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Is corn ethanol a hype?

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Dick Ziggers

Function: Editor: AllAboutFeed / Blog: From feed to food
Dick began his career as a technical adviser in the poultry sector for a large Dutch feed manufacturer. At the time of his untimely death (18 November 2012) he was the editor of the international feed production and applied nutrition magazine All About Feed & the website www.AllAboutFeed.net

Author, News correspondent

Is corn ethanol all hype and no substance? The issue has gained a lot of interest with some saying it is more trouble than it is worth as an energy source and others believing it is an option.

We all remember the "dot-com bubble" was a speculative bubble covering roughly 1997–2001 during which time stock markets in Western nations saw their value increase rapidly from growth in the new Internet sector and related fields.
Is the ethanol bubble about the burst?
Now there is a new ‘bubble’, although this time it is a lake, which needs to be filled with ethanol. What is the real potential of this raw material? Scientists are still debating this issue. One of the questions is whether corn ethanol consumes more energy to produce than it creates as a fuel. Here scientists disagree. David Pimental of Cornell University in a study  concludes that it is not worth producing ethanol from corn, since the production of one unit of ethanol from corn requires 70% more energy than it contains. In other words, the energy supply is depleted in stead of increased.
Ethanol produces 25% more energy
Other researchers disagree and say Pimental is using outdated data. Douglas G. Tiffany, research fellow at the University of Minnesota, concludes that the net energy of corn ethanol is a positive 25%, meaning that corn ethanol produces 25% more energy. All than its production process consumes. According to Tiffany this number is even a conservative calculation. Calculating this energy balance is a difficult task, but what many scientist forget is that ethanol production also has byproducts, such as DDGS, that contribute to a positive energy balance.
Doomsayers think growing crops for energy supply is not worthwhile and that may be true when there is ample supply of crude oil and prices are low. However it is inevitable that within foreseeable time these resources dry up - will it be by natural depletion or because of political disagreements.
Invest in alternative energy sources
It is a positive sign that nations invest in alternative energy sources. On the other hand there should be more emphasis on better economic use of fuel, especially within the upcoming nations, such as China and of course reducing fuel consumption of the petrol gulping SUVs which are hip in the US and more and more in Europe too. This is not only a political issue, but definitely a responsibility of the carmakers.
To answer my first question about the ethanol hype; no it is not a hype although it looks like it for the moment, but it is also a very good exercise to obtain relevant data for the future. Fill that lake!

by Dick Ziggers last update:6 Aug 2012

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One comment

  • # 1

    Biofuelsimon

    It would be a brave man to invest in ethanol at the moment in the US. The price fo grain is rising and the price of gasoline is falling. But ultimately we will find that oil becomes very expensive, how to stimulate people to take the risk to their capital, that is one problem that needs to be solved. Other problems revolve around sustainability. you can see more debate on these at my blog. http://www.icis.com/blogs/biofuels.

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