Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Ethanol...increasing our dependence on foreign oil?

With all the recent buzz about new ethanol pumps and ethanol production as the new manufacturing industry in the state, Governor Daniels and his economic development cohorts overlooked one important fact:

Ethanol production uses six units of fossil fuel to produce one unit of ethanol fuel.

This is according to a study by Tad W. Patzek that was cited in Science Daily in April 2005. He says that if renewable energy sources are the goal, ethanol is not the answer. No wonder...if you wanted to fuel ethanol production with ethanol itself, you would never be able to produce your first unit.

I do not know much about Mr. Patzek or his methods, or the legitimacy of his findings. But before we invest all of our collective time and energy in pushing ethanol production as our state's sure-win lottery ticket, we may want to look into this a bit further.

Not to be a bummer.


Anonymous Gary Dikkers said...

Jezebella said, "No wonder...if you wanted to fuel ethanol production with ethanol itself, you would never be able to produce your first unit."

You have hit on a key point that all the ethanol lobbyists and the politicians who support them are either unaware of, or blithely ignore:

Making fuel ethanol is completely dependent on consuming fossil fuels. Until the ethanol industry can demonstrate they can make and distribute fuel ethanol without consumimg enormous amounts of fossil fuels, making fuel ethanol from corn is nothing more than a hidden subsidy system for farmers. (I have no problem with subsidies for farmers. But if we are going to do that, let's call it what it is a "subsidy" and not hide it behind the smokescreen of energy independence.)

-- Farmers must burn diesel to run their tractors and corn pickers.

-- Tire companies must consume fossil fuels to make the millions of tires farmers and truckers use each year.

-- Ethanol plants burn still more natural gas to mill and distill corn into ethanol.

-- Trucking companies burn diesel to haul corn from farm to ethanol plant, and finished ethanol from the plant to retailer.

-- Chemical plants must burn natural gas to make the millions of tons of fertilizers; pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides, farmers depend on. (And of course much of those chemicals eventually run off into our watersheds.)

The ethanol industry is dependent on fossil fuels because of the tremendous amount of ammonia fertilizer farmers rely on. Almost all of that fertilizer is now made from natural gas. Even worse, much of the ammonia fertilizer farmers use must now be made from overseas natural gas and imported to the US.

What is ironic about the ethanol industry is that if fuel ethanol ever becomes our primary liquid fuel, we would still have to rely on overseas fossil fuels because of imported fertilizer made from natural gas.

If you want to do an interesting thought experiment, consider why it is that the ethanol industry -- from farmers to ethanol stills to the truckers who haul corn and ethanol -- don't use ethanol as their energy source.

Ethanol proponents like to say that ethanol returns more energy than it consumes. If that is the case, why isn't the ethanol industry using some of the ethanol it makes as the fuel with which to make more ethanol?

That they don't, tells all you need to know about the profitability of and sustainability of ethanol.

I once asked the owner of an ethanol plant why he didn't use ethanol to run his plant instead of natural gas. His answer: "Ethanol is too expensive for me to burn here, and if I did, I wouldn't have any left to sell."

12:26 PM  

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