From: Glenn Morton (
Date: Mon Jan 20 2003 - 16:30:36 EST

  • Next message: John Burgeson: "RE: Ethenol energy"

    Hi Burgy,

    You wrote on Sunday, January 19, 2003 11:24 PM

    >Glenn: I found the following at the website:
    >Higher Corn Yields are Making Ethanol More Energy Efficient
    >New USDA study says ethanol now yields 34 percent more energy than
    >it takes
    >to produce it.
    >A recent U.S. Department of Agriculture study found that ethanol
    >is becoming more energy-efficient all the time because corn yields are
    >rising, less energy is required to grow it, and ethanol conversion
    >technologies are becoming more efficient.
    >Is this consistent with the views of the oil industry? What might be the
    >limitations of replacing gas derived from oil with gas derived from corn?

    First, let me state that the opinions I express are mine not the oil
    industry's. I don't know if it has an opinion, but if it does, it hasn't
    given it to me. :-)

    Seconly, I got the original US Ag dept article this morning and read it on
    the plane to London today. The article has some interesting comments.
    First, they are correct that improving efficiencies are closing the gap
    between energy positive and energy negative positions. However, there are a
    couple of things they omit or ignore which tell me that they haven't yet
    shown that the manufacture of ethanol is energy positive yet.

    Their table 6 summarizes the situation:

    Process BTU/gallon ethanol

    Corn production 21,598
    Corn transport 2,263
    Ethanol Conversion 51,779
    Ethanol distribution 1,588
    Total energy used 77,228

    Given an 83,9600 btu/gallon energy content of Ethanol they come up with a
    net energy value of
    +6,732 BTU per gallon.

    It is interesting what they leave out of the calculations. They state:

    "Another major difference between the Pimentel studies and most other
    studies is that his estimates include energy expended on capital equipment.
    Pimentel's estimate for converting ethanol is about 7,000 Btu/gal higher
    because it includes energy for steel, cement, and other materials used to
    construct the ethanol plant, components not included in most other studies."
    Hosein Shapouri and James A. Dulfield and Michael Wang," The Energy Balance
    of Corn Ethanol: An Update", USDA AER-814, (2002), p. 3

    And then they don't include this in their estimate of the economics of
    ethanol either. Thus, they are implicitly assuming that one doesn't have to
    spend energy on the plant itself in this equation! Leave it to government
    bureaucrats to ignore capital investment! Correcting for this, one
    immediately takes their 'uncredited calculation' into the red.

    Secondly, they then credit the calculation by taking the waste products and
    treating them as energy positives. They are energy positives, but they are
    not fuel oil. The coproducts are distiller's dried grains, corn oil, corn
    gluten meal and corn gluten feed. I find this a bit misleading to the public
    because it is taking advantage of the conservation of energy to act as if we
    are getting useful fuel from an energetically advantageous process. If we
    accounted for all the energy in all the systems, we would have all the
    energy after the processing of ethanol.

    One other worry I have about this paper is that they claim 80% efficiency
    for gasoline and diesel in transportation. That seems about 4x too high
    from what I know of transporation efficiencies.

    I also noted a pattern in all the studies they cited. All but one of the
    private papers said the process was negative. All studies published by the
    government or lobbying groups say it is positive. Not exactly a comforting
    pattern given that this is a government report.


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