This is a repost of a repost on the Sustainable Agriculture Network listserve. I am posting the whole long article because I don't have a link to it.
> From: "SANET-MG automatic digest system"
> Date: Wed, 1 Mar 2006 17:31:44 -0500
> Subject: biofuels for addicts
> ISIS Press Release 28/02/06
> Biofuels for Oil Addicts
> Cure Worse than The Addiction
> Bioethanol and biodiesel from energy crops compete for land that grows
> food and return less energy than the fossil fuel energy squandered in
> producing them; they are also damaging to the environment and disastrous
> for the economy. Dr. Mae-Wan Ho
> A longer, fully referenced version of this article is posted on ISIS
> members' website. Details here.
> "We must break our addiction to oil", President George W. Bush said in
> his State of the Union address; but he wasn't advising people to give up
> their cars or to use less oil, say by improving the gas mileage of cars.
> Instead, he launched the "Advanced Energy Initiative" that would
> increase federal budget by 22 percent for research into clean fuel
> technologies; including biofuels derived from plants as substitutes for
> oil (see Box) to power the country's cars.
> Successive US presidents have promoted ethanol from corn as a subsidised
> fuel additive. President Bush said US scientists are now working out how
> to make ethanol from wood chips, stalks, or switch grass "practical and
> competitive within six years", which would replace more than 70 percent
> of oil imports from "unstable parts of the world" - the Middle East - by
> 2025. Currently 60 percent of the oil consumed in the US is imported, up
> from 53 percent since George W. Bush came to power.
> What are biofuels?
> Biofuels are fuels derived from crop plants, and include biomass that's
> directly burned, biodiesel from plant seed-oil, and ethanol (or
> methanol) from fermenting grain, grass, straw or wood. Biofuels have
> gained favour with environmental groups as renewable energy sources that
> are "carbon neutral", in that they do not add any greenhouse gas into
> the atmosphere; burning them simply returns to the atmosphere the carbon
> dioxide that the plants take out when they were growing in the field.
> However, they take up valuable land that should be used for growing
> food, especially in poor Third World countries. Realistic estimates show
> that making biofuels from energy crops require more fossil fuel energy
> than they yield, and do not substantially reduce greenhouse gas
> emissions when all the inputs are accounted for. Furthermore, they cause
> irreparable damages to the soil and the environment (see main text).
> Biofuels can also be produced from wood chips, crop residues and other
> agricultural and industrial wastes, which do not compete for land with
> food crops, but the environmental impacts are still substantial.
> Biofuels cannot substitute for current fossil fuel use
> Biofuels from energy crops cannot substitute for current fossil fuel
> use. The major constraints are land surface available for growing the
> crops, crop yield, and energy conversion efficiency, although economics
> also plays a large role.
> Growing crops for burning - biomass - should be the cheapest kind of
> biofuel both in energy and financial terms, as it requires minimum
> processing after harvest.
> Crop scientists at Virginia Tech, David Parrish and John Fike, reviewed
> the biology and agronomy of switchgrass, the most researched and
> favoured biofuel crop. Switchgrass is a perennial native to the USA, and
> has been extensively grown for fodder soon after the Europeans arrived.
> It is prolific, does not require much nitrogen fertilizer, and is
> considered the most sustainable, or the least environmentally damaging
> biofuel crop. But the review concluded that, "even at maximum output,
> such systems could not provide the energy currently being derived from
> fossil fuels."
> Substituting switchgrass for coal is estimated to reduce greenhouse gas
> emissions by about 1.7 t CO2 per t switchgrass. The prices that growers
> must receive for biomass, however, must be sufficiently favourable.
> Thus, about 8 m ha would be available if the price reached $ 33 per t at
> the farm gate, increasing to about 17 m ha at $44 per t. The market
> price paid for woodchip biomass in Virginia in 2004 averaged about $33
> per t delivered, and the price for hay (all kinds) is about $95 per t.
> One estimate placed the delivery costs of switchgrass at $63 per t.
> Adding the costs of processing, such as pressing into pellets or cubes
> for handling within a power plant, would bring the user's costs to about
> $83 per t. One t of switchgrass produces 17-18 GJ of energy when burned,
> compared with 27-30 GJ for coal; and coal prices are $55 per t.
> Switchgrass for energy is not at all economically competitive, unless
> substantial subsidy is available. The same applies, perforce, to other
> energy crops.
> David Pimentel, a professor of crops science at Cornell University New
> York and Tad Patzek, a professor of chemical engineering at University
> of California Berkeley, reviewed the energy balance and economics of
> producing biomass, ethanol or biodiesel from corn, switchgrass, wood,
> soybeans and sunflower using the now generally accepted life-cycle
> analysis. Although there is much controversy over the energy balance of
> ethanol and biodiesel, the energy balance of biomass yield is generally
> less subject to dispute, and is therefore a useful starting point.
> It turns out that switchgrass has the most favourable output/input
> energy ratio of 14.52, followed by wheat at 12.88, and oilseed rape at
> 9.21, if the straw is included. Switchgrass is hence the most promising
> energy crop, whether as biomass for burning or to make other fuels
> downstream, such as ethanol.
> A quick calculation showed that even if all the farmland in the United
> States were converted to growing switchgrass, it would not produce
> enough ethanol for the country's fossil fuel use. Switchgrass takes
> several years to mature. The yield ranges from 0 for complete failure of
> the crop to take hold to 20 t or more per ha, a lot depending on the
> rainfall. A yield of 15 t /ha is optimistic; and would provide some 250
> GJ/ha of raw chemical energy a year. If that energy could be converted
> with 70 percent efficiency into electricity, ethanol, methanol etc., it
> would take about 460 m ha to produce the 80EJ (ExaJoule = 1018J) fossil
> fuel energy used in the USA each year. The total farmland in the USA is
> 380 m ha, of which 175 m ha is harvested cropland.
> Clearly, energy crops are a bad option, and may become obsolete as
> ethanol can now be made from wood chips, crop residues and other
> agricultural wastes, and industrial wastes, though even that is not
> sustainable ("Ethanol from wood biomass not sustainable", this series).
> Do you get more energy out of biofuel than the fossil fuel energy you
> put in?
> There is a huge debate over the energy balance of making ethanol or
> biodiesel out of energy crops, with David Pimentel and Tad Patzek
> presenting negative energy balance for all crops based on current
> processing methods, i.e., it takes more fossil energy input to produce
> the equivalent energy in biofuel. Thus for each unit of energy spent in
> fossil fuel, the return is 0.778 unit of energy in maize ethanol, 0.688
> unit in switchgrass ethanol, 0.636 unit in wood ethanol, and worst of
> all, 0.534 unit in soybean biodiesel.
> Their paper has provoked a strong riposte from several US government
> departments, accusing Pimentel and Patzek of using obsolete figures, of
> not counting the energy content of by-products such as the seedcake
> (residue left after oil is extracted) that can be used as animal feed,
> and of including energy used for building processing plants, farm
> machinery, and labour, not usually included in such assessments.
> For their part, Pimentel and Patzek, along with many other scientists
> like me, are critical of estimates that produce positive energy balance
> precisely because they leave out necessary energy investments. In fact,
> neither Pimentel and Patzek nor their critics have included the costs of
> waste treatment and disposal or the environmental impacts of intensive
> bioenergy crop cultivation such as depletion of soil and environmental
> pollution from fertilizers and pesticides.
> To apportion processing-energy to coproducts according to their bulk
> composition in the seed may appear unexceptionable. Only 18 percent of
> the soybean is oil that makes biodiesel, while the rest is soybean cake
> used as animal feed. However, as the seedcake is produced as soon as the
> oil is extracted, it is simply creative accounting to attribute 82
> percent of the downstream processing energy for biodiesel - which is
> quite substantial - to the animal feed.
> Energy balance of ethanol from corn
> Sure enough, a new study comparing six estimates of energy balance of
> corn ethanol did find that "net energy calculations are most sensitive
> to assumptions about coproduct allocation".
> The new study, carried out by researchers at the University of
> California Berkeley, published in the journal Science, evaluated six
> analyses of corn-ethanol production, including those of Pimentel and
> Patzek. The researchers developed a 'model' to allow them to compare the
> data and assumptions across the analyses. Pimentel and Patzek's negative
> energy balance stood out in including energy used for building
> processing plants, farm machinery, and labour, and for not giving credit
> for co-products. Removing those "incommensurate" factors nevertheless
> resulted in only a modest positive energy balance of just over 3
> MJ/litre to 8 MJ/litre ethanol in the analyses that gave positive energy
> balance, which translates to 1.13 to 1.34 for energy output/energy input
> (there being 23.4MJ in one litre of ethanol), while the reduction in
> greenhouse gas emissions averaged about 13 percent.
> The researchers have devised a way of presenting energy balance in terms
> of "petroleum input" - expressed as MJ petrol/MJ ethanol - that puts a
> very positive gloss on the figures and is very misleading. It
> essentially adds one hundred percent energy credit to the ethanol
> because it assumes that the ethanol substitutes 100 percent for fossil
> fuel use.
> The researchers then used the "best data" from the six analyses to
> "create" three cases with their model (hence all hypothetical): Ethanol
> Today, that claims to include typical values for the current US corn
> ethanol industry; CO2 Intensive, based on plans to ship Nebraska corn to
> a lignite-powered ethanol plant in North Dakota, and Cellulosic, which
> assumes that production of ethanol from switchgrass cellulose becomes
> economic, an admitted "preliminary estimate of a rapidly evolving
> he three cases, the researchers found a positive energy balance: a
> whopping 23 MJ/litre ethanol for Cellulosic, 5 MJ/litre for Ethanol
> Today, and 1.2 MJ/litre for CO2 Intensive; the corresponding
> output/input energy ratios are 1.98, 1.21, and 1.05 respectively.
> Cellulosic is the clear winner in terms of energy balance, and also by a
> long shot in net greenhouse gas emission saved, which is 89 percent; the
> corresponding values for Ethanol Today and CO2 Intensive are 17 percent
> and about 2 percent respectively.
> These analyses show that current production methods, represented by
> Ethanol Today and CO2 Intensive, offer but a small positive energy
> balance and little if any savings in greenhouse gas emissions, even with
> the most favourable assumptions built in.
> Bad economics of ethanol from corn
> Ethanol constitute 99 percent of all biofuels in the United States; 3.4
> billion gallons of ethanol were produced in 2004 and blended into
> gasoline, amounting to about 2 percent of all gasoline sold by volume
> and 1.3 percent of its energy content.
> Ethanol use is set to expand as the federal government has introduced a
> 0.51 tax credit per gallon of ethanol and issued a new mandate for 7.5
> billion gallons of "renewable fuel" to be used in gasoline by 2012,
> which is included in the recently passed Energy Policy Act (EPACT 2005).
> Pimentel and Patzek have shown not only that the energy return is
> substantially negative, the economics is worse. About 50 percent of the
> cost of producing ethanol is for the corn feedstock itself
> ($0.28/litre). Ethanol costs a lot more to produce than it is worth on
> the market, and without federal and state subsidies amounting to some $3
> billion per year, corn ethanol production in the US would cease. Senator
> McCain reports that total ethanol subsidies amount to $0.79/ litre;
> adding the production costs would bring the cost to $1.24/litre. Ethanol
> has only 66 percent as much energy per litre as gasoline; so corn
> ethanol costs $1.88 per litre- or $7.12 per gallon- equivalent of
> gasoline, compared to the current cost of producing gasoline, which is
> Federal and state subsidies for ethanol production that total
> $0.79/litre mainly end up in the pocket of large corporations, with a
> maximum of $0.02 per bushel, or 0.2 cent/litre ethanol going to the
> The total costs to the consumer in subsidizing ethanol and corn
> production is estimated at $8.4 billion/yr, because producing the
> required corn feedstock increases corn prices. One estimate is that
> ethanol production adds more than $1 billion to the cost of beef
> Clearly ethanol from corn is neither sustainable nor economical, and a
> lot of effort has been devoted to finding alternative feedstock.
> Worse energy yields as accounting gets more realistic
> In a detailed rebuttal to the Science paper showing a positive energy
> balance in ethanol production from corn, Patzek exposed the major flaws
> in energy accounting used, which greatly inflated the energy return.
> These include:
> Failure to account for the energy in corn grains as energy input
> Assuming an impossibly high yield of corn ethanol at variance with real
> data available
> Assigning away undue energy costs in ethanol production, in particular,
> distillation, to coproducts such as fermentation residues that have
> nothing to do with ethanol production.
> In addition, the ethanol industry routinely inflates the ethanol yield
> by counting as ethanol the 5 percent of gasoline added to corn ethanol
> as denaturant; by taking the amount of fermentable starch to be the
> total extractable starch, although not all of the latter is fermentable;
> and by taking the weight of wet corn (average 18 percent moisture) as
> dry corn.
> When the energy accounting done by different authors is reanalysed on
> the same set of realistic data, energy yields come out remarkably
> uniform. The output/input ratio varies between 0.245 and 0.310. In other
> words, the energy balance is strongly negative: for every unit used in
> making corn ethanol, one gets at most 0.3 unit of energy back. It takes
> at least 9 times more fossil fuel energy to produce ethanol from corn at
> the refinery gate than gasoline or diesel fuel from crude oil.
> As Patzek points out, the 7.5 billion gallons of ethanol mandated by the
> 2005 Energy Bill by 2012 could be compensated by an increase of car
> mileage by just one mile per gallon, excluding gas-guzzling SUVs and
> light trucks.
> The economic consequences of excessive corn production have been
> devastating. The price of corn in Iowa, the largest corn producer,
> declined 10-fold between 1949 and 2005 as corn yields have tripled.
> Today, Iowa farmers earn a third for the corn they sell compared to
> 1949, while their production costs increased manifold, because they burn
> methane and diesel to produce corn. The price of methane has increased
> several-fold in the last three years. "Corn crop subsidies supplemented
> the market corn price by up to 50 percent between 1995 and 2004." Patzek
> writes, predicting more concentration of industrial corn production in
> gigantic farms operated by large agribusiness corporations, and real
> farmers will only rent the land.
> An industrial raw material at rock-bottom price can now be processed
> into ethanol at a significant profit, further enhanced by a federal
> subsidy of 50 cents per gallon ethanol, plus state and local community
> Patzek concludes: "the United States has already wasted a lot of time,
> money, and natural resources...pursuing a mirage of an energy scheme
> that cannot possibly replace fossil fuels.The only real solution is to
> limit the rate of use of these fossil fuels. Everything else will lead
> to an eventual national disaster."
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