03 November 2009

Ethanol from Corn Much Better than Expected


Brian Westenhaus presents an optimistic story of corn (maize) ethanol triumphing over environmental obstructionists and academic thumb-suckers. Brian points to an amazing study (PDF) that catches the laggard academic research up to the ambitious reality of farmers and the ethanol industry. In other words, while environmentalists and academics have been sitting on their thumbs, real people in the real world have been accomplishing impressive things. Even Al Fin must gasp in surprise at the improvements in all phases of production of corn ethanol.
The study’s ethanol-to-petroleum output/input ratios ranged from 10:1 to 13:1 but could be increased to 19:1 if farmers adopted high-yield progressive crop and soil management practices, according to the study. Using advanced closed-loop ethanol production technology with anaerobic digestion reduced GHG emissions by 67% and increased the net energy ratio to 2.2, from 1.5 to 1.8 for the most common systems. These numbers are much better than the 1.5:1 so often seen and discounted to below 1:1 by non expert pundits. _NewEnergyAnd Fuel
Corn ethanol production did not reduce food production, since the total corn production increase more than compensated for the diversion of maize to ethanol. In fact, since dried distiller's grains (DDGs) byproduct from the corn ethanol process is used as healthy livestock feed, available food corn (for animals and people) has gone up. Apparently, virtually everything we have read about corn ethanol from pundits, academics, and mainstream journalists is wrong -- because the academics and intellectuals were using outdated data -- they cannot seem to catch up to the nitty-gritty reality of the cutting edge present.

The implications of this new study suggest that the transition to biomass (once cellulosic conversion to sugars is perfected) will be much smoother and productive than anyone predicted.  Since cellulosic crops grow on marginal lands, with minimal watering and cultivation, the energy return from biomass alcohol production should be even greater than for corn.

Read Brian's article and try to understand the growing sophistication of the corn ethanol industry. People in the industry have to make a profit -- unlike politicians, journalists, and thumb-sucking professors. And in the age of Obama - Pelosi, making a profit is becoming ever more difficult.

Cross-posted to Al Fin Energy

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3 Comments:

Blogger CarlBrannen said...

The reason the enviros made corn ethanol out to be a bad guy was 3-fold. They hate all big industry. They hate big farming. And they don't want to see land used to produce fuel.

That it reduces food supply was only an arguing point. The real eco problem for them was that the resulting high price of corn was making farmers plow up fallow land. This is the "conservation set-aside" that the gov normally pays them to not farm. The set-asides are left alone so that wild creatures can use it.

If they'd cared about poor people starving they'd have pressured the gov to stop the conservation set-aside program decades ago. It's basically a matter of the US government paying farmers to raise the price of food.

The leftists have been taken over by the wealthy, they no longer care about the poor, except their votes.

The whole concept of industry being rearranged so that Americans can keep driving their cars for the next 100,000 years is something that they hate. They want to see economic destruction the way that some Christians want to see Armageddon.

Tuesday, 03 November, 2009  
Blogger Russ Finley said...

This isn't a new study. It made the news cycle over ten months ago when it first came out. The WSJ article cited is from January.

Here is a quote from the study:

"..Emissions from the indirect effects of land use change that occur in response to commodity price increases attributable to expanded biofuel production (e.g., Searchinger et al. 2008) are not considered in our study …

Had the study included land displacement impacts and accounted for the actual amounts of nitrous oxide releases found by Nobel Prize winning researcher in a paper released last year, they would have found corn ethanol much worse than gasoline for greenhouse emissions. Output of a spreadsheet is wholly dependent on what you input.

The following link demonstrates the role that high food commodity prices have on farmer's behavior around the globe:

http://home.comcast.net/~russ676/desiremore/biofuelmyths1.htm#bookmark1

The following table shows what has happened to the average annual price of corn since the federal laws were put in place in 2007 that mandate ethanol blending (they have doubled--100% increase in price):

http://home.comcast.net/~russ676/Graphics/img30.gif

Land use changes are very real. You can't suddenly put 25 thousand square miles of corn into American gas tanks and not expect to cause ripples in food chains. More land has to be put under the plow:

http://home.comcast.net/~russ676/Graphics/img29.gif

Another major flaw with the study is that it relies heavily on survey results filled out by managers of ethanol refineries who are under pressure to put their best foot forward to keep investors happy. A survey is not an oath. What the study needs are the actual energy bills of the refineries to validate the survey results. Until that is done one has to take the results with a grain of salt. The spreadsheet they made is fine but the results depend on accurate input.

From the original linked post:

"…People who eat beef, drink milk and like cheese should know many plants are located near cattle feeding or dairy operations, which allows efficient use of the co-product distillers grains as cattle feed…"

Livestock producers are losing their shorts thanks in large part to high corn prices. Feed can account for up to 60% of their costs. The 100% increase in the cost of feed has driven some over the edge and forced others to cut back on production, which equates to higher food prices.

"Over a year, a four-percent increase on grocery prices can add up. The consumer who spends $150 a week on groceries will be paying an extra $500 over the entire year."

Source: http://www.news-press.com/article/20091104/NEWS01/91104006/1075

Wednesday, 04 November, 2009  
Blogger al fin said...

Too true, Carl.

Environmentalists come in several varieties, but the loudest and most destructive ones divide into two main categories:

Those who religiously believe that humans are destroying the planet and need to have their numbers cut by at least 90%.

And those like Albert Gore Jr. who are getting rich from enviro-scams, and will do and say anything to advance their personal interests.

The rare enviros these days are ones with open minds and scruples.

Thursday, 05 November, 2009  

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