Skip to comments.Study says ethanol not worth the energy
Posted on 07/17/2005 4:09:40 PM PDT by Graybeard58
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) -- Farmers, businesses and state officials are investing millions of dollars in ethanol and biofuel plants as renewable energy sources, but a new study says the alternative fuels burn more energy than they produce.
Supporters of ethanol and other biofuels contend they burn cleaner than fossil fuels, reduce U.S. dependence on oil and give farmers another market to sell their produce.
But researchers at Cornell University and the University of California-Berkeley say it takes 29 percent more fossil energy to turn corn into ethanol than the amount of fuel the process produces. For switch grass, a warm weather perennial grass found in the Great Plains and eastern North America United States, it takes 45 percent more energy and for wood, 57 percent.
It takes 27 percent more energy to turn soybeans into biodiesel fuel and more than double the energy produced is needed to do the same to sunflower plants, the study found.
"Ethanol production in the United States does not benefit the nation's energy security, its agriculture, the economy, or the environment," according to the study by Cornell's David Pimentel and Berkeley's Tad Patzek. They conclude the country would be better off investing in solar, wind and hydrogen energy.
The researchers included such factors as the energy used in producing the crop, costs that were not used in other studies that supported ethanol production, said Pimentel.
The study also omitted $3 billion in state and federal government subsidies that go toward ethanol production in the United States each year, payments that mask the true costs, Pimentel said.
Ethanol is an additive blended with gasoline to reduce auto emissions and increase gas' octane levels. Its use has grown rapidly since 2004, when the federal government banned the use of the additive MTBE to enhance the cleaner burning of fuel. About 3.6 billion gallons of ethanol were produced last year in the United States, according to the Renewable Fuels Association, an ethanol trade group.
The ethanol industry claims that using 8 billion gallons of ethanol a year will allow refiners to use 2 billion fewer barrels of oil. The oil industry disputes that, saying the ethanol mandate would have negligible impact on oil imports.
Ethanol producers dispute Pimentel and Patzek's findings, saying the data is outdated and doesn't take into account profits that offset costs.
Michael Brower, director of community and government relations at SUNY's College of Environmental Science and Forestry, points to reports by the Energy and Agriculture departments that have shown the ethanol produced delivers at least 60 percent more energy the amount used in production. The college has worked extensively on producing ethanol from hardwood trees.
Biodiesel can be used in any diesel engine with few or no modifications. It is often blended with petroleum diesel to reduce the propensity to gel in cold weather.
Would this be the subsidy fattened, tax manipulated, cartel dominated market we currently live with, or a hypothetical free market where the consumer (and only the consumer) pays the total cost of the energy consumed at the time of consumption?
Some renewable energy sources are subsidized. Do not make the mistaken assumption that the petroleum industry is also not heavily taxpayer subsidized.
Completely wrong. "Cracking coal" (in reality, a bit more is involved than simple cracking, as a large amount of post-cracking refining is also involved) is FAR more energy intensive than simple distillation of ethanol, and so uses far more coal energy per gallon of "transportation fuel" produced than would the ethanol route. To take JUST the core processe---"cracking" involves temperatures up around 500 Centigrade--distilling ethanol barely takes 100 Centigrade.
There's someone "dim" here, but it's neither me nor IronJack.
Listen Slick, the point here is that it takes MORE energy to produce ethanol than the energy value of the ethanol itself. If you want to rake leaves and then re-spread them be my guest.
"Completely wrong. "Cracking coal" (in reality, a bit more is involved than simple cracking, as a large amount of post-cracking refining is also involved) is FAR more energy intensive than simple distillation of ethanol"
But if coal is cheap, and even better if there is a giant subsidy, then by your arguments for ethanol cracking coal would be a great place to throw away money. You haven't been arguing for lower energy usage, you've just been arguing for replacement of Arab oil at any cost.
Here's a bette idea that fit's your logic: take tar sands and burn off the crude. Then use the sand to make silicon solar cells. Use the electricity to run steam powered agricultural machinery devoted to corn production. Turn the corn into ethanol which politicians drink, allowing them to vote for more rube goldeberg energy schemes.
"You are making one false assumption. You are assuming that if the United States reduces or eliminates it's demand for Arab Oil, that demand will be taken up by other countries so that the worldwide demand for Arab Oil will remain the same.
Which is patently untrue."
Patently untrue?? bwahaha Tell that to the Chinese who are driving demand for oil through the roof. Tell that to India whose economy is starting to take off. Just because you can't understand simple econ doesn't make it false, much less patently false.
I see you don't actually understand the topic . We're talking about ways to replace GASOLINE and DIESEL FUEL--(i.e. transportation fuels), NOT "Arab Oil" (or at least not directly). Simple distillation of ethanol using coal energy is certain to be far less expensive than converting coal to gasoline.
And I assume you didn't read Bommer's posting with an alternative set of economics that shows "ethanol only" (i.e. no usage of coal) "IS" an "energy positive" alternative.
And no--I'm NOT (and never have been) "arguing for lower energy usage". I'm all in favor of a "high-energy future", by whatever means prove out. Going back and living in caves, and eating nuts and berries (as the eco-terrorists would have us do) is NOT particularly attractive. My own favorite long-term solution is "nuclear plus solar".
I won't comment on the rest of your asinine remarks about "tar sands".
It has nothing to do with these subsidies that everyone seems to conjur up, but with yield and value. An acre of midwestern land will produce , what, five times as much corn as canola?
"And I assume you didn't read Bommer's posting with an alternative set of economics that shows "ethanol only" (i.e. no usage of coal) "IS" an "energy positive" alternative."
And I assume you didn't read the date of the study Bommer cites, 1995, by Pimental et. al., the same authors of the new study showing a loss of energy to the ethanol cycle. ooooops
Ooops, yourself. Bommer's authors in post 40 are Lorenz and Morris, NOT "Pimental, et al". A quick scan through Bommer's post shows no mention of Pimental.
And the fact that the study was written in 1995 invalidates the ENERGY BALANCES not at all. It might affect the economics, but a BTU in 1995 is still a BTU today.
Even if this is correct, there is a legitimate reason to pursue ethanol, even to reduce demand levels for petroleum..
Allow us a cushion to seek other petroleum resources/ get our own online again that shut down for various reason, so we can starve the middle east into submission. Ariana Huffington and co. are wrong to demonize suv owners, but they are right that we enable those who aid the terrorists by continuing our dependency upon arab petrol.. Lets blocade the Arabian peninsula, embargo the persian gulf, not let one drop of arab petrol (save maybe for Iraqi) out, until the terrorism stops... Manmade famine for the Saudis, aw too bad, maybe some of them need to starve to death--it may not be bombs, but that is real TERROR! Take the battle to the enemy! We need to fight the war on terror on every front!
BILLIONS FOR ETHANOL, but not ONE CENT FOR ARAB PETROL!!!
"Brazil uses ethanol based on a sugar cane manufacturing product cycle. The plant fermenting and distilling the ethanol product produces surplus electricity by burning the stalks. Since embarking on this energy independence path twenty years ago, Brazil is now an energy exporter with a huge number of ethanol running autos. The ethanol is sold side by side with gasoline at local stations, the cost is 30 to 40 per cent less than gas. Acre for acre, cane from the tropics can convert more solar energy to fuel than corn from the temperate zones. This could be a partial solution for Hawaii, Florida, Puerto Rico, some parts of Texas and La."
And there's the rub. Sugar cane cannot be grown economically anywhere in the continental United States. Were it not for the politically-connected sugar barons (the Fanjul Bros. etc) we would be importing sugar at the much lower world market price. Provided, of course, that you do not consider sugar to be of "strategic value."
"But children grow older; they want their own cars. (How many people really let a 16-year old drive a $40,000 vehicle that they don't even own? And how much is the insurance?) Finally, the children move out. Now there is no need at all for ferrying the children; and the large house out in the 'burbs begins to feel 'empty'
Honey, maybe we should look into a condominium, or a townhouse? And as the large house is downsized, there too goes the need for a wheeled dinosaur to haul lumber, furniture, plumbing. The day of the dinosaurs is done. And (by the way) the automakers will have to turn to another guaranteed profit center. Caveat emptor.
(Full disclosure: SUV's are also good for mashing subcompacts under their tires like a dinosaur stomping a frightened rabbit. The author drives a Nissan Sentra. This fact has nothing whatsoever to do with the contents of this article.)"
Some people actually need to carry stuff in their cars. SUV's would never have existed but for the "gas guzzler penalty" enacted in the seventies that killed off the all-american family station wagon (remember those?). THIS is what caused automakers to take advantage of the Light Truck exemption.
horse poop.. look at southern Louisiana and the Texas gulf coast (within a hundred miles inland too), well actually the entire gulf coast area for that matter, sugar cane can grow economically QUITE well!
"horse poop.. look at southern Louisiana and the Texas gulf coast (within a hundred miles inland too), well actually the entire gulf coast area for that matter, sugar cane can grow economically QUITE well!"
It's growing ("QUITE well!") because it is the most monstrously subsidized crop in the U.S. of A. Uncle Sam obligingly fixes the price for the benefit of the aforementioned Sugar Barons.
And who still don't consume anything near the amount of oil the United States do. We consume more than five times the amount of oil annually that China and India do combined. For now, we definitely dominate the demand side of the petroleum supply and demand equation.
Granted, as their economies and industries grow, China and India are consuming more and more oil every year. If we end our consumption of Arab Oil, their economies and therefore oil consumption will expand at a faster rate. But they will not instantly expand to the point where they will match the current United States oil consumption. Despite what you might believe, that's simply impossible. It would still take years for China and India's oil consumption to match ours. In the meantime, the Arab oil producers would have to tighten their belts.
In the future, when we represent a smaller percentage of the demand side of the supply and demand equation, our exploitation of alternate energy sources will have less of an impact on the Arabian pocketbook, but not right now. Right now they need us. It behooves us to develop energy alternatives so we no longer need them.
Just because you can't understand simple econ doesn't make it false, much less patently false.
I could say something about glass houses here, but I think everyone but yourself would find it unnecessary.
I wonder why our MN pols don't ax the beer tax. barley and hopps-drink your crops!...drink more beer and help a farmer!
Except that OPEC generally would like to KEEP us dependent on them by pegging the price of oil to a range that keeps alternative fuels non-competitive. Don't forget that there are 2 sides in the Supply-Demand Game.
Of course the crunch comes when production peaks. Some think this has already happened. China is actings as if it has.
We have the most energy intensive farming in the world. It gives the illusion of great productivity. But when it takes a dollar to produce a $1.01 worth of goods, bankruptcy is the only product.
That price being in the neigborhood of $40/barrel (the production cost of Canadian oil sand oil).
Seems like OPEC has'nt been able to hit their target. We'll see for real after the lead time for new wells has passed.