Research shows U.S. ethanol facilities use less energy, water

By Timothy Charles Holmseth | April 08, 2008
Web exclusive posted April 25, 2008 at 11:02 a.m. CST

Statistics compiled at Argonne National Laboratory from 2001 through 2006 reveal that American ethanol facilities are using less energy and water than they had just a few years ago.

According to the Argonne analysis, in 2001 ethanol production was 1.77 billion gallons. In 2006 that amount increased to 4.9 billion gallons, representing a growth of 276 percent. During the growth period significant statistics developed in favor of ethanol's already green footprint.

According to the analysis: water consumption is down 26.6 percent; grid electricity use is down 15.7 percent; and total energy use is down 21.8 percent.

Renewable Fuels Association President Bob Dinneen said the statistics are a good sign. "In the past five years, America's ethanol industry has shown its ability to increasingly meet the fuels needs of the nation while addressing the climate change concerns of the planet," he said.

According to the RFA, the increased use of ethanol is helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions emanated from America's automobile fleet. The Greenhouse Gases, Regulated Emissions, and Energy Use in Transportation (GREET) model was developed to evaluate various vehicle and fuel combinations on a full fuel cycle basis. The GREET model showed that the use of 6.5 billion gallons of ethanol in 2007 resulted in the reduction of carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas emissions by 10 million tons; the equivalent of removing more than 1.5 million cars from American roads.

The Argonne analysis also found that nearly 25 percent of ethanol producers are currently capturing their carbon dioxide omissions for use in dry-ice production and carbonated beverage bottling. In addition, 37 percent of distillers grains are now sold in wet form, reducing the energy needs to dry and transport the product.

Matt Hartwig, a spokesman for the RFA, said the progress is quite positive in comparison to the direction of the petroleum industry, which has exploited all "easy" oil reserves and must now drill deeper and go further into environmentally sensitive areas. According to the RFA, evidence of negative environmental impact by the petroleum industry can be found in the cleared boreal forests of Alberta, Canada. Environmental Defense Canada reports that oil producers who are mining the sand for oil, emits 300 percent more greenhouse gases than the traditional petroleum production, Hartwig said. He added, it has been defined as "the most destructive project on earth."

"As the world's demand for liquid motor fuels increase, it is imperative that we diversify away from petroleum as the sole source for these fuels," Dinneen said. "In the next five years, America's ethanol producers will demonstrate their ability to develop and employ new technologies that further greenhouse gas emissions, grow our nation's supply of renewable fuel, and expand the basket of products from which ethanol is made. The future of this industry is bright and green."