December 17, 2007
The process of making ethanol has come a long way in the last few years. Many improvements have been made. The amount of ethanol derived from a bushel of corn has gone from an average 2.5 gallons per bushel a few years to the current 2.8 gallons per bushel. The amount of water and energy required has also gone down.
Farming practices have also gotten better. The amount of corn produced per acre has gone up and the amount of energy required in planting and harvesting has gone down.
Most of the energy used in ethanol plants comes from natural gas and electricity. And as I posted earlier many companies are looking to innovative ways to cut their fossil fuel usage and energy costs.
Most of the energy used in farming and in the transport of ethanol comes from petroleum in the form of diesel fuel. As more farmers, railroads, and truckers use biodiesel in their equipment the amount of petroleum used will go down.
The process will continue to improve in the future as technology in both farming and the ethanol industry matures. And that is just considering conventional forms of ethanol production, not any future forms such as cellulosic ethanol.
Gasoline on the other hand is heading in the opposite direction. As the easy to get to deposits of oil are used up, production is shifting to oil reserves that require more energy to extract and refine. Two good examples of this are oil sands of Canada and the oil drilling that is taking place in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
So when you hear the talk about the energy balance of ethanol, just remember that no matter where it stands today, it will be better tomorrow. And that no matter what the energy balance of gasoline is today, it will be worse tomorrow.