Sunday, November 26, 2006

The Ethanol Swindle

Cornell University Professor David Pimentel (College of Agriculture and Life Sciences) and University of California–Berkeley Professor Tad Patzek (Department of Civil and Enivornmental Engineering) have conducted extensive research that shows that the production of ethanol results in a net loss of energy: A scientific analysis of the 14 energy inputs that go into corn production, and the 9 energy inputs in fermentation and distillation operations, confirms that 29% more energy (derived from fossil fuels) is required to produce a gallon of corn ethanol than is contained in the ethanol.

Professor Pimentel responds to critics:

The pro-ethanol lobby have been attacking me for many years. The way that the pro-ethanol lobby are able to show a positive energy return is by omitting many legitimate inputs, including farm labor, farm machinery, hybrid corn-seeds, and irrigation. These are all inputs that are listed by noted agricultural economists when they assess enterprise data for corn production. Why do the pro-ethanol lobby omit these legitimate data? They provide no explanation. In addition, some take up to 60% credit for by-products when they should only take credit for 9%.

Concerning the energy inputs in producing gasoline, the pro-ethanol lobby again provide misleading data. Their claim is that it takes more energy to produce a gallon of gasoline than a gallon of ethanol. In fact, it is the opposite. A gallon of ethanol requires about 1.3 gallons of oil equivalents to produce 1 gallon of ethanol. It takes only 1.12 gallons of oil to produce 1 gallon of gasoline. Note, also that ethanol has only 66% of the energy that a gallon of gasoline has.

The pro-ethanol lobby also ignore most of the environmental impacts. These include:

1) Corn production causes more soil erosion than any other crop grown.

2) Corn production uses more nitrogen fertilizer than any other crop grown and is the prime cause of the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico.

3) Corn production uses more insecticides than any other crop grown.

4) Corn production uses more herbicides than any other crop grown.

5) More than 1,700 gallons of water are required to produce 1 gallon of ethanol.

6) From 6 to 12 gallons of sewage effluent are released into the environment per gallon of ethanol produced.

7) Enormous quantities of carbon dioxide are produced and released during production, including the large quantity of fossil energy used in production, large quantities of carbon dioxide are released during fermentation, and when the soil is tilled soil organic matter is exposed and oxidized.

8) Related to the total operation, including the burning of the ethanol in automobiles, the air pollution problem is significant.

Ethanol is the most misguided public policy in a generation.


At 11/26/2006 10:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As always, follow the money. The groups (ADM, farm lobby, etc.) getting goverment subsidy to make ethanol and a protected market for ethanol are organized contributors to - wait for it - politicians who write the laws that create this mess.

At 11/29/2006 4:02 PM, Blogger MidNight Mapper said...

What is terrible about this is the inability of the "system" to factor-in social costs - erosion, pollution, and opportunity cost. This is a market failure and no amount of academic ponderings will repair it. More to the get-something-done side... what about providing a real solution to soil carbon sequestration? IMHO soil erosion occurs because producers - agriculture - are not premitted to make too much money. Soil erosion is disinvestment - a saving account drawn on when conservation is not profitable.

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