Saturday, July 01, 2006


An up-close look at ethanomania

(A local technical evaluator writes about a recent project.)

"I'm presently evaluating an ethanol plant air pollution permit for a 110 million gallon per year facility in west central Illinois. You can be sure that most new plants will probably be in this size range.

The lower heating value (LHV) of ethanol is about 76,000 BTU per gallon. As a result, this facility will produce ethanol as fuel of about 8.36 E+06 Million BTU per year (8,360,000 million BTU/year)

However, to produce this much ethanol the facility will burn up to 3720 million cubic feet of natural gas. At a low heating value of 930 BTU per cubic foot, this is equivalent to 3.45E+06 Million BTU per year.....making this facility a real natural gas energy hog that you and I compete with when we purchase natural gas to heat our homes.

If you were to replace the natural gas to burn in the ethanol plant with burning plant production instead, you'd have to take about 45 million gallons of ethanol to burn out of every 110 million gallons of ethanol you produced leaving only 65 million gallons per year to sell.

This does not count all of the fossil fuel energy or equivalent BTU value of process inputs to grow the corn 1.1 million tons of corn this facility.

The process of fermentation itself is a little like combustion as this facility's fermentation process will release considerable carbon dioxide and that doesn't include the carbon dioxide that will be released when the ethanol is burned. This does not include the carbon dioxide released from the thermal oxidizers and dryers at the ethanol plant.

All carbon dioxide emissions are bad for the global warming problem, even if such emissions come from renewable resources. This also doesn't count the methane and ethane released by fermentation which are also greenhouse gases.

The primary reason the facility is being built is taxpayer subsidies. The taxpayer subsidies exist because there is a glut of corn on the market and the power of the agriculture lobby, and the glut of corn exists because of our national brain-dead policy approaches to agricultural production."

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