DOE National Laboratory Expert Notes Energy Benefits of Ethanol
August 31, 2005
DOE's Argonne National Laboratory announced on August 23rd that one of its researchers recently completed a study that defends the energy and environmental benefits of producing ethanol from corn and other biomass sources. Argonne researcher Michael Wang presented research at the National Press Club confirming that ethanol fuel substantially helps reduce fossil fuel and petroleum use, when compared with gasoline. Wang also found that ethanol produced from corn achieves moderate reductions in greenhouse gases. Ethanol produced from grass and other "cellulosic" or woody biomass sources can achieve much greater energy and greenhouse gas benefits. See the Argonne press release.
The Argonne research dismisses an ongoing academic argument about the amount of energy needed to produce ethanol. A paper published in the March edition of "Natural Resources Research" by researchers at Cornell University and the University of California at Berkeley claims that ethanol production from corn requires 29 percent more energy than is provided by the resulting ethanol fuel. In contrast, a 2004 study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) found that ethanol produces 67 percent more energy than is consumed in its production. But according to the Argonne research, what really matters is that ethanol compares favorably to gasoline, the fuel it replaces. See the Berkeley/Cornell study (PDF 114 KB), posted on UC Berkeley's Petroleum Engineering Web site, and the USDA study (PDF 23 KB), posted on the Renewable Fuel Association (RFA) Web site. Download Adobe Reader.
The ethanol fuel industry continues to set new records: in June, the industry set an all-time monthly production record of 249,000 barrels per day, 12 percent more than the industry produced in June 2004. In recent months, an ethanol plant was completed in Kansas, and existing plants in New Mexico and South Dakota were significantly expanded. Construction also began on new ethanol plants in Iowa, Michigan, and North Dakota. Currently, 88 ethanol plants nationwide have the capacity to produce over 3.9 billion gallons annually. There are 16 ethanol plants and two major expansions under construction with a combined annual capacity of nearly 1 billion gallons. See the press releases on the RFA Web site.