Common Tragedies

Thoughts on Environmental Economics

Ethanol Sentence(s) of the Day

Posted by Evan Herrnstadt on January 15, 2008

A new USDA study regarding cellulosic ethanol has been widely reported, but I gleaned the information from ScienceDaily. It was the first study to examine the lifecycle emissions of switchgrass-based ethanol in the context of mechanized farming techniques.

The researchers then used that information, together with a model that calculates the amount of ethanol that can be produced per kilogram of switchgrass, and found that the switchgrass could provide 540 percent more energy than went into producing it.

Using high-input agricultural techniques instead of low-input prairie planting, yields per acre went up 93 percent. A major caveat of the study is the fact that no commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol plant exists. Thus, the 540 percent number is partially based on estimates drawn from lab tests and pilot-scale plants. In that vein, the DOE has six full-scale cellulosic demonstration refineries in the works:

The U.S. Department of Energy announced last February that it will spend up to $385 million to partially fund six cellulosic ethanol refineries. In November construction began on the first plant, the Range Fuels biorefinery in Soperton, Ga., which will produce ethanol from wood waste.

You know, now that a certain state (that shall remain nameless) has voted in its disproportionately influential primary/caucus, it’ll be interesting to see whether direct subsidies to corn ethanol will fade to the background of the Presidential candidates’ energy planks in favor of other more efficient policies, such as carbon pricing and R&D funding.

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