RE: Ethanol from corn (was Kuwait oil)

From: Charles Carrigan <>
Date: Thu Nov 17 2005 - 13:33:54 EST

Dear All,
I find this discussion of fuels fascinating. I teach a course here at Olivet Nazarene University on natural resources, so I know a little about the subject matter. But I must admit that there is so much to learn about these incredibly complex social, economic, political, and geological issues that no matter how much I know, it seems there is always 10x more that I don't know.
A few questions for those of you who have posted comments on this thread recently:
1) concerning the "peak" of Saudi production and the fields being in decline: what exactly is declining? Obviously, as soon as a well is dug and oil is pumped out, the amount of oil in the trap begins to decline. Also, the amount of possible production from any field also naturally declines over time as the natural drive in the trap is reduced (and any engineered drive may also diminish with time). And of course, maximum capacity production is not always kept up - a field will be used to produce less than it possibly could in many cases due to economic considerations. So what exactly is "in decline" that has not been in decline since day one of oil production in the large Middle Eastern oil fields?
2) the primary use of oil is fuel for transportation - automobile, jet, and diesel fuels make up ~75-80% of what comes out of a barrel of oil. There is also a small amout of material that goes for plastics, lubricating oils, heating oil, etc., but the primary use of oil is in transportation. Yet in this discussion, I have seen several folks make comments about how if we lose oil, we'll not be able to heat our homes and churches. But my home and my church (as well as most homes and churches) are not heated using oil, they are heated using natural gas. While the price of natural gas has also increased, it has not, as far as I'm aware, kept pace with oil, certainly not on pace over the last 30-40 years. So why make this connection? These strike me as somewhat separate issues.
3) there is no doubt that reserves of cheap oil are getting slimmer. However, the dramatic increase in price that we have seen over the last couple of years brings more of the reserve base into reserves, which increases the total supply, providing something of a balance to the price and supply/demand issues. What is the situation with regards to these more expensive sources that, up until a short few months ago, were not economically viable, but now are? It strikes me that there might be a lot more oil out there when the price of it doubles.
There are more things I was thinking of bringing up, but I'll stop here for now.
Best Regards,
Charles W. Carrigan, Ph.D.
Olivet Nazarene University
Dept. of Geology
One University Ave.
Bourbonnais, IL 60914
PH: (815) 939-5346
FX: (815) 939-5071

>>> "Tjalle T Vandergraaf" <> 11/17/2005 11:47 AM >>>

Good to see some hard numbers. Of course, I don't think there is anybody who
advocates going to 100% ethanol. Usually, it's a 5 - 10% addition and some
jurisdictions (Minnesota) are already mandating this. Still, as Ken points
out, that would require doubling the US corn production. Cellulose ethanol,
as proposed by Iogen (thanks, Janice, for that information) shows promise in
that it uses straw, which has little commercial value. However, the jury is
still out as to the economics, as the Iogen website admits:

"But since there are currently no commercial plants set up to produce
cellulose ethanol, coming up with a price point right now is "a theoretical
endeavour," according to Kory Teneycke, CRFA's executive director." [2005
July 6] (

I attended a meeting a year or two ago where proponents of ethanol plants
(using grain as feedstock) argued for an ethanol plant in our area. After
some questioning, it became clear to me that the economics simply were not
there but that the entire proposal was based on generous tax credits and
subsidizing farmers by paying a premium for grain.

As demand will outstrip supply, costs will have to go up. I cannot see how
this will not have a negative impact on heating our churches, among other
things. My question remains, how do we deal with this?

Chuck Vandergraaf

-----Original Message-----
From: [] On
Behalf Of Kenneth Piers
Sent: Wednesday, November 16, 2005 6:17 AM
Subject: Ethanol from corn (was Kuwait oil)

Friends: The short answer to the question of how much land would be
to replace our gasoline use with ethanol is "more land than is available".

Here are some numbers I used in my course on energy resources at Calvin this
Total gasoline used in US 2004 = 145 billion (B) gal (this does not include
diesel fuel or aviation fuel)
Average ethanol yield per acre of corn = 315 gal (average corn yield = 137
bu/acre; average yield of ethanol from corn = about 2.3 gal/moist (15%
Ratio of heat of combustion of gasoline to ethanol = (about) 1.5/1 -
1.57/1 - (ie, you need to burn about 1.5 gal of ethanol to liberate the same
amount of heat energy as burning 1 gal of gasoline)
So, to replace 145 B gal of gasoline we would need about 217.5 B gal of
ethanol per year
At 315 gal of ethanol/acre this would require that we grow 690 M acres of
for ethanol production.
The total cropland planted in the US in 2003 was about 450 M acres.
This calculation neglects the fact that if we were to greatly expand our
growing more gasoline would be required. Nor does this calculation take into
account net energy.
Obviously we do not have enough land to replace gasoline with ethanol using
corn as the feedstock. Replacing even 10% of the gasoline with ethanol would
require that 69 M acres of corn would need to be devoted to ethanol
In 2004 a total of 74 M acres of corn was harvested in the US.
In 2004, we produced about 3.25 B gallons of ethanol from corn requiring
some 10.3 M acres of corn land was devoted to ethanol production. It seems
unlikely to me that corn to ethanol (or, in fact, most any biomass to liquid
fuel) program could ever replace a substantial fraction of the gasoline we

ken piers

Ken Piers

"We are by nature creatures of faith, as perhaps all creatures are; we live
counting on things that cannot be proved. As creatures of faith, we must
either to be religious or superstitious, to believe in things that cannot be
proved or to believe in things that can be disproved."
Wendell Berry

>>> Glenn Morton <> 11/15/2005 4:56 PM >>>
Email is so bad in this apartment. third try to send this.
  I have this in my database from a 2001 source. 1 acre produces 328
of ethanol. But one must take into account transportation costs before
figuring out how much of this will fuel the autos. Gas has energy content
12000 kcal/liter while ethanol has 5100 kcal/liter. So, we will need more
ethanol than gasoline. Today the US uses 9 million barrels of ethanol
(something like 350 million gallons). I won't calculate the acreage required
cause I have spent way too much time on this one email but the acreage would
  For those who question this topic, I would say this. Since the ASA invited
me to give a talk at their Aug conference on this issue, it seems to me that
should be able to discuss things on this list which were found suitable for

Tjalle T Vandergraaf <> wrote:
        v\:* {behavior:url(#default#VML);} o\:*
w\:* {behavior:url(#default#VML);} .shape {behavior:url(#default#VML);}

st1\:*{behavior:url(#default#ieooui) } Biodiesel and ethanol
are viable alternatives as long as the energy balance is positive but I
how many acres we need to plant with corn etc. to offset the decrease in
fuel harvesting. Hopefully, somebody has an answer. But, what with the
vagaries of farming (Canadian prairie farmers have had a rough couple of
years), I wonder how secure a biofuel supply would be.

Yahoo! FareChase - Search multiple travel sites in one click.
Received on Thu Nov 17 13:36:39 2005

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Thu Nov 17 2005 - 13:36:39 EST