[Plant-education] Re: bioethanol

Robinson, Dr. David via plant-ed%40net.bio.net (by drobinson At bellarmine.edu)
Sat Jan 6 13:24:49 EST 2007

But doesn't the current period we are in now (where bioethanol is made
from corn and other intensively-farmed crops) just a transitional phase?

Once the technology is improved, and the infrastructure is better
established, and the demand for ethanol increases, isn't it feasible
that other sources for synthesizing ethanol could start to be utilized?
These other sources might include:  yard trash, garbage, recycled food,
biomass from weedy fields, manure, restaurant waste, sawdust from lumber
mills, etc.

It makes sense that using carbon energy generated in contemporary times
has to better in the long run than harvesting fossil fuels that were
generated millions of years ago....not only in terms of carbon dioxide
in the atmosphere, but in terms of petroleum supply/demand.  

And who says farmers have to grow corn in such a petroleum-rich fashion,
anyway?  If agriculture used less chemical fertilizer and used methods
like crop rotation, green manure, animal manure, and other so-called
sustainable farming techniques wouldn't David Pimental's calculations
have to be redone?  Maybe that's what we should be pushing for...making
agriculture less petroleum-dependent, rather than attacking the use of
corn for bioethanol production.

And isn't it the "job" of government to subsidize ideas like this when
they don't make economic sense in the beginning???  Aren't we just in
the earliest stages of implementaion? Eventually demand for bioethanol
will pick up, prices will increase, the technology will get better, and
the alternatives (fossil fuel) will become less attractive and less
available.  Then the government can stop subsidizing the biofuel
industry, and it can take-off by itself.

For instance, think of all the money invested in the U.S. space program
back in the 1960s...it didn't really make economic sense then (I do like
to drink Tang though....ha).  But eventually it did pay off....even more
in the future than now.

So we don't have to nix the idea from the beginning, just because its
not totally economically logical at this very moment....I think this is
a very exciting time.  

P.S.  I don't work for agri-industry!

Dave Robinson, Chair
Biology Department
Bellarmine University
2001 Newburg Road
Louisville, KY  40205


-----Original Message-----
From: plant-ed-bounces At oat.bio.indiana.edu
[mailto:plant-ed-bounces At oat.bio.indiana.edu] On Behalf Of David R.
Sent: Saturday, January 06, 2007 12:08 AM
To: bionet-plants-education At magpie.bio.indiana.edu
Subject: [Plant-education] Re: bioethanol

Tad Patzek of the University of California, Berkeley, and David Pimental
of Cornell University have published detailed analyses that indicate
that bioethanol production requires more energy as fossil fuel than
present in the bioethanol.

The National Corn Growers Association has analyses from consultants and
federal government scientists that show a net gain in energy for corn
bioethanol production.

I find Patzek and Pimental's analyses much more believable. If corn
ethanol production yielded more energy than it required, the corn
ethanol industry would be able to run all their fertilizer and pesticide
factories, farm machinery and ethanol production facilties on bioethanol
rather than fossil fuels and still have a net production of ethanol. I
have never heard this even being attempted on a pilot project basis.

Large U.S. government subsidies for the corn bioethanol industry are
attractive politically for several reasons. They create jobs in farm
states. They make it appear that the government is doing something to
counter global warming. They make it appear that the government is
working to reduce dependence on foreign oil.


Patzek, T.W. 2006. Thermodynamics of the corn-ethanol biofuel cycle.
updated web version of Critical Reviews in Plant Sciences 23: 519-567

National Corn Growers Association. The Truth About Ethanol - Addressing
the Myths of the Pimentel/Patzek Study

Google search for ethanol boondoogle

David Alan Walker wrote:
> Agricultural food production in the UK is reckoned to be about the 
> most efficient (yields per acre) in the 'Western World'. Yet, if all 
> of the sums are done, it turns out that there is no net energy gain. 
> It is, in fact, "a very inefficient way of turning oil in to 
> potatoes". Where does this leave bioethanol production from
conventional and unconventional crops?
> Clearly many of the inputs are about the same but then there is the 
> additional, inescapable energy cost of distillation. O.K., 
> distillation processes are more energy efficient than they were a few 
> decades ago but, in the end, there is no way round the laws of 
> physics. Does any one have itemised details of the energy inputs
involved ?
> Many thanks,
> David

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