September 23, 2008

Corn ethanol energy balance 'more favorable'

One "discussion point" brought up from time to time is the energy balance of corn-based ethanol. Some folks like to say it takes more energy to produce ethanol than you get from it and on and on. Somehow, though, there isn't always an "apples to apples" realistic examination. Nor does it make sense to use data that is a decade old. Or even five years old.

Today's ethanol plants are considerably more efficient and corn growers are producing more corn per acre while using less energy to do so (and sunshine is still free).

Ken Cassman, director of the Nebraska Center for Energy Sciences Research, said that earlier studies examining ethanol’s energy balance sheet were based on old data - "backward looking data" with regard to energy use in corn production, the biorefinery and co-product use. He said work at the University of Nebraska "clearly shows that estimates for the energy balance of corn-based ethanol are much more favorable – in fact 2-3 times more favorable than previous estimates." Check it out here.

Cassman said corn-based ethanol has a substantial net positive direct energy balance – that 1.5-1.6 more units of energy are derived from ethanol than are used to produce it.

Interestingly, he added that if the goal is to reduce dependence on imported oil, "we estimate that 13 gallons of ethanol are produced for every gallon of petroleum used in the production life cycle for corn ethanol." That's a 13-to-1 ratio in ethanol's favor. And it helps cut our overall use of oil.

Seward, Nebraska, corn grower Alan Tiemann, a member of the Nebraska Corn Board, said in addition to a positive energy balance, it is important to keep in mind some of the benefits of ethanol production.

He added: We’re talking about energy security and energy diversity, and keeping more of our energy dollars in this country. Those kinds of positives are good for the United States as a whole, and specifically for rural America, where renewable ethanol is produced.

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