September 24, 2008

Ethanol Production More Energy Efficient Than Previously Thought

University of Nebraska at LincolnUniversity of Nebraska at Lincoln researcher Kenneth Cassman concluded in a upcoming study that ethanol production has become more energy efficient.

“Recent research conducted at the University of Nebraska clearly shows that estimates for the energy balance of corn-based ethanol are much more favorable – in fact two to three times more favorable, than previous estimates,” Cassman said. “That's because most of the published values for energy efficiency of corn-ethanol are ‘backward looking’ in the sense they evaluated older technologies with regard to energy use in corn production, the biorefinery, and co-product utilization.”

The study also addresses how much petroleum is needed to produce a given quantuty of ethanol.

Using dated information simply doesn’t work in a world where the technology and efficiency of corn and ethanol production are rapidly improving over the years,” he said. “Moreover, 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 lifecycle for corn ethanol.”

The study has been submitted to be published in the Journal of Industrial Ecology.

Source : Clean Air Choice


Anonymous said...

If this is true, that's even more reason why corn farmers and ethanol plants should be able to make ethanol without consuming any fossil fuels.

That only begs the question then of why so many ethanol plants must use natural gas or coal as their primary energy source? Either those distilleries don't know what they are doing (i.e. they seem to prefer buying expensive fossil fuels instead of using the fuel they make) or, this study is wrong.

Michael A. Gregory said...

Not all forms are energy work the same in different applications. Do you know of anyone using gasoline to provide heat? Gasoline and ethanol are transportation fuels. Coal and natural gas are good fuels for heat generation.

It may be a great academic exercise to explore whether or not a process can be sustained without any outside energy source but that is not the way business works. And while I am sure that the petroleum industry could generate their own electricity needed to run their facilities it is much easier and cost effective to hook to the existing power grid. Does that mean that they don't know what they are doing or that the process isn't efficient?

Anonymous said...

Actually ethanol plants could go offline on power- however as mus points out it does not always make sense to do so. As an example- ethanol plants could burn or convert their syrup and some distillers grain to methane for boiler fuel and electric generation BUT the value of these products as feed have a higher value than natural gas.


Michael A. Gregory said...


You are right there. There are companies that are burning biomass to displace some or most of the energy needs but the ethanol and byproducts have more value than the fuel that they would displace.

As far as I know most plants do use a biomethanator to recycle water and offset some natural gas.

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