A Wall Street Journal article on water use for ethanol production points out that the industry is taking steps to address the concerns.
Ethanol producers say they are prepared for the challenges as the business expands and are ready to adapt quickly. Producers, plant designers and water engineers are all teaming up to try to reduce water consumption, says Matt Hartwig, a spokesman for the Renewable Fuels Association, a Washington, D.C.-based group that represents ethanol producers.
Producers as small as newcomer US BioEnergy of St. Paul, Minn., and as big as Archer-Daniels-Midland Co. of Decatur, Ill., have discussed measures to reduce their impact.
The article points out that advancements in engineering and new technology are being developed to reduce water usage.
Significant technical innovations are required to reduce the amounts of water that ethanol plants consume. One ethanol plant designer, Delta T Corp., based in Williamsburg, Va., says it has created a system that will reduce consumption to just one-and-a-half gallons of water per gallon of ethanol, down from four gallons of water.
To further reduce the plants’ impact on drinkable water, engineers also can route more low-quality water — even waste water — to functions where high purity is unnecessary. In the past two years, demand for engineers experienced in this kind of work has skyrocketed in the ethanol industry.
And the WSJ report notes that even without increased ethanol production, the nation still needs to get fuel somehow.
Canadian oil reserves, seen as a possible source of conventional fuel for the U.S., produce a thick grade of oil that requires just as much — if not more — water for refining than ethanol does, says Mr. Hartwig.
“The water from that [refining] process is so toxic that it has to be put into holding ponds so large they can be seen from space — and it takes 200 years to separate,” he says.