The Last Ethanol Post

The purpose of this article is to put to rest once and for all the fantasy that ethanol can have a major impact in energy independence. It can't and here is why.

Land ... Land ... Land ...

It doesn't matter if it costs less than a gallon of gas to produce, which it certainly does not. It doesn't matter if it emits less CO2, which it doesn't. What matters is that we cannot grow enough of any crop to produce enough ethanol to cover more than a fraction of our fuel needs.

Its not that we are incapable of growing things, its that we don't have enough land to grow it on.

Simple math with undisputed numbers will show that its is pure folly to consider ethanol for more than a fraction of our fuel needs.

So, lets get to it. First, the basics. Current output per acre is 150 bushels per year. At 2.7 gallons of ethanol per bushel we get 405 gallons of ethanol per acre per year. You all still with me ?

Our current gas and diesel consumption is 500 million gallons per day. Given the energy difference between ethanol and gas/diesel of .7 we see that 100% ethanol fuel would require 714 million gallons of ethanol per day, 257 billion gallons per year.

10% of that, 25.7 billion gallons would require 92,000 square miles of farmland at 697 acres per square mile. 25% would require 230,000 square miles. 100% would require 920,000 square miles.

Lets talk about that in terms of Iowas, 10% = 1.6 Iowas, 25% = 4.12 Iowas, 100% = 16.49 Iowas. Or in terms of Californias, 10% = .56 Californias, 100% = 5.6 Californias. That is every square inch of land in use, no land used for anything else, like housing or roads and such.

Now lets compare that to the current amount of land used for all farmland, including feedstock, is about 500,000 square miles. We currently farm 72,000,000 acres of corn (103,000 sq. miles), 80%of which is used for feedstock.

So to get to about 50% ethanol fuel supply we would have to stop growing all other agriculture. Imagine what food prices would be then. We could of course farm new acerage for this corn but given that farmland has been shrinking I don't see how that would be possible.

Now given that it requires trucks to move the corn from the field to the plant 50% ethanol would require 145,000 extra trucks on the road every day of the week, 52 weeks a year. All burning something, ethanol or diesel, all producing CO2.

Anyone that believes that ethanol can be anything more than a boutique vehicle fuel is either a fool or in the pocket of big corn.

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