USDA: Ethanol Plants Gain in Net Energy Output

John Davis

A new report shows that ethanol plants are becoming even more efficient in turning energy into more energy, showing great energy gains.

The USDA’s Agricultural Resource Management Survey of corn growers for the year 2005 and the 2008 survey of dry mill ethanol plants show that dry grind ethanol plants that produce and sell dry distiller’s grains and use conventional fossil fuel power for thermal energy and electricity produces nearly two times more energy in the form of ethanol delivered to customers than it uses for corn, processing, and transportation. The ratio is about 2.3 BTU of ethanol for 1 BTU of energy in inputs, when a more generous means of removing byproduct energy is employed.

Just back in 2004, the ratio was only 1.76 BTUs for every 1 BTU of energy inputs. And the report shows that some dry mills that use 50 percent biomass power have an energy output of 2.8 times the energy it takes to make one unit of energy. The news was welcomed by Growth Energy and the Renewable Fuels Association:

“This study clearly demonstrates the technological advancements that have taken place in ethanol production in just a short period of time,” said Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis. “The findings prove that ethanol production is becoming cleaner and more efficient at a time when oil production continues to become dirtier and more difficult to extract.”

“If previous ethanol energy analyses have been nails in the coffin of the stale and distorted ‘negative energy balance’ myth, this report serves as the final burial,” said RFA President and CEO Bob Dinneen. “As better and more current data become available, there can be no doubt that ethanol offers tremendous energy benefits while greatly reducing consumption of crude oil. American ethanol producers continue to evolve, becoming more efficient and producing greater environmental benefit. This evolution stands in stark contrast to the worsening profile of oil production.”

The full report is available here.

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