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Ethanol Production

ALH_4 Member Posts: 1,790
There is a lack of critical thinking by the public when it comes to searching for alternative sources of energy. Few know about transmission losses when it comes to electricity. Do we really want to waste that much energy to heat? How many people have thought about the amount of petroleum that goes into ethanol production? How about the efficiency of solar hot water panels versus photovoltaic panels? How many people (not including those reading this) have even thought about solar hot water heating?

All environmental and climate change concerns aside, we have a major problem facing us, and ethanol is not the answer.


  • Very near me, two large ethanol plants are currently underway and a third awaiting approval. They'll be virtually next door to one another. Big article in the newspaper today about some complaining of excessive pollution caused by so much production in so small an area.

    But something else caught my attention:

    An "expert" was quoted as saying it takes about 3,350 cubic feet of natural gas to produce a gallon of ethanol. YIKES! That's 3,400,250 BTUs from just the natural gas to produce a gallon of ethanol containing 76,000 BTUs.

    At current wholesale market price that's about $23 worth of natural gas to make a single gallon of ethanol.

    Surely this is an error along the lines of "3,350 BTUs from natural gas", right? If anywhere near correct I can understand now why energy providers have jumped onto the ethanol bandwagon...
  • ALH_4
    ALH_4 Member Posts: 1,790

    Petroelum "subsidization" of ethanol is throughout the process. Tractors burn diesel. Fertilizer is petroleum based. Irrigation equipment may be run on fossil fuels.

    There was a pretty good article on ethanol in Motor Trend a while back. It certainly is not an answer to our fuel needs. The price of grain is currently quite high. Could this have anything to do with ethanol trends? How much does a loaf of bread have to cost before we decided we would rather eat than drive? Is it possible that this choice is in our future?

    Incidentally, the price of bread and cereal seems to have virtually no connection to the price of grain. However, the price of gasoline also seems to have very little connection to the cost of production.
  • Perry_3
    Perry_3 Member Posts: 498
    That's and obvious misquote

    About 2 years ago I looked into the subject and found that the energy equivance for production of ethonal was now about 80% of what was in a gallon of ethonal.

    Thus, now it is more efficient to produce ethonal than its total cost of production (including the tractor fuel, fertilizer, etc).

    When it started about 15 years ago it was about 120% and only existed because of the direct govement mandates to use ethonal in gasoline.

    However, when you also look at the air polution it causes and the fact that you are literally limiting food production now to make ethonal I really question its viability.

  • scott markle_2
    scott markle_2 Member Posts: 611
    bio fools

    What I'm reading is that corn based ethanol is not a highly efficient way of producing fuel. No specific numbers to cite, but what often gets lost in these discussion is the entire production cycle. Sizable hydrocarbon inputs are used in modern monoculture. Herbicides, pesticides,fertilizer,etc. Subsidies hide the real costs. Add to this the "hidden" environmental costs (topsoil erosion, water pollution,etc.) and the viability of many biofuel ideas become very questionable.

    Modern food production technology aka. the green revolution is not without it's problems. While the technology of modern monoculture farming has greatly increased the per hectare yields of important crops, it does so in a way that many argue is inherently unsustainable.

    Modern farming owes it's impressive productivity largely to petrochemicals. Thus the logic of believing that we can use biofuels to sustainably mitigate petrochemical shortages is inherently flawed.

    Advances in genetic engineering may make cellulosic ethanol practical,without such large energy inputs. low maintenance, no till crops such as switch-grass could be grown on marginal agricultural land fertilized with municipal waste. These are ideas worth funding.

    The money spent developing corn based ethanol would be much more effective if used to subsidize efficiency.

    This is pork spending for corn states and ethanol plant builders, not sensible investment in energy security.
  • scott markle_2
    scott markle_2 Member Posts: 611

    Perry, Am I understanding you correctly? does that mean that only 20% of the energy in a gallon of ethanol actually comes from renewable (the sun), once we subtract the inputs?
  • Brad White
    Brad White Member Posts: 2,393
    Absent Federal Subsidies

    Ethanol goes away as a fuel substitute.

    Ethanol does not transport well so has limited pipeline distribution and must be trucked. This also detracts from the net number.

    For distillation, I would say the natural gas figures given by Mike are off by a decimal point, that magnitude, but heating does speed up the process. The bio-based ethanol relies on normal yeast-based decomposition (slow). Less energy needed but you have to wait for your cocktail.

    Most gasoline in my area (Boston) has 10% ethanol, mostly I was told as is a form of gas line anti-freeze. Ever use Dri-Gas? Denatured alcohol is all it is.

    Miscible with water, it keeps gas lines from freezing by entraining the water to be burned in the engine but also helps the distribution piping as well.
    "If you do not know the answer, say, "I do not know the answer", and you will be correct!"

    -Ernie White, my Dad
  • Ken_40
    Ken_40 Member Posts: 1,320
    Ever mix ...

    denatured alcohol with gasoline?

    They don't mix. You need a catalyst like acetone.

    I suspect we all know a gallon of ethanol is not even close BTU-wise to gasoline or diesel/# 2? But the poublic thinks it is.

    Wait until they find their winter blended ethanol laced gasoline reduces gas mileage by 3-5%...

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  • ALH_4
    ALH_4 Member Posts: 1,790
    Energy content

    Ethanol has approximately 2/3 the energy content of gasoline. Who will make my fuel tank 50% bigger?
  • Brad White
    Brad White Member Posts: 2,393
    Denatured Alcohol and Gasoline

    Hi Ken-

    News to me but you may be right, for how could I tell?


    I have used denatured alcohol in a pinch for pennies instead of buying a dollars worth of it in a small can. I have tried the acetone thing as a gasoline booster, I think it may be a hoax.

    Anyway, the denatured alcohol did solve the gas line freeze-up problems and so does keeping your tank nearly full.
    "If you do not know the answer, say, "I do not know the answer", and you will be correct!"

    -Ernie White, my Dad
  • Ken_40
    Ken_40 Member Posts: 1,320
    Back when I was a kid...

    In the 60's, we mixed straight methanol and gasoline and found a trace amount of acetone required for them to "mix."

    We were into drag racing in a serious manner and we all knew the dragsters ran methanol, not gas. Nitro was strictly for the big leagues so methanol was the poor man's "hot" fuel d'jour. We messed with beekers and got something like a 60/40 blend of gas/alcohol and found something like 3-4% acetone would miraculously allow the two disimilar fuels to blend. Jets had to be drilled on all six carbs. All very crude testing, but we had access to a dynamometr and spent an all-nighter tweaking the "blend" and jet sizes to maximize HP. I frget the details but we were mightly close to 500 HP out of a 430 cube Lincoln/Mercury engine w/ 6-deuces, cam, ignition and too many paychecks to recall the net outcome.

    For a while, we owned the 'A'- Gas class, despite running "fuel" that was hardly straight gas. Had the runs been anything but "grudge races," we would never had met NHRA fuel tampering tests. The blue flame from the pipes were rather obvious...

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  • Brad White
    Brad White Member Posts: 2,393
    Ken- You did all that

    yet retained serious hair and serious brain cells, somehow surviving...

    I knew your first-hand experience had visual back-up. Thanks for sharing that. Never occurred to me.
    "If you do not know the answer, say, "I do not know the answer", and you will be correct!"

    -Ernie White, my Dad
  • John_102
    John_102 Member Posts: 119
    another article

    Ethanol is a fairly bogus energy solution. I'd like to reduce dependence on imported oil. I'd like to reduce production of greenhouse gases. I'd like to . . . .

    The January 2007 issue of Scientific American has a good, non-technical article on the non-sustainability of ethanol.

    My opinion is that politicians (Rep & Dem, left & right) who represent corn-growing districts are the chief proponents of this fuel source.

    Prices for corn are rising, even without demand from the ethanol industry. If we want to produce crop-based bio-fuel, there are better technologies and we can feed the corn to livestock & people.
  • Wayco Wayne_2
    Wayco Wayne_2 Member Posts: 2,479

    has had remarkable success using Ethanol because it is tied into their sugar processing. Sugar is their biggest export so they use all of the byproducts and left over materials from the process to make their ethanol. Since for some reason we use corn in this country I think we ought to boost the need by drinking more corn based liquor. May Jack Daniels save our Country. WW

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