Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Ethanol - quick note

National Review (not the online version) has an article on John Kerry's energy proposals. As can be expected it's rather critical of them, but it made a point that I think needs to be clarified/corrected:

A second key element in Kerry's plan is a mandate for yet more ethanol consumption. Both he and Bush support requiring the production of 5 billion gallons of ethanol a year by 2012 despite serious questions about whether ethanol, too, might not consume more energy than it produces: If it's a net energy plus, it's not by much. The fact that escalating ethanol subsidies have done little to slow down America's increasing dependence on foreign oil continues to escape notice.
There is no possible way in this universe for Ethanol to be an energy plus. Stephen Denbeste said it best when he referred to such bio-fuels as a form of stored solar energy. When analyzed in this context, Ethanol is a solid loser. The resulting energy derived from the fuel will inevitably be a fraction of the amount of solar energy it took to produce it; and we all know how worthwhile solar energy is.

Of course just talking about the return of solar energy on the investment of growing corn doesn't even take into account the resources required to grow the corn and convert it to ethanol. Cecil Adams writes:

The capper, though, is the claim that it takes more energy to make a gallon of ethanol than you get by burning it. One of the most vocal proponents of this view is Cornell University ecology professor David Pimentel. In an analysis published in 2001 in the peer-reviewed Encyclopedia of Physical Sciences and Technology, Pimentel argued that when you add up all the energy costs--the fuel for farm tractors, the natural gas used to distill corn sugars into alcohol, and so on--making a gallon of ethanol takes 70 percent more energy than the finished product contains. And because that production energy comes mostly from fossil fuels, gasohol isn't just wasting money but hastening the depletion of nonrenewable resources.
The 70 percent number was later revised down to 29, and it did not even factor in the solar energy conundrum. It's beyond high time for the public to see Ethanol for what it really is: political pork for the American agriculture industry.

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