Current Data Shows Ethanol More Energy Efficient

Cindy Zimmerman

A new study from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln using updated data finds that ethanol production is more energy efficient than previously estimated.

The research was conducted under the supervision of Dr. Kenneth Cassman with the Nebraska Center for Energy Sciences Research, and has been submitted to the Journal of Industrial Ecology, one of the top peer-reviewed journals for research on lifecycle analysis.

“Recent research conducted at the University of Nebraska clearly shows that estimates for the energy balance of corn-based ethanol are much more favorable – in fact two to three times more favorable, than previous estimates,” Cassman said. “That’s because most of the published values for energy efficiency of corn-ethanol are ‘backward looking’ in the sense they evaluated older technologies with regard to energy use in corn production, the biorefinery, and co-product utilization.”

Cassman, who is also a Heuermann Professor of Agronomy at the university, said it is important to understand that ethanol has a substantial net positive direct energy balance – that 1.5 to 1.6 more units of energy are derived from ethanol than are used to produce it.

“Using dated information simply doesn’t work in a world where the technology and efficiency of corn and ethanol production are rapidly improving over the years,” he said. “Moreover, if the goal is to reduce dependence on imported oil, we estimate that 13 gallons of ethanol are produced for every gallon of petroleum used in the production lifecycle for corn ethanol.”

The research was praised by the National Corn Growers Association for showing how much of a difference technology improvements can make.

“We are looking forward to seeing this research publicly released,” said Steve Ruh, chairman of NCGA’s ethanol committee. “It’s going to go far in dispelling one of the most persistent and incorrect myths about ethanol. But even beyond improved energy efficiency, there are many reasons why Americans should be embracing domestic biofuels for increased energy independence.”

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