Borrowing part of a phrase from that great American humorist Mark Twain, when it comes to critics of ethanol, there seems to be “lies, damn lies, and statistics.” There has been a lot of misinformation spread about the green fuel, but there are some out there fighting the good fight dispelling these myths… especially the one that says it takes more energy to produce ethanol than what it’s worth.
One such fighter is Stafford “Doc” Williamson, who writes for Beverly Hills, California-based American Chronicle:
My underlying point is that by the same method of accounting gasoline takes more energy to produce than it contains, which is to say that if you count the energy that is necessary to build the drilling equipment to get it out of the ground, and the pumping energy to squeeze the last drops of oil from a well whose pressure has fallen so low that it no longer flows without assistance, and the energy to heat the steam to encourage heavy oil to flow into the tapped pool by heating it in the rock formations. This is the kind of energy accounting that if it came out that it really was more efficient to produce ethanol, the author of the “study” would “discover” a line item to pay for the revisions to textbooks to educate the next generation on the evils of fossil fuels in the first place, and on and on until the scales tilted in the desired direction. The real point of the energy input to any liquid fuel is the need to make the fuel suitable for the purpose for which we intend it, which in this case means a portable form of energy that is compatible with internal combustion engines that already exist in the majority of our vehicles. All these calculations that suggest it takes more fossil fuels to create a gallon of ethanol ignore the possibility that the ethanol producers might actually be environmentally conscious. They might be using biodiesel in the tractors and combines in the farm fields. They may be using crop rotation to minimize the need for fertilizers (if any) and pesticides that may be needed on their particular fields (which is only to say, somewhat more so than “average”, which is usually the number statistical studies rely upon).
Williamson goes on to make some remarks about President Bush and the war in Iraq that I might not agree with, but I’ll give him props for what he is saying about ethanol. I suggest you give this column (at least the ethanol part) a read.