit the nation's energy security, its agriculture, economy or the environment."
Few new products are economical. Gasoline was in the same boat at one time.
Well, there goes that alternative.
"Federal money isn't the answer, but research will eventually find a more economical and cheap fuel for everyone."
I remember almost the exact same study from Cornell at least a year ago. Is this a *recycled* story?
my guess is that it will be some sort of Hydrogen engine or something like that...
but I am not a scientist so I couldnt tell ya...
I rest my case.
There is a lot of faith, belief, and distraction in this topic. Energy economy is not the point. This isn't supposed to be more efficient or efficient. This is a way to run our vehicles when the oil is in a state of scarcity. Just saying this isn't efficient won't make the real problem go away.
The company that supplies my propane for heating has a bio diesel pump at thier station. They're running some of their delivery trucks on it. Also they're close to Ann Arbor so thier customer base is growing pretty quickly.
>>>I rest my case.
On a bad study, likely using old data.
Take a moment to educate yourself on the current state of Ethanol production: http://www.nwicc.cc.ia.us/pages/continuing/business/ethanolcurriculum.html
From 2003 *and* 2001!
I hope you're right. I'd think biodiesel would make a good alternative for farm equipment, trucks, etc. Availability is always a factor. But if we're burning fossil fuels in a greater quantity to make the stuff than we are by just burning them in the autos, we're defeating the purpose. I'm sure we'll be seeing more on this.
>>>But if we're burning fossil fuels in a greater quantity to make the stuff than we are by just burning them in the autos, we're defeating the purpose.
That is not the case. The studies often cited by the anti-ethanol crowd are flawed, because they attribute the total energy expended in the production of ethanol to just the ethanol, while ignoring the other co-propducts of the process.
There is a fundamental problem with using Ethanol, in my mind, as an alternative fuel source. The first and foremost problem is the fact that it must be grown. That means that farmland must be reserved for it's usage to be grown and therefore must be rigorously protected against pestilence or deliberate biological sabotage. If you tie any portion of your energy source, in the form of Ethanol, in terms of market share to our economy and something happens to that source then you will have a serious problem on your hands that will rival any oil shortage.
Also, there is the matter of cultivating, harvesting, processing, manufacturing, packaging, delivery, and distribution of such a source as a factor of seriously high cost. Every step of the way, an added cost will be tacked onto Ethanol that may, in the end make it cost prohibitive, short of a federal mandate for it's use. The reason that oil, even in it's current state is still relatively cheap at $60 a barrel is because it can be processed into multiple uses besides just gasoline. Almost all the oil brought up from underground is used for something in whatever shape petroleum products take.
If you want to reduce the cost of oil on a per barrel level, you have to reduce the demand and one way to do that is to find an alternative source for material manufacturing of plastic. Plastics use up a goodly portion of the oil refactoring process aside form making gasoline. If you find another source for creating plastics that are not petroleum based, which 99% of them are, then you would be reducing the demand of that oil simply by increasing the percentage of how much more oil gets converted to gasoline and the remaining petroleum by-products into something else. But plastics which make up quite a large portion of the materials market, would reduce demand on oil, create a glut on the supply side of the market since oil refineries are already operating at 100% capacity in the US, it would drop the cost of oil tremendously (I'd say by half if not more), drop the cost of other precious metals, which would reflect on the markets en masse.
For example, costs of goods would drop, the dollar would be strengthened against other currencies, manufacturers would see an increase in the manufacture of product, orders for durable goods would go up because of the cheap rate of oil, more cars would be built that would strengthen the auto markets, etc. etc. and in essence cheaper oil would make this country and other developing countries quite prosperous since it's usage would be backed up due to freed up demand.
Also, if someone were to properly harness, extract, and refine methane, then that would be an excellent energy source as well. There is more methane on this planet than oil. Conservative estimates put the supply of methane at a 10,000 year supply level. And there some technologies being developed to harness methane as a primary fuel source.
I think most of you get the picture of what i'm talking about. Any rebuttal or contrary commentary would greatly be appreciated.
Necessity is the mother of invention, in this case demand is necessity. As demand grows it will become necassary to produce greater quantities of ethanol and bio diesel faster and cheaper.
The combustion engine drove the need for more economical gasoline production. The first computers cost the government millions of dollars to build and operate not to mention were VERY limited. Today a good home pc can be had for around 1000 dollars and is hundreds of times faster and can do untold numbers of different things.
Throughout history new products have faced opposition. Thomas Edison created the first electric chair to show how deadly his rivals electricy transmission method was.
Alternative energy advocates sure won't be happy with this article.
The economics portion of your link does not address the amount of energy (natural gas) needed to produce ethanol.
Read Methadras' post #17 for more objections.
We may not need ethanol, if it turns out that methane is abundant in the earths mantle. Its common for planetary bodies to contain large reservoirs of methane, why not the earth? Recently the mars expedition has noted methane and has wondered if it is created in deep under the martin surface. Some researchers even suggest that oil didn't come for dinosaur swamps, but it is a result of bacteria deep in the earth converting the methane to organic fuels. Therefore its may be hopeful to believe that the deeper we dig, the more we will find the fuel we need.....
Scientist stirs the cauldron: oil, he says, is renewable
Earth's mantle can generate methane
Published on 14 Sep 2004 by News@Nature.
Gas (Methane) Hydrates -- A New Frontier
Combusting hemp, ehh?
Never thought of that one...lol!
The problem is that the famers want subsidies for ethanol as a fuel, and because Presidential primaries happen early in IOWA, the ethanol program is sacrosanct. No ambitious politician can afford to speak the truth about it: it is nothing but welfare for the farm lobby.
If you have to subsidize something, then it certainly is not really economically viable. That being the case, you muct then have a very good reason for persisting in the policy. Paying off political supporters is not a good enough reason.
FINALLY a respected (by Liberals) institution shows what a goddamn waste Ethanol is. It is time to cut the cord. End all ethanol subsidies now.
I'm not sure if their conclusions are accurate. They seem to assume that there is no benefit to growing these plants besides the ethanol output. Corn and soybeans are two major crops with significant importance. At the moment I believe most of the plant goes to waste after the corn and beans are harvested. If the plant parts can be salvaged and made into fuel at a reasonable price it's just an added perk to an already profitable crop.
Federal subsidies and tax breaks
"There are ethanol & biodeisl plants popping up all around Iowa. That would not be happening if there were no potential for profit"
Not just potential for profit, profit right this minute. Profit at the expense of the taxpayers subsidizing this boondoggle. It's more effecient to replace heating oil with ground corn than distilling that same corn for liquid fuel. As long as Archer Daniels is getting 3 Billion a year in subsidies though, the ethanol charade will continue
"This is a way to run our vehicles when the oil is in a state of scarcity"
There is no scarcity of oil, we have more than refineries can keep up with. When oil becomes scarce, I doubt your automobile fuel will be your biggest worry
Throughout history new products have faced opposition.Cheap shot or an uneducated position; we have come far enough along by now that the economics of a particular 'fuel' can be evaluated, and evaluated fairly accurately, to you can ditch this old canard now ...
Do you know if you can just go up to the ethanol or biodiesel plants and "fill up"? I'd like to get some ethanol in my cars (know how to convert for them to not corrode the lines and stuff, just need to learn more about adjusting the fuel/air mix and timing.
Not to mention that with or without the subsidies/tax breaks, they can undersell petrol gas, and make huge profits still (no pun intended)....
Methanol (what is used in IndyCar racing) is made from grasses and other such biomass, so I would think that it could me made from the other remaining plant parts...
You still don't get it, do you? If it takes 6 gallons of gasoline to produce the equivalent of 5 gallons of gasoline, you are not going to be able to produce this stuff when oil is scarce.
"Take a moment to educate yourself on the current state of Ethanol production:"
Well that trumps all the other studies from Cornell and the like. If Northern Iowa Community College says it, it must be gospel. Next thing you know they'll tell us how to get rich extracting gold from seawater
I remember almost the exact same study from Cornell at least a year ago. Is this a *recycled* story?Here's the more RECENT study:
Thermodynamics of the Corn-Ethanol Biofuel Cycle Tad W. Patzek Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering June 10, 2005CRPS416-Patzek-Web.pdf
"you can ditch this old canard now ..."
As soon as you prove me wrong.
With ethanol, the plants distillling it can eschew natural gas and can be run on coal, which may invovle more energy usage on the production end, but is a cheap, plentiful and somewhat inexhaustible fossil fuel source, plus with the technologies related to coal firing, coal gassification, etc, even high sulfur coals can burn relatively clean and have a high energy efficency of burn. The fuel produced would be very cheap, and could undersell gasoline. However we're not looking for a total replacement, just simply to augment fuel supply...
As for plastics, I thought that they refined a method during WWII to make plastics using soybean oil...
As soon as you prove me wrong.I'll not be joining you in that muddy ditch you now find yourself; I surmise you are one who would contend that 1 + 1 does not equal two ...
I'd take current info from anywhere compared to the several years out of date with reality tripe that the ethanol-haters trot out.See post #38
"corn was being used in tractor trailer trucks in an experiment that Willie Nelson was pushing"
Willie is pushing bio-diesel among other things. Bio-diesel is all well and good if you're talking about using used cooking oil(recycling). Making it from soybeans is a net loss though.
Your only argument is that you don't want to hear it. That ditch looks pretty deep from up here.
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