Common Tragedies

Thoughts on Environmental Economics

Strike Three for Ethanol (this week)

Posted by jab12004 on April 14, 2009

Corn ethanol just can’t catch a break it seems. In the wake of the CBO report which found that ethanol will likely increase GHGs in the long run and the study on antibiotic resistant bacteria from ethanol production, comes a study which finds ethanol uses three times more water than originally thought. Here is a summary.

Previous studies estimated that a gallon of corn-based bioethanol requires the use of 263 to 784 gallons of water from the farm to the fuel pump. But these estimates failed to account for widely varied regional irrigation practices, the scientists say. The scientists made a new estimate of bioethanol’s impact on the water supply using detailed irrigation data from 41 states… a gallon of ethanol may require up to over 2,100 gallons of water from farm to fuel pump, depending on the regional irrigation practice in growing corn. However, a dozen states in the Corn Belt consume less than 100 gallons of water per gallon of ethanol, making them better suited for ethanol production. link

My knowledge of water is limited, but I do know that using 2,100 gallons of water for a gallon of ethanol is terrible. Proponents of ethanol might point out that the Corn Belt ratio of 100:1 isn’t that bad, and I would agree. The problem is that as we continually increase corn ethanol production, we will have to further expand production out of this region into less efficient areas. Right now, the U.S. produces  around 9 billion gallons of corn ethanol per year. I’m scared to think about our water situation will be when we reach the 15 billion gallons of corn ethanol mandated under the RFS in 2015.

2 Responses to “Strike Three for Ethanol (this week)”

  1. Edward Robert said

    An important rider for the RFS would be to ban the use of irrigated corn for ethanol production when it comes from areas in which water resources are at risk. Important to the dialogue would be an economic formula that considered the known variables, and assigned a rating for corn in a given environment. Such a ratings system would provide important objective data for those making political decisions.

    • Carlos Ferreira said

      Ban ethanol production in areas where water resources are at risk? Wouldn’t it be smarter to import ethanol from areas where production is more efficient? You could be importing 2100 gallons of water for the cost of 1 gallon of imported ethanol – a bargain if I have ever seen one.

      DISCLAIMER: the environmentalist inside me still wants ethanol and other biofuels to crawl in a hole and die.

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