# E85: Spinning Our Wheels

Introduction

The following is an expanded version of an essay that I posted to The Oil Drum entitled: E85: Spinning Our Wheels. The essay was inspired by comments made by Odograph over at The Oil Drum and at Gristmill. I have added a section at the end of the essay explaining the mathematics in detail.

How Much E85 Can We Make?

If you listen to the news lately, you know that E85 is going to lead the U.S. to energy independence, just like it did in Brazil. Senator Hillary Clinton has announced that she is getting into the act: (1)

“President Bush and other elected officials have called for a greater expansion of E-85, a fuel made of 85 percent ethanol that can be used in vehicles built to run on both regular unleaded gasoline and E-85.

E-85 is currently available in less than one percent of the country’s gas stations, and Clinton wants to accelerate the spread of the fuel to half of the nation’s gas stations by 2015 by offering a 50 percent tax credit for station owners who install ethanol pumps.

`We’ve got to take action on this pump issue or we’re just spinning our wheels,’ she said.”

Just spinning our wheels. Indeed. But let’s do a reality check and see whose wheels are spinning. These claims deserve a mathematical analysis, which none of the E85 proponents appear to have done.

According to http://www.corn.org/CRAR2005.PDF (2) (Warning: 1.9 meg file) the estimated corn harvest in 2005 was 10.35 billion bushels, and corn exports were 1.95 billion bushels. According to the 2002 USDA study The Energy Balance of Corn Ethanol: An Update, (3) you can get 2.7 gallons of ethanol from a bushel of corn. That means if we turned the entire corn crop into ethanol, we could make 27.9 billion gallons of ethanol. But as we all know, the BTU value of ethanol is around 67% that of gasoline, meaning that on a BTU basis this much ethanol is equivalent to 18.8 billion gallons of gasoline.

According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, our annual gasoline consumption is up to almost 140 billion gallons. (4) That means on a BTU equivalent basis, converting the entire corn crop into ethanol would amount to 13.4% of our annual gasoline demand. Putting all of that ethanol into the gasoline supply would mean ethanol could comprise 19% of the gasoline supply on a volumetric basis (while consuming all of our corn production). In other words, all of the gasoline in the country could be E19 if we wanted to use 100% of the corn crop. Of course if we only want to turn all of our current exports into ethanol (ignoring the many implications), that would amount to 2.5% of our annual gasoline demand. In that case, E10 could make up about a third of our gasoline supply on a volumetric basis. If we want to convert all of the corn exports into E85, it could make up 3.3% of our total gasoline pool.

But that’s the good news. According to the previously mentioned USDA study, it takes 77,228 BTUs of fossil fuel inputs to make 83,961 BTUs of “green, renewable” ethanol. Ignoring co-products for a moment, that means the created energy was a mere 8% in excess of the input energy. Given that the fossil fuels (primarily natural gas) that went into making the ethanol can usually serve as transportation fuels, the amount of transportation fuel that is displaced is only the 8% that was “created”. That means that in reality, using our entire corn crop would only displace 1% of our annual gasoline consumption. If we only decide to use our exports, the net displacement of gasoline would be 0.2% of our annual gasoline consumption.

Now, a word about co-products. Energy balance studies of grain ethanol almost always include a BTU credit for the co-products (mostly animal feed). I think this is appropriate, provided that a proper analysis is made of the energy inputs into the products that were displaced. Let’s ignore for a moment the fact that some estimates indicate that the “byproduct markets could saturate well short of 11 billion gallons of production”. (5) Let’s give full credit for the byproducts, just as if they are liquid fuels to be burned. This has no effect on the BTU equivalent calculation, but will affect the displacement calculation. With by-products included, the USDA report has 77,228 BTUs of fossil fuel inputs for 98,333 BTUs of total outputs. In this best case scenario, the ratio of energy out/energy in is 1.27. Converting 100% of the corn crop into ethanol, presuming we had a market for the byproducts, would then displace an incredible 2.0% of our annual gasoline consumption.

So, why the big rush to get E85 pumps at 50% of the nation’s gas stations? We can’t possibly produce enough E85 to justify putting in all those pumps. Wouldn’t it be much better just to push for E10 at more locations? In that case, expensive new pumps are not required, and E10 can already be burned in most vehicles on the road. Or how about encouraging more natural gas vehicles, instead of inefficiently and expensively turning natural gas into ethanol? But I suppose those would be rational solutions, as opposed to feel-good solutions that promise energy independence.

Conclusion

There are a couple of things to conclude from this exercise. First, the “E85 everywhere” push is much ado about nothing. E85 can’t contribute enough to the gasoline pool to justify putting pumps everywhere. Second, it should be clear that ethanol is not going to make us energy independent. It is time to stop believing that Brazil is energy independent because of ethanol, and realize that it is because their energy consumption is 1/6th of ours in the U.S. If we reduced our energy consumption by that amount, we would be energy independent as well. Finally, it should be clear that we are going to have to take conservation seriously. Ethanol may make some sense in certain parts of the Corn Belt. It is an impractical solution nationwide, and won’t ever contribute more than a small fraction of our fuel needs (barring a breakthrough in cellulosic ethanol technology).

Mathematical Details and Notes

The estimated corn harvest in 2005 was 10.35 billion bushels and corn exports were 1.95 billion bushels.

According to the USDA, you can get 2.7 gallons of ethanol from a bushel of corn.

2.7*10.35 = 27.9 billion gallons of ethanol.

2.7*1.95 = 5.3 billion gallons of ethanol.

The higher heating value of gasoline is 125,000 BTUs/gallon, and for ethanol it is 83,961 BTUs/gal. This means that ethanol has 67% of the energy value of gasoline.

If we introduce ethanol into the fuel supply, we will need 1/(0.67), or 1.49 gallons of ethanol for every gallon of gasoline that is taken out of the gasoline pool.

U.S. fuel consumption is currently around 140 billion gallons. If we put the 27.9 billion gallons of ethanol (from the entire corn harvest) into the gasoline pool, it will only have the energy equivalent of 27.9*0.67, or 18.8 billion gallons of gasoline. This means the motor gasoline pool will have to increase to 140 – 18.8 + 27.9, or 149.1 gallons. Therefore, to maintain the same number of BTUs that we have today in the gasoline pool, and by converting 100% of the corn crop into ethanol, it could make up 27.9/149.1, or 18.7% of the gasoline pool on a volumetric basis. However, as was discussed above, ethanol only has the energy value of 67% of gasoline’s, so the net BTU contribution (the important piece) is 18.8 billion gallons of a 140 billion gallon gasoline pool. This is equivalent to 13.4%. Doing the same calculation for just our corn exports shows it could make up 3.5% on a volumetric basis, or 2.5% on a BTU equivalent basis of our current gasoline pool.

Regarding the displacement calculation, there is an excess of 8% energy created when a gallon of ethanol is produced (ignoring co-products for the moment). This is because fossil fuels had to be input into the process. When the input fossil fuels are natural gas, diesel, or gasoline, they can serve as transportation fuels themselves. In that case, the net to the gasoline pool per gallon of ethanol is only 8% of the ethanol produced. 8% of 18.8 is 1.5 billion gallons of net energy production. 1.5 billion gallons/140 gallon gasoline pool is a 1.1% net BTU contribution for turning the entire corn crop into ethanol.

References

2. “Corn: Part of Our Daily Lives”, Corn Refiners Association Annual Report, 2005. (Warning: 1.9 meg file)

## 43 thoughts on “E85: Spinning Our Wheels”

1. One reason to support legislation for ethanol pumps at more gas stations is that it will spur entrepreneurs to look for ways to make more ethanol. Private entrepreneurs have a weakness when it comes to chicken&egg problems like this one (where they need a huge infrastructural change in order to sell their product).

Once the pumps are in place, people will look for better ways to make ethanol. I haven’t heard any serious ethanol proponent (like, say, Khosla) claim that we are going to run our country on corn ethanol.

2. One reason to support legislation for ethanol pumps at more gas stations is that it will spur entrepreneurs to look for ways to make more ethanol.

You don’t do this by making pie-in-the-sky promises about energy independence, and then building the infrastructure in hopes that someday, somehow, someone will find a way to produce enough ethanol to justify the investments. You fund research, but you don’t go out spending billions trying to create an industry.

I haven’t heard any serious ethanol proponent (like, say, Khosla) claim that we are going to run our country on corn ethanol.

Here is what Khosla wrote in a New York Times editorial:

First, it (ethanol) could set America free from its dependence on foreign oil. As Brazil’s “energy independence miracle” proves, an aggressive strategy of investing in petroleum substitutes like ethanol can end dependence on imported oil.

That’s either stupidity, wishful thinking, or someone with a lot of money invested trying to hype ethanol in the hopes of making money. My calculations above bear this out – we will not become energy independent by promoting ethanol; especially grain ethanol. Brazil is not energy independent because of ethanol. They are energy independent because they use far less energy than we do.

RR

3. RR –

Thanks for stopping by my site and providing the link to your well reasoned, calculated and researched post.

I am no expert on E85 (as my explanation surely proved)…

4. Anonymous says:

Question: Can the United States make enough E85 to replace the crude oil imports (ignoring the energy that it takes to create the E85)?

I realize that it ignores a whole bunch of stuff: decreasing crude oil supply from within the USA, energy used in growing corn, etc, etc.

But, that seems to be what the politicians are saying…we can use ethanol to replace the imports.

So, can we?

Thanks in advance,
Rick

5. Question: Can the United States make enough E85 to replace the crude oil imports (ignoring the energy that it takes to create the E85)?

We import around 200 billion gallons of oil a year, and it contributes roughly 100 billion gallons of gasoline to the overall pool (as well as diesel, jet fuel, fuel oil, etc.). As my analysis shows, turning 100% of the corn crop into ethanol would only equate to 18.8 billion gallons of gasoline. Therefore, ethanol can’t possibly enable us to stop importing oil.

RR

6. Anonymous says:

Wow! I did not realize that we imported 71% of our gasoline (as crude oil). 100 billion gals / 140 billion gals.

Thanks for the info,
Rick

7. Hi,

First, I like your blog very much.

Second, I’d like to add that Brazil is achieving energy independence not only through ethanol, but using their Petrobras’ state oil company ( partially state owned, in fact) to extract oil from their continental platform using cutting edge deep drilling technlogy.

In summary, they use ethanol AND their own oil. Ethanol adds to the formula but it is only a part.

Fernando

8. When discussing imported oil, don’t forget that we also import about a million gallons of gasoline a day, in addition to the 10 million barrels of oil every day. If you look at the EIA statistics, gasoline imports are up much more over the last decade than crude oil imports.

As I understand it, a large portion of the imports are “extra” gasoline from Europe. They have so many diesels over there that they end up with a surplus of gasoline (you can’t make all diesel from a barrel of oil). When gas prices are high in the US, it encourages Europe to ship their extra gas here rather than try to wring a little more diesel out of each barrel of oil.

9. Gary Dikkers says:

Robert said, “Now, a word about co-products. Energy balance studies of grain ethanol almost always include a BTU credit for the co-products (mostly animal feed). I think this is appropriate, provided that a proper analysis is made of the energy inputs into the products that were displaced.”

Robert,

One point about the co-products: If we were ever go to full-scale fuel ethanol production from corn, we would soon be drowning in mountains of co-products.

On a micro-scale when there are only a handful of corn-to-ethanol plants in each state, there is a legitimate use for the primary co-product — distiller’s grain (DC). But on a macro-scale with scores — or even hundreds — of corn-to-ethanol plants in each state, we would end up with mountains of DG; more than the livestock industry would use, and that no one would want to haul away.

It wouldn’t be long, and corn-to-ethanol plants would look like those old coal mines surrounded by slag heaps. Except the slag heaps around ethanol plants would be piles of DG*.

It could well turn out the only way to get rid of that DG would be for ethanol plants to burn it as a thermal energy source.

In full-scale corn-to-ethanol production, a large amount of energy will end up locked in the huge piles of DG heaped around ethanol plants. The USDA/Argonne Lab study uses the energy in that DG to make their numbers come out positive, but that is really smoke and mirrors without a way to efficiently use that DG.

Best,

Gary Dikkers

* A few months ago I shared this idea with Dr Pimental. He got a big chuckle out of it

10. Tim says:

In full-scale corn-to-ethanol production, a large amount of energy will end up locked in the huge piles of DG heaped around ethanol plants.

Actually, one of those ads at the bottom of the page said they have a boiler that uses dried distillers grains to make steam for running the ethanol plant. I think the ad was something like “Ethanol Plant Boiler”. Interesting concept.

11. Gary Dikkers says:

Tim said, “Actually, one of those ads at the bottom of the page said they have a boiler that uses dried distillers grains to make steam for running the ethanol plant. I think the ad was something like “Ethanol Plant Boiler”. Interesting concept.”

Tim,

And did they say how they planned to dry the DG so it would burn? I have a nephew who buys DG to feed his hogs. What he gets is damp and sloppy, is not in a form that could be burned without first spending energy to dry it.

Regards,

Gary Dikkers

12. PowerPointSamurai says:

Ethanol may have 67% of the BTU content of gasoline, but that does not translate into 67% of the mileage per gallon. The Ethanol industry claims that you only lose ~10-15% of your mpg by using E85, and my experience with my flex-fuel vehicles for the past year or so corroborate that roughly. Moreover, if we could increase the compression ratio of the engines, it would compare even more favorably (but of course, then you’d have to run premium regular gasoline when you are not running E85). I also suspect some of the numbers for input costs, as I know many farmers who raise corn and not all of them intensively use nitrogen fertilizers on their corn crops. The nitrogen fertilizer doesn’t have to come from natural gas, and there are semi-renewable ways of making natural gas which we could use to produce fertilizers, but not great ways otherwise of using them as a motor fuel.

In the end though, you are right that there is a finite corn crop and it cannot keep pace with current energy demands via the Ethanol route. I’m hopeful about celluloistic ethanol, possibly Butanol, and even more hopeful about Bio-diesel (but not from Soybeans!).

13. Boodog says:

You forgot to note that gasoline form oil is about 80% effiecient. You have to put in 20% more energy than you get out for gasoline.

According to your USDA source, energy out/energy in is 1.34 not 1.27 as you claim.

Why are subtracting another 8%…”because fossil fuels had to be input into the process”???

14. You forgot to note that gasoline form oil is about 80% effiecient. You have to put in 20% more energy than you get out for gasoline.

That fallacious claim was addressed here:

Energy Balance For Ethanol Better Than For Gasoline

According to your USDA source, energy out/energy in is 1.34 not 1.27 as you claim.

That’s what they say. That’s not what you get by plugging the numbers in. They got 1.34 by doing a bit of creative accounting. They subtracted the co-product BTUs from their inputs, making it seem as if they are using less energy than they are. That artificially inflated their return from 1.27 to 1.34, but is totally illegitimate.

RR

15. Ethanol may have 67% of the BTU content of gasoline, but that does not translate into 67% of the mileage per gallon. The Ethanol industry claims that you only lose ~10-15% of your mpg by using E85, and my experience with my flex-fuel vehicles for the past year or so corroborate that roughly.

Yes, that’s what the ethanol industry claims. But all of the government funded studies I have seen show a 25-35% drop in fuel efficiency when using E85. The Taurus example I used here dropped from 29 mpg to 21 mpg – a decrease of 28%. The new Saab that was recently in the news has a higher compression ratio, and only shows a reduction of 13% in fuel efficiency when using E85. But 25-35% reduction is the norm, as shown by a number of government studies.

Moreover, if we could increase the compression ratio of the engines…

True, but if you are going to start increasing compression ratio, why not just jump to a diesel and get a real benefit? You get a more efficient engine, and a lot more BTUs from the diesel. That’s a big reason I favor biodiesel over ethanol.

RR

16. Boodog says:

[i]That fallacious claim was addressed here:

Energy Balance For Ethanol Better Than For Gasoline[/i]

That’s odd. The refinery I worked at used the oil & byproducts to run the refining processes.

Perhaps the refinery I worked at was a perpetual motion machine.

17. That’s odd. The refinery I worked at used the oil & byproducts to run the refining processes.

Perhaps the refinery I worked at was a perpetual motion machine.

No, that’s a perfectly acceptable method of measuring efficiency. The problem is that they aren’t measuring ethanol efficiency in the same way. They applied a special metric in order to inflate ethanol’s efficiency. If you look at the BTUs that are actually consumed in the process, and the BTUs that you end up with, ethanol’s 1.3 energy return contrasts with gasoline’s 5.0 or so (as shown in the essay I linked to).

RR

18. Boodog says:

Apparently, you are the one playing with numbers.

Refinery gas is one of the products of refining oil. It is used to supply heat, steam, and electricity.

Oil is the energy input & feed stock to a refinery. Gasoline, diesel, kerosene…bla bla bla are the outputs.

The energy value of the oil going into the total system divided by the energy value of gasoline coming out is less than one.

19. Boodog says:

Well actually I made a typo, the energy value of the gasoline divided by the energy value of the oil used in the process is less than one.

How could it be anything less than one? You are using a portion of the oil to run the refinery?

20. The energy value of the oil going into the total system divided by the energy value of gasoline coming out is less than one.

You aren’t following, so let me break it down in a bit more detail. The USDA uses the metric that you are talking about for measuring gasoline efficiency. As I said, I have no problem with that, and by definition, that number will be less than 1. There is nothing about that that I don’t understand.

However, they use a different metric for measuring ethanol. The calculate energy outputs, and divide it by energy inputs. For example, if we consumed 1 BTU to make 1.27 BTUs, the USDA claims an energy efficiency of 127% (actually, they claim 134%, but as I said, check the numbers). If we measured gasoline in the same way, we would see that we had a total input of about .2 BTUs consumed to realize 1 BTU of usable fuel. In that case, our energy return, as measured in the same way the USDA uses for ethanol, is 5/1 for gasoline.

However, if we apply the same method that you are suggesting for gasoline, we would see that we input 1 BTU to get 1.27 out, so our efficiency is 27% (versus 80-85% measure in this manner for gasoline). No matter how you measure it, as long as you are consistent, gasoline comes out ahead. The only time it doesn’t is when “alternative metrics” or inconsistent metrics are used.

If you still want to argue about it, that’s OK by me. But do I have an e-mail from one of the USDA authors admitting that they are not being consistent in their measurements.

RR

21. Boodog says:

Bizarre post…how about some reality…using your numbers

The value coming out of a refinery 5.8 million BTUs, the value of all the inputs 5.8 +1.6= 7.4 million BTUs.

5.8/7.4=.78 or about .8

The value of ethanol products 98,333 BTUs, the value of all the inputs 77,228 BTUs.

98333/77228= 1.27

You have to start with 7.4 million BTUs of oil just to get 5.8 million BTUs of oil products.

22. The value coming out of a refinery 5.8 million BTUs, the value of all the inputs 5.8 +1.6= 7.4 million BTUs.

I see you have attended the USDA’s School of Selective Accounting. But let me throw a bit of reality into your world. Why would you start at the refinery? Did you start at the ethanol refinery? No, you didn’t. You don’t have an apples to apples comparison.

You start off with crude oil in the ground. You have a barrel worth 5.8 million BTUs. The energy to extract is about 10/1. So, you used 10% of the energy value in the barrel getting it out. Now, you refine it. You use another 10% to refine. You have input 1.16 million BTUs to get refined products worth 5.8 million BTUs. Calculating as you did for ethanol, the return is then 5.8/1.16, or 5 to 1.

Is the reality starting to sink in? The USDA comes to their conclusion by looking at only the refining portion of gasoline. This is not how they look at ethanol. Apples and oranges.

RR

23. Boodog says:

You start off with crude oil in the ground. You have a barrel worth 5.8 million BTUs. The energy to extract is about 10/1. So, you used 10% of the energy value in the barrel getting it out. Now, you refine it. You use another 10% to refine. You have input 1.16 million BTUs to get refined products worth 5.8 million BTUs. Calculating as you did for ethanol, the return is then 5.8/1.16, or 5 to 1.

Dude…you just used 1.16 BTUs of your 5.8BTUs. Your own words..You now have 4.64 not 5.8 left.

Refineries burn part of the oil to make heat, steam and power & it took energy to get the oil out of the ground. 5.8 in & 4.64 out.

4.64/5.8=.8

If you want to have 5.8 coming out of your “system” you have to start with 20% more BTUs.

24. If you want to have 5.8 coming out of your “system” you have to start with 20% more BTUs.

Let me guess. You are an ethanol investor? Because what I have found is not so much that they can’t get the point, as they won’t get the point.

You aren’t burning off part of the BTUs from that barrel of oil. You are inputting BTUs from elsewhere (exactly as is the case with ethanol). You input 580,000 BTUs to get that barrel out of the ground, and you input another 580,000 to refine it. You input 1.16 to get out 5.8.

Now, let’s do the exact same thing with ethanol. You input 1 BTU to get back out 1.27 BTUs. In this case, most of the BTU value in the final product was consumed in making the product. That is not the case with gasoline. You only consumed a small fraction of the BTUs to process the barrel.

I can see you need a bit of help seeing through those ethanol-colored glasses, so I am going to ask you to do an exercise. If you do this exercise, the point will finally become crystal clear for you.

Let’s say that our objective is to “create” 10 BTUs of energy. We start from nothing, but are allowed to input BTUs in order to produce our 10 BTUs. Calculate for me how many BTUs you will consume to make 10 BTUs of ethanol, versus 10 BTUs of gasoline.

Once you do this, you will understand that ethanol is certainly not more energy efficient than gasoline. That proposition is simply ludicrous beyond words.

Note also that 10/1 is a very conservative estimate for oil extraction. I have read that the average worldwide EROI for oil extraction is 17/1. The refining process is still 5/1, meaning the whole process is 8.5 to 1, versus 1.27 to 1 for ethanol. That explains why ethanol can’t compete without subsidies.

RR

25. Boodog says:

Refineries burn part of the oil to make heat, steam, and power.

Yes or No???

26. Refineries burn part of the oil to make heat, steam, and power.

Yes or No???

If it makes economic sense, they might. Or, they can import natural gas just like ethanol plants do. Now, I asked you two questions. 1). Are you an ethanol investor; and 2). Did you do the analysis I suggested? If so, what was your conclusion?

RR

27. Robert, you are considering only the internal costs. When someone claims gasoline has an EROEI of 0.8 they are including all of the costs to society. Not just the short term costs where you expend the energy of 1 barrel of oil to get 10 barrels, but also the costs to the next generation. Those 10 barrels of oil are no longer available for the next generation.

It’s like comparing someone who is living off the interest of a savings account with someone spending money from a checking account. 10% interest on savings would be the equivalent of a 1.1 EROEI. What you are claiming is that someone who pays a \$2 ATM fee to get \$20 out of a checking account has an EROEI of 10.

When you claim a oil’s EROEI is above 1 you are ignoring the fact that we are spending our principle.

28. Boodog says:

All refineries use part of the oil to make heat and steam.

Part of every barrel of oil is used to make heat and steam.

I’m a mechanical engineer. I currently work in the medical field but I use to work in the petrochemical industry.

And you, apparently, have no idea what you are writing about…none.

You can’t even do freshmen level physics and perform an energy balance.

29. When someone claims gasoline has an EROEI of 0.8 they are including all of the costs to society.

No, they aren’t. I have read the studies, and there is no such factor. They are merely looking at energy inputs and outputs. It would be a difficult thing to calculate all of the costs to society. In doing so, we also need to consider the costs of wide-scale corn farming, and the mining of our topsoil.

I am on the record as saying I am not defending gasoline when I compare the EROI of gasoline and ethanol. I am merely showing the duplicity of Wang and others when they do this analysis. The ethanol advocates have swallowed this hook, line, and sinker.

I favor getting off of gasoline. I just don’t believe ethanol is the alternative to do it. We would be far better off just using the natural gas in NG vehicles, instead of inefficiently converting it into ethanol, and then using it. For liquid fuels, I favor biodiesel. But I think we should make a move toward PHEVs, and we must drastically increase our conservation.

RR

30. All refineries use part of the oil to make heat and steam.

Part of every barrel of oil is used to make heat and steam.

You aren’t following this very well. They do generate steam with certain waste products, but a barrel of oil is not processed with part of that barrel’s inputs. The inputs are being injected from some other barrel. This is exactly the way the ethanol accounting is done, which you still can’t seem to grasp.

I’m a mechanical engineer. I currently work in the medical field but I use to work in the petrochemical industry.

Well, you should ask for a refund for your degree, because you have no idea what you are talking about. I have to ask – do you no longer work for the petrochemical industry because of competence issues?

And you, apparently, have no idea what you are writing about…none.

You can’t even do freshmen level physics and perform an energy balance.

You are the one who has refused – twice now – to do a simple exercise. My guess is that you have done it and realized your folly. You have also refused to answer my question as to whether you are an ethanol investor. I am guessing that explains your obstinance.

The reason for doing the energy balance the way I did it is this is the way the USDA did their energy balance to come up with 1.27. (At least you finally realized that, didn’t you?) I have no qualms about doing it either way – as long as you do it consistently. The USDA was doing it one way for ethanol, and another way for gasoline.

I am going to try one more time to reach you. Here goes. Easy question. Show me what you are made of. How many BTUs must be consumed to produce: 1 barrel of ethanol; 1 barrel of gasoline?

RR

31. Lets try this arguement from a different angle. Lets drop corn ethanol from the equation, drop biofuels altogehter. According to Pimentel ethanol from switchgrass is worse than from corn and soydiesel is barely better than corn ethanol.

Where I disagree with you is how you compare oil with alternatives which are claimed to be renewable if only marginally so. Here is an alternative for example: someone is proposing to install windmills someplace not well suited for them, lets assume an EROEI of 2:1 over the life of the windmills. Someone comparing this to oil the way you are comparing biofuels with oil would say they would be better off producing more oil instead.

32. Here is an alternative for example: someone is proposing to install windmills someplace not well suited for them, lets assume an EROEI of 2:1 over the life of the windmills. Someone comparing this to oil the way you are comparing biofuels with oil would say they would be better off producing more oil instead.

No, no, no. You misunderstand my position entirely. I am not suggesting that because gasoline has a superior EROI, that we should continue to favor gasoline over alternatives with an inferior EROI. Not at all. I am merely using EROI to show what a ludicrous proposition it is to claim that ethanol has a superior EROI to gasoline.

EROI is just one complaint I have against ethanol. I actually don’t have any complaints about wind, solar, and very few about biodiesel (depending on what we make it from). I strongly favor alternatives, as long as they are sustainable. Ethanol is primarily a fossil fuel, because that’s mostly what it’s made of.

RR

33. When I see when someone not include the energy in the oil pumped from the ground in the EROEI when comparing it to something else which is claimed to be renewable it looks like they are claiming there is no cost from using this oil. There is a cost ,once you use it is gone, there is no Swiftboat oilfield filled with renewble abiotic oil.

Not including the energy in oil pumped from the ground when calculating the EROEI of gasoline looks the same to me as claiming the farmers have already grown the corn, treating the energy used to grow the corn as sunk cost, and only including the energy used at the ethanol plant in the EROEI.

When Pimentel and the USDA calculate the EROEI of ethanol they include both the energy used to pump the oil, the energy in the oil, and the energy needed to refine the oil into diesel or gasoline when they do the calcuation for ethanol. It seems only fair that if you do this for one you should do it for both.

I used the windmills as an example to show you how the EROEI calculated as you have when comparing it with ethanol can easily be turned against something which really is renewable.

Try this as a more realistic example: since corn ethanol’s EROEI looks too close one to be worth the trouble someone proposes to blend the corn currently used to produce ethanol with coal and burn the mix to produce electricity ( it’s only a matter of time before someone in the farm lobby tries to mandate this ) Now lets assume the EROEI of this is 2.2 I can imagine someone in the tar sands industry not liking a competitor using the natural gas to produce ammonia for fertilizer instead of tar sands. He could easily claim based on your way of comparing EROEI’s that it would be more efficent to produce tar sands, with an EREOI of 3:1, instead.

What I’m been trying to demonstrate with my last post and this one is you should do the calculations differently when comparing oil, where you are spending the principle and something renewable where you can live on the interest.

And to spare another argument over ethanol I made my own estimate of its EROEI by using the latest USDA paper, adding Pimentel’s estimates of energy costs for machinery and the ethanol plant, and using an offset for the coproducts which made more sense to me: since 40% of the calories of the corn remain in the coproducts I used 40% energy used to produce the corn and none of the energy to produce the ethanol as a credit. I came up with an EROEI of 1.06, essentially a wash, only useful as a price support program which can slip under the radar of the WTO.

34. When I see when someone not include the energy in the oil pumped from the ground in the EROEI when comparing it to something else which is claimed to be renewable it looks like they are claiming there is no cost from using this oil.

Understand, though, that the only reason this was done was to give an apples to apples comparison to the way the USDA analyzed ethanol. That’s it. We can do it either way. But the way has to be consistent. If “boodog” had answered my questions instead of trolling the comments here, he would have seen that. Instead, he has confirmed my suspicion that he is an ethanol investor, and they are often not at all interested in substantive arguments.

When Pimentel and the USDA calculate the EROEI of ethanol they include both the energy used to pump the oil, the energy in the oil, and the energy needed to refine the oil into diesel or gasoline when they do the calcuation for ethanol. It seems only fair that if you do this for one you should do it for both.

That’s exactly right, and that’s the position I have consistently maintained. If you do the gasoline analysis such that you come up with an EROI of less than 1, you have to do the analysis for ethanol in exactly the same way. If you do so, you will find that the EROI for oil to gasoline is about 0.8, and for corn ethanol it is something like 0.25. Boo couldn’t understand this (or maybe he could?) and so he just started repeating himself.

What I’m been trying to demonstrate with my last post and this one is you should do the calculations differently when comparing oil, where you are spending the principle and something renewable where you can live on the interest.

But you have to incorporate different factors besides EROI. Fossil fuels are going to win on an EROI basis pretty much every time. So you have to consider the sustainability issues, the pollution issues, etc. My gripe is when people try to claim that the efficiency of ethanol is actually superior to the efficiency of producing gasoline. When they do this, I ask them to do the calculation I posed for boo, which he steadfastly avoided.

I came up with an EROEI of 1.06, essentially a wash, only useful as a price support program which can slip under the radar of the WTO.

And there we are on the same page. If you want to do an interesting exercise, now calculate how many BTUs you will consume to make 10 BTUs of ethanol. Now do the exercise for gasoline. That’s why the “ethanol is more efficient than gasoline” arguments are so ludicrous.

RR

35. As I indicated in the Brazilian ethanol thread, I have started deleting “boodog’s” posts. He is merely trolling at this point, repeating his fallacious points and refusing to answer my questions. If he wishes to answer the questions I posed to him – which will lead him to the understanding that the efficiency of producing ethanol is far less than the efficiency of producing gasoline – then I will let that post stand. But mere repetition, while avoiding the questions that have been posed to him, is just a waste of everyone’s time and I am not going to allow him to continue to do so.

Note that he claims to have a degree in mechanical engineering, says he worked in a refinery, and thinks it takes more energy to produce gasoline than you get out of the gasoline! LOL!

RR

36. PowerPointSamurai says:

I don’t know who came up with those fuel efficiency numbers for E85 with that Taurus you mentioned, but my own personal experience seems to fit the 10-15% claim of the Ethanol industry.

Don’t get me wrong, I think Ethanol is an imperfect interim solution, but I think it is a worthwhile interim step to get us away from foreign oil and onto other energy sources and curb our greenhouse emissions. I’m inclined to believe we get a small gain in energy through Ethanol vs. the losses claimed in some quarters (who seem to assume that all farmers plaster their fields with unGodly amounts of Anhydrous Ammonia and other nitrate fertilizers). In the end, all that is really relevant even is there is a net loss of energy is that we are taking less useful forms of energy and converting them to more useful forms of energy. We could have virtually free fusion energy right now (which we kind of do from the Sun), but it is irrelevant to all motor vehicle users right now unless you can make a car or other pieces of the transportation infrastructure run from it. Fossil Fuels, Bio-fuels, et al have ENORMOUS energy losses when you consider how much solar and geothermal energy went into producing them, but that solar and geothermal energy is pumping away whether we use it or not and is not particularly useful to a car unless concentrated into a compact, portable form of energy that we can use on demand.

As for bio-diesel, I wholeheartedly agree with you there. That is certainly a much better proposition than any other bio-fuel and a much better use for our time and effort, except for not many people own a diesel engine, and they would have to buy a new vehicle to use it. The same is technically true of Ethanol, but not of Butanol (which some claim can be made much more efficiently than Ethanol). If we could start making Butanol instead of Ethanol, then many people who cannot afford to change vehicles right now can make the fuel transition in the interim until they can afford, say, an advanced diesel hybrid.

37. I don’t know who came up with those fuel efficiency numbers for E85 with that Taurus you mentioned, but my own personal experience seems to fit the 10-15% claim of the Ethanol industry.

They came from an EPA study done in 2000. You can read the results for a number of vehicles here. They tested vehicles on E85 and regular gasoline, and most results showed a 30% or so drop.

In the end, all that is really relevant even is there is a net loss of energy is that we are taking less useful forms of energy and converting them to more useful forms of energy.

Not really, because natural gas vehicles are more fuel efficient than ethanol vehicles. So, we are taking a cheap, efficient, and clean burning source of energy and turning it into ethanol. I am writing an essay on this now.

The same is technically true of Ethanol, but not of Butanol (which some claim can be made much more efficiently than Ethanol).

Hey, I am on board with butanol:

Bio-butanol

RR

38. Have you worked any numbers on cellulosic ethanol in comparison to ethanol made from corn?

My thought is that the amount of convertible biomass from waste (including the DG Dikkers is talking about) could provide a much healthier amount of ethanol than just the amount available from corn.

I don’t think we want to completely replace oil – or even our dependence on foreign oil. We just want some political and economic leverage provided by having a domestic renewable alternative. We will also need some leverage to deal with the corn producers who will doubtless start parleying our dependence on them if we let them.

More options, less dependence, better prices, and less political friction.

I also think more sales of flex-fuel cars need to come before mandating or even incentivizing E85 pumps. What do you think?

39. Anonymous says:

It amazes me the lengths to which people will go to avoid using either human-powered transportation or more efficient mechanized transportation (aka mass transit, which is easily electrified, and thus *can* be easily made sustainable). It’s truly astounding. Driving everywhere is not sustainable. You are going to have to stop doing it at some point.

Naw… let’s just follow Arnold’s lead and drive hydrogen-powered Hummers…

40. Anonymous says:

A sidelight: I know of two researches going into highly efficient engines, basically they do the compression one place with as much cooling as possible, combust, and do the expansion in high temperature ceramic expanders. They are aiming at the back-up power market rather than automotive due to higher prices there.
For myself, I’m wanting a plug-in hybrid with a very high efficiency motor. I’ve been showing a local mechanic books on converting a vehicle to electric. If I do a pickup, and add a receptacle for a portable power unit to be carried for long trips… ! Plug in electric for short trips- hybrid for long ones. Now if only I didn’t need to pay so much of the life time cost up front!

41. While others contemplate the feasibility and the economics of corn-based ethanol as a fuel, I’m burning corn to keep my house warm this year. I’m also reducing my heating bills, and polluting less than I would be if I were heating with fossil fuels. Burning corn kernels is more efficient, because refining steps are eliminated. The inventor of the corn-burning stove was really thinking outside the box, and I can’t thank him enough.

http://solarjohn.blogspot.com

John

42. Thanks for the logical mathematical analysis and wake up call. There is no easy solution to the energy dilema. It is almost as the old mariners used to say, “Water water everywhere and not a drop to drink…” Well, in this case, one could almost say, “Energy energy everywhere and not a drop for our tanks….”.

43. Anonymous says:

It’s good to see some people have opened their eyes to this FACT! Looking at EPA and Canadian fuel ratings the best possible fuel milage on an F150 is changed from 12.1 L/100km to 15.3 L/100km do the math 3/12.1 =25% increase in fuel to maintain the same power. Old hot rodders knew this as changing to high octane alcohol required a 75% increase in fuel calibration to prevent lean burning of an engine!!! Wake up Canada and America! At these new economy rates we are still pumping out the same or more Carbon emissions, guess why politicians are all lawers and not engineers and scientists!

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