New research shows corn ethanol improvements

Corn-based ethanol fuel may not be a “crime against humanity” after all. New research (pdf) shows that newer plants can produce a fuel that reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent and replaces a lot of fossil fuel:

The ethanol industry currently is producing a fuel that is 48 to 59 percent lower in direct-effect lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions than gasoline. That’s two to three times the reduction reported in earlier studies that did not take into account recent advances in corn-ethanol production.
The net energy ratio, which averaged 1.2 to 1 in earlier studies, is 1.5-1.8 to 1 in the recent research, Cassman said. That means that for every unit of energy it takes to make ethanol, 1.5 to 1.8 units of energy are produced as ethanol.
Even more striking is the corn ethanol’s potential to replace oil. This new study estimates that 10-19 gallons of ethanol are produced for every gallon of petroleum used in the entire corn-ethanol production life cycle. The range in the ethanol-oil replacement value, as well as the ranges measured for net energy efficiency and GHG emissions reduction, are due to differences in crop management practices and ethanol plant performance.

That’s a lot better than previous studies, but the net energy ratio of less than 2 to 1 still sucks (biodiesel from virgin soy oil has a 3.5 to 1 ratio). Maybe if everyone in the US could travel 200 miles on a gallon of fuel this could work. We’d only have to produce 15 Billion gallons a year …

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