05/13/2008 I Ethanol As Car Fuel--Don't Believe The Myths
Myth #1: It Takes More Energy to Produce Ethanol than You Get from It!
Most ethanol research over the past 25 years has been on the topic of energy returned on energy invested (EROEI). Public discussion has been dominated by the Cornell professor David Pimentel and his numerous, deeply flawed studies. Pimentel stands virtually alone in portraying alcohol as having a negative EROEI—producing less energy than is used in its production.’s aggressive distribution of the work of
In fact, it’s oil that has a negative EROEI. Because oil is both the raw material and the energy source for production of gasoline, it comes out to about 20% negative. That’s just common sense; some of the oil is itself used up in the process of refining and delivering it (from the Persian Gulf, a distance of 11,000 miles in tanker travel).
The most exhaustive study on ethanol’s EROEI, by Isaias de Carvalho Macedo, shows an alcohol energy return of more than eight units of output for every unit of input—and this study accounts for everything right down to smelting the ore to make the steel for tractors.
But perhaps more important than EROEI is the energy return on fossil fuel input. Using this criterion, the energy returned from alcohol fuel per fossil energy input is much higher. In a system that supplies almost all of its energy from biomass, the ratio of return could be positive by hundreds to one.
Myth #2: There Isn’t Enough Land to Grow Crops for Both Food and Fuel!
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. has 434,164,946 acres of “cropland”—land that is able to be worked in an industrial fashion (monoculture). This is the prime, level, and generally deep agricultural soil. In addition to cropland, the U.S. has 939,279,056 acres of “farmland.” This land is also good for agriculture, but it’s not as level and the soil not as deep. Additionally, there is a vast amount of acreage—swamps, arid or sloped land, even rivers, oceans, and ponds—that the USDA doesn’t count as cropland or farmland, but which is still suitable for growing specialized energy crops.
Of its nearly half a billion acres of prime cropland, the U.S. uses only 72.1 million acres for corn in an average year. The land used for corn takes up only 16.6% of our prime cropland, and only 7.45% of our total agricultural land.
Even if, for alcohol production, we used only what the USDA considers prime flat cropland, we would still have to produce only 368.5 gallons of alcohol per acre to meet 100% of the demand for transportation fuel at today’s levels. Corn could easily produce this level—and a wide variety of standard crops yield up to triple this. Plus, of course, the potential alcohol production from cellulose could dwarf all other crops.
Myth #3: Ethanol’s an Ecological Nightmare!
You’d be hard-pressed to find another route that so elegantly ties the solutions to the problems as does growing our own energy. Far from destroying the land and ecology, a permaculture ethanol solution will vastly improve soil fertility each year.
The real ecological nightmare is industrial agriculture. Switching to organic-style will cut energy use on farms by a third or more: no more petroleum-based herbicides, pesticides, or chemical fertilizers. Fertilizer needs can be served either by applying the byproducts left over from the alcohol manufacturing process directly to the soil, or by first running the byproducts through animals as feed.
Contrary to some current reports, when correctly produced, alcohol fuel is a elegant practical solution to climate change, peak oil, world hunger, spiraling food prices, pollution, tropical deforestation and worldwide rural unemployment. Mr. Blume’s new book Alcohol Can Be A Gas, presents an informative look at how alcohol-based energy is being used around the world to combat climate change as well as energy and food shortages.
As was just reported today by AP sources: Oil prices shot to a new record near $127 a barrel Tuesday on concerns that Iran may consider cutting crude oil production. Gas prices, meanwhile, rose to a new record over $3.73 a gallon Tuesday, and their advance shows little sign of slowing with Memorial Day weekend, the traditional start of the summer driving season, just 10 days away.
Light, sweet crude for June delivery rose as high as a record $126.98 a barrel in midday trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange Tuesday before retreating to settle up $1.57 at $125.80.
With this as well as climate change and
reports increasing weekly, isn't it time we helped the world learn how we can easily be producing ethanol and other biofuels for transportation, heat and energy needs for 50 cents a gallon rather than paying $111+ a barrel or $4.00+ a gallon at the pump?
Mr. Blume’s book is fueling an ethanol revolution for the 21st Century and leading journalists, scientists and energy activists such as
have called the book “a must read."