Ouch. Corn biofuel could generate more greenhouse gases than gasoline

From the “we told you so back in 2010″ department and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Study casts doubt on climate benefit of biofuels from corn residue

The fuel could generate more greenhouse gases than gasoline

Corn+Gas+Tank[1]

Lincoln, Neb., April 20, 2014 — Using corn crop residue to make ethanol and other biofuels reduces soil carbon and can generate more greenhouse gases than gasoline, according to a study published today in the journal Nature Climate Change.

 

The findings by a University of Nebraska-Lincoln team of researchers cast doubt on whether corn residue can be used to meet federal mandates to ramp up ethanol production and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Corn stover — the stalks, leaves and cobs in cornfields after harvest — has been considered a ready resource for cellulosic ethanol production. The U.S. Department of Energy has provided more than $1 billion in federal funds to support research to develop cellulosic biofuels, including ethanol made from corn stover. While the cellulosic biofuel production process has yet to be extensively commercialized, several private companies are developing specialized biorefineries capable of converting tough corn fibers into fuel.

The researchers, led by assistant professor Adam Liska, used a supercomputer model at UNL’s Holland Computing Center to estimate the effect of residue removal on 128 million acres across 12 Corn Belt states. The team found that removing crop residue from cornfields generates an additional 50 to 70 grams of carbon dioxide per megajoule of biofuel energy produced (a joule is a measure of energy and is roughly equivalent to 1 BTU). Total annual production emissions, averaged over five years, would equal about 100 grams of carbon dioxide per megajoule — which is 7 percent greater than gasoline emissions and 62 grams above the 60 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions as required by the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act.

Importantly, they found the rate of carbon emissions is constant whether a small amount of stover is removed or nearly all of it is stripped.

“If less residue is removed, there is less decrease in soil carbon, but it results in a smaller biofuel energy yield,” Liska said.

To mitigate increased carbon dioxide emissions and reduced soil carbon, the study suggests planting cover crops to fix more carbon in the soil. Cellulosic ethanol producers also could turn to alternative feedstocks, such as perennial grasses or wood residue, or export electricity from biofuel production facilities to offset emissions from coal-fueled power plants. Another possible alternative is to develop more fuel-efficient automobiles and significantly reduce the nation’s demand for fuel, as required by the 2012 CAFE standards.

IMAGE: Corn residue is being baled on a University of Nebraska-Lincoln field experiment site in Saunders County, Neb.

Click here for more information.

Liska said his team tried, without success, to poke holes in the study.

“If this research is accurate, and nearly all evidence suggests so, then it should be known sooner rather than later, as it will be shown by others to be true regardless,” he said. “Many others have come close recently to accurately quantifying this emission.”

The study’s findings likely will not surprise farmers, who have long recognized the importance of retaining crop residue on their fields to protect against erosion and preserve soil quality.

Until now, scientists have not been able to fully quantify how much soil carbon is lost to carbon dioxide emissions after removing crop residue. They’ve been hampered by limited carbon dioxide measurements in cornfields, by the fact that annual carbon losses are comparatively small and difficult to measure, and the lack of a proven model to estimate carbon dioxide emissions that could be coupled with a geospatial analysis.

Liska’s study, which was funded through a three-year, $500,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, used carbon dioxide measurements taken from 2001 to 2010 to validate a soil carbon model that was built using data from 36 field studies across North America, Europe, Africa and Asia.

Using USDA soil maps and crop yields, they extrapolated potential carbon dioxide emissions across 580 million 30-meter by 30-meter “geospatial cells” in Corn Belt states. It showed that the states of Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin had the highest net loss of carbon from residue removal because they have cooler temperatures and more carbon in the soil.

The research has been in progress since 2007, involving the coordinated effort of faculty, staff and students from four academic departments at UNL. Liska is an assistant professor of biological systems engineering and agronomy and horticulture. He worked with Haishun Yang, an associate professor of agronomy and horticulture, to adapt Yang’s soil carbon model, and with Andrew Suyker, an associate professor in the School of Natural Resources, to validate the model findings with field research. Liska also drew upon research conducted by former graduate students Matthew Pelton and Xiao Xue Fang. Pelton’s master’s degree thesis reprogrammed the soil carbon model, while Fang developed a method to incorporate carbon dioxide emissions into life cycle assessments of cellulosic ethanol.

Liska also worked with Maribeth Milner, a GIS specialist with the Department of Agronomy and Horticulture, Steve Goddard, professor of computer science and engineering and interim dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and graduate student Haitao Zhu to design the computational experiment at the core of the paper. Humberto Blanco-Canqui, assistant professor of agronomy and horticulture, also helped to address previous studies on the topic.

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80 Responses to Ouch. Corn biofuel could generate more greenhouse gases than gasoline

  1. Bruce Cobb says:

    Oh, the irony.

  2. Rhoda R says:

    Over the years how much money has our government wasted to get us to the same point they started with — ie. gasoline is the most efficient way to fuel transportation?

  3. DirkH says:

    Subsidizing something into existence that would not come about under free market conditions must always lead to increased waste.

  4. Paul Westhaver says:

    My instincts that told me that manufacturing veggie oil would require more energy than letting oil flow out of the earth. So… I’m not surprised here.

    Tell me greenies, does a C-C bond in a veggie oil release more energy than a C-C bond in an Exon oil well?

  5. TRG says:

    That photo does not depict the kind of corn used to make ethanol.

  6. Graham Green says:

    1 BTU = 1055 joules.

    Just sayin . . . .

  7. more soylent green! says:

    Corn ethanol is a horrible idea. We should use our farmland to grow food (including livestock feed), not fuel. Second, there is no oil shortage and third, the threat of global warming through “carbon pollution” is speculative and has no sound scientific basis.

    The powerful “Big Ag” lobby sold the tax-payers a bill of goods when they pushed the ethanol mandates and subsidies on us. The fact the Iowa plays a huge part in the presidential nomination process should not be overlooked, either.

  8. clipe says:

    Off topic I know, but…

    Meanwhile, there is zero urgency to work with the United States on joint greenhouse gas emissions regulations.

    For all the criticism directed at Prime Minister Stephen Harper for delaying such regulations for the Canadian oil and gas industry, it’s now clear it would have been a huge miscalculation for Canada to implement rules under pressure from the U.S. that would have made its oil and gas industry uncompetitive — while getting strung along on Keystone in return.

    http://business.financialpost.com/2014/04/21/keystone-pipeline-transcanada-delay/?__lsa=d545-abff

  9. Michael D says:

    This summary is confusing. The writer is trying to make it sound like research is important for carbon emissions, but the research results are more about soil degradation. The key sentences are:

    Importantly, they found the rate of carbon emissions is constant whether a small amount of stover is removed or nearly all of it is stripped. “If less residue is removed, there is less decrease in soil carbon, but it results in a smaller biofuel energy yield,” Liska said.

    I think what they mean by that is “the corn stover is going to turn into CO2 whether you turn it into biofuel and burn it, or leave it to rot in the Nebraska soil.” So biofuels are carbon neutral. The problem is that the stuff that does not rot is needed for soil quality. If you strip it off the soil, that stuff ends up as waste gunk in the biofuel reactors, rather than enriching the fields.

    All the talk about carbon emissions at the top of the summary page just serves to illustrate the damage done to the environment by focusing on “CO2 pollution” (which is a false concept in so many ways) rather than on “deep earth carbon preservation” (which is a noble objective).

  10. KevinK says:

    Rhoda R wrote;

    “Over the years how much money has our government wasted to get us to the same point they started with — ie. gasoline is the most efficient way to fuel transportation?”

    Slight addition, the free market and entrepreneurship got us to the starting point, i.e. gasoline is currently the most cost effective, safe, and very low polluting with modern catalytic convertors way to power personal vehicles (automobiles). Given the distances in large countries (outside of large urban areas) and peoples design for schedule flexibility the gas powered automobile is here to stay for a while longer.

    If the government had attempted to force us all to drive electric cars (batteries and motors only) back in the early 1900’s when H. Ford (and others) where perfecting the “petrol” fueled car there would likely be a large black market in cars that looked “electric” but had a hidden “petrol” engine inside. Kind of like a “speakeasy” under your hood.

    Cheers, Kevin.

  11. Tim Ball says:

    This is absolutely no surprise. it was known from the start that corn biofuels produced more CO2 when combusted. What they did was deduct an estimated amount of CO2 taken up by the plant while growing from the amount released after combustion and produced a net figure that was lower than CO2 from gasoline.

    The real tragedy of corn biofuels was the dramatic increase in global food costs, especially in developing nations and the number of people who starved.

  12. PaulH says:

    Food for clunkers.

  13. lee says:

    Michael D says:
    April 21, 2014 at 5:53 pm

    Surely it can’t be carbon neutral when you consider the emissions associated with collection?

  14. philjourdan says:

    The greens – killing the planet with good intentions.

    It is always thus.

  15. Michael D says:

    lee: Surely it can’t be carbon neutral… I wondered about that too. One could presumably use biofuels when collecting the corn stover to make it carbon neutral?

  16. john robertson says:

    This is true of every green scheme.
    Windmills cost more energy to manufacture and install than they ever return.
    Same for solar.
    Up north here we have a government supported scheme to harvest boreal forest for wood pellets.
    In the name of CO2 emission reduction, we will have crews going out on frozen ground in diesel pickups, using gasoline powered 2 cycle chainsaws, diesel powered skitters, trucks. loaders to haul these minuscule trees to a processing plant.
    I guess firewood is just too old-fashioned.

  17. Katherine says:

    Liska’s study, which was funded through a three-year, $500,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, used carbon dioxide measurements taken from 2001 to 2010 to validate a soil carbon model that was built using data from 36 field studies across North America, Europe, Africa and Asia.

    At least this model was validated before conclusions were drawn.

  18. john robertson says:

    Spellcheck.@#*! Skidders

  19. dp says:

    Killing the planet my arse – they’re killing the poorest inhabitants of the planet.

  20. mjmsprt40 says:

    From the “I coulda tol’ ya, but ya wouldn’a lissened” department:
    Ethanol has been a bad bet from the get-go. Alcohol burns at a considerably faster rate than gasoline does, so that means you lose fuel mileage. Ethanol isn’t the best alcohol for engines anyway, most engines that use pure alcohol for fuel are designed for methanol which comes from trees. Gasoline burns in engines at about 14 parts air to 1 part gasoline. Alcohol is approximately 8 parts air to 1 part alcohol. Now you want this fuel, which needs more of it to burn right in an engine, to return better fuel mileage. Not gonna happen. I’m not surprised to find that this fuel produces more CO2 either– again, you’re burning more fuel so of course you’re going to have a problem with more by-products.

    I keep a log, in it I record my gas mileage amongst other things. I can tell there’s a difference when I’m able to get pure gasoline, and when– most of the time here in the Midwest– I have to buy the 90/10 fuel we usually get. I have a friend who has a flex-fuel vehicle, he says his mileage isn’t good on the high-ethanol fuels so he runs the 90/10 all the time.

  21. markx says:

    To me this is a nice bit of research, and it is good to see researchers being straight up and honest with the results. Especially as I suspect that this would not have been the result the government wanted or expected when the half million dollars of funding was approved.

    This is a coldly calculated simple bit of science, honestly reported. This IS a step forward, people.

    Another note: This is about cellulosic ethanol, which used the inedible (for humans) parts of the plant, supposedly to some degree solving the often illogical situation of growing food and using to make fuel. I thought it sounded like a good idea, but the results of this research clearly show the shortcomings, and what we saw as waste was really an important component of the farming cycle.

    Altogether nice work, and I hope we see more of it.

  22. ossqss says:

    Er, does it not take more energy to make this fuel than it provides in the end? Net that total through the production cycle; plowing, fertilzing, watering, harvesting, processing, transporting, distributing etc…

    Just sayin,,,,,,, the math doesn’t add up……..

  23. Gunga Din says:

    Tim Ball says:
    April 21, 2014 at 6:01 pm

    This is absolutely no surprise. it was known from the start that corn biofuels produced more CO2 when combusted.

    =====================================================================
    And not just when it’s burned. CO2, and a lot of it, is produced in ethanol production itself.

  24. Geoff Sherrington says:

    All of which has been known qualitatively by farmers, agricultural scientists & soil geochemists for decades.
    Of course, this quantitative finding, on acceptance, makes it INVALID to use the generic word “sustainable” in relation to corn stover processes. There is no logical separation from petroleum processes that are deemed unsustainable. One cannot justify systematic depletion of soil carbon and the consequent trashing of soil quality.
    So why do it?

  25. dccowboy says:

    I like how the Administration is quoting another study that says this study is BS. Of course, they aren’t trumpeting the fact that the study they are quoting was paid for by Du Ponte, who just happens to be building a monstrous alcohol processing plant….

  26. Mark Bofill says:

    But, Obama!

    / sarc

  27. cedarhill says:

    It’s really great news that carbon can be trapped in the soil. That will be extremely important when the Holocene ends.

  28. Mike McMillan says:

    One of my dad’s buddies owned a farm, and he used to organically process the corn residue through his cows to produce methane.

  29. SAMURAI says:

    A UN economist (sorry, can’t recall his name) said that at least 2 million of the world’s poorest die each year as a direct result of US ethanol subsidies and the impacts they have on world food stocks/food prices.

    Food-for-fuel subsidies are just bribes to get political donations from Big Ag cronies and electoral votes from corn-belt states; pure and simple.

    Food-for-fuel subsidies are immoral, wasteful, ineffective, corruptive, distortional and downright evil.

  30. Ed Mertin says:

    California drought raising prices on these fruits, vegetables
    http://www.cnbc.com/id/101589388

    Behind the cornucopia of higher food prices
    http://www.cnbc.com/id/101589514

    Agreed, farmland should definitely grow food not fuel. IEO

  31. SAMURAI says:

    Ed Mertin says:
    April 21, 2014 at 8:10 pm
    California drought raising prices on these fruits, vegetables
    http://www.cnbc.com/id/101589388

    Behind the cornucopia of higher food prices
    http://www.cnbc.com/id/101589514
    =======================================

    Although the US drought obviously did have an adverse effect food prices, it was exacerbated by EPA laws, which forced billions of gallons of reservoir water to be dumped into rivers and streams to “save the salmon and sand darter”…

    EPA rules and regs have also prevented the expansion of much needed dam and reservoir construction to provide sufficient water to a growing Western US population.

    Furthermore, the Federal Reserve’s insane QEternity policies has greatly inflated the money supply leading to dollar devaluation and higher prices.

    Stupid government policies are greatly decreasing our standard of living.

  32. bushbunny says:

    Not only this, but they are very expensive as they are taxed in UK. Plus the facts, they are endangering agriculture because they replace farming land grown for food. On a lighter note,
    some British tourists went around Oz using filtered vegetable oil to run their camper van. It is illegal in Oz, but fish and chip shops were happy to hand over their used oil. Other than the smell from the exhaust of fish and chips, it seems to have gained some followers.

  33. Roger Sowell says:

    We knew that corn-based ethanol was a net CO2 loser back in 2009, as California Air Resources Board calculated 117 Btu input required for each 100 Btu of ethanol produced. This included land use changes.

    see http://sowellslawblog.blogspot.com/2009/03/ab-32-and-low-carbon-fuel-standard.html

  34. CRS, DrPH says:

    The findings by a University of Nebraska-Lincoln team of researchers cast doubt on whether corn residue can be used to meet federal mandates to ramp up ethanol production and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

    It’s important to point out that they are talking about cellulosic ethanol, and NOT ethanol produced from corn kernels themselves! In other words, harvesting corn stalks, stover, cobs etc., which are then size-reduced, treated with acids & enzymes, and then fermented into ethyl alcohol.

    As dumb a corn-based ethanol is as an energy policy, this is even more stupid for the reasons listed (soil erosion, loss of soil carbon etc.). It would be far better to just grow hemp, which has many side-benefits. Fiber, oil seeds etc.

  35. bushbunny says:

    They sell lead free petrol in Australia, and ethanol is mixed too in some brands. We really have no choice, but my garage is the only one that sells pure lead free petrol, so I keep to that. I find it gives me better kms per litre but I have an older car.

  36. Ed Mertin says:

    Take a look at the wiki and stuff on ‘The Commodities Futures Modernization Act of 2000′ by ‘papa Bush’s other son’ SAMURAI. The only times food and fuel prices are not boosted up or spiked & bubbled way above supply & demand is when the financial institutions are unable to afford to invest in futures. Bail them out and they go right back at it. And because of them it doesn’t get counted in core inflation figures by the fed.

    Here’s a good read too…
    http://www.smithsonianmag.com/air/the-political-history-of-cap-and-trade-34711212/

    “Stupid government policies are greatly decreasing our standard of living”
    Agreed, you sure have that correct!

  37. michaelspj says:

    mjmsprt–
    Agree with you on EtOH-free gas. I get about 4 mpg more in my Honda Gen 2 Insight hybrids, or about 9%. You can find ethanol-free gas stations at
    Ihttp://pure-gas.org/?stateprov=VA (enter the state of your choice). Further, the car just runs BETTER!

    PJM

  38. Kasuha says:

    It’s not like corn is pulling soil carbon from any significant distances or that there is endless supply of soil carbon in the field where it grows. You got to either replenish that soil carbon somehow, leave the corn to pull it from air, or stop growing corn. And since corn is grown in the same areas for years, it’s obvious farmers have already found a way how to get things balanced.

  39. 4TimesAYear says:

    Of course it’s worse. Oil doesn’t need to be planted – corn does and in doing so creates more CO2 – and it takes more of it because ethanol burns faster.

  40. SAMURAI says:

    Ed Mertin says:
    April 21, 2014 at 10:11 pm
    Take a look at the wiki and stuff on ‘The Commodities Futures Modernization Act of 2000′ by ‘papa Bush’s other son’ SAMURAI. The only times food and fuel prices are not boosted up or spiked & bubbled way above supply & demand is when the financial institutions are unable to afford to invest in futures. Bail them out and they go right back at it.
    ===============================================

    Yeah, the Fed is pumping bogus dollars into Wall Street investment banks like a firehose. As soon as the Fed turns off the spigot, the economy will collapse. The irony is that as long as the economic news is bad, the investment banks know the Fed will continue to keep the firehoses wide open. Moreover, the banks can totally disregard risk because even if their bets go tits up, the Federal government will have to bail them out as institutionalized under Dodd/Frank…

    The Fed makes the hilarious claim that they can turn off the money spigot at anytime and easily unwind their bloated balance sheet… What I want to know is to whom they’re planning to unload the $trillions of toxic waste they’re holding? China? (they’re already dumping US bonds), Japan? (they’re on the brink of insolvency), Russia? (they’re broke, too), EU? (busted), Middle East? (totally insufficient funds)…

    Last one out, turn the lights off…

  41. Greg Goodman says:

    “…. and 62 grams above the 60 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions as required by the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act.”

    So it seems that the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act has little to do with Energy Independence and Security .

    Stuff the CO2 angle. None of this argues against using corn stover as an energy source.

  42. markx says:

    Greg Goodman says: April 21, 2014 at 11:48 pm

    Stuff the CO2 angle. None of this argues against using corn stover as an energy source.

    Except it will deplete the soil AND will be uneconomical …. it won’t currently meet the needed ‘carbon reduction’ target to qualify for the subsidy needed to allow it to compete fossil fuels.

  43. Keith says:

    DuPont Biofuels is pushing this approach. From the AP.

    “The core analysis depicts an extreme scenario that no responsible farmer or business would ever employ because it would ruin both the land and the long-term supply of feedstock. It makes no agronomic or business sense,” said Jan Koninckx, global business director for biorefineries at DuPont.

    Later this year the company is scheduled to finish a $200 million-plus facility in Nevada, Iowa, that will produce 30 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol using corn residue from nearby farms. An assessment paid for by DuPont said that the ethanol it will produce there could be more than 100 percent better than gasoline in terms of greenhouse gas emissions.

  44. Kristen says:

    they also get lousy mileage and increase engine maintenance requirements – but green zealots don’t care.

  45. Jimbo says:

    GUARDIAN & GEORGE MONBIOT

    Guardian – 26 November 2013
    Burning food crops to produce biofuels is a crime against humanity
    http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/poverty-matters/2013/nov/26/burning-food-crops-biofuels-crime-humanity
    =========================

    Monbiot.com – November 6, 2007
    An Agricultural Crime Against Humanity
    It doesn’t get madder than this. Swaziland is in the grip of a famine and receiving emergency food aid. Forty per cent of its people are facing acute food shortages. So what has the government decided to export? Biofuel made from one of its staple crops, cassava(1). The government has allocated several thousand hectares of farmland to ethanol production in the county of Lavumisa, which happens to be the place worst hit by drought(2). It would surely be quicker and more humane to refine the Swazi people and put them in our tanks. Doubtless a team of development consultants is already doing the sums……
    http://www.monbiot.com/2007/11/06/an-agricultural-crime-against-humanity/

    Sorry Monbiot but this is what happens when you shout WOLF! He should acknowledge his own part in this co2 scandal. The Guardian included.

  46. mjmsprt40 says:

    The lousy mileage is from the fact that alcohol burns at a different rate than gasoline does. Much different. If you could burn pure ethanol, your system would have to be set to alcohol’s nearly 8 parts air to 1 part alcohol rate. You would burn nearly twice as much fuel using straight alcohol. Gasoline burns in an engine at about 14 parts air to 1 part gasoline. It’s a big difference.
    The only good reason I can think of to use alcohol is if you’re running a dragster. Those things run a methanol/nitromethane mix and produce obscene power at the drive wheels. The downside is that engines running that mix don’t last long, a couple of races tops is about it. Alcohol runs at 8 parts air to 1 part alcohol, nitromethane runs at just about 1 to 1 rates. More fuel to the engine=more power– but at the cost of blowing engines a lot.

  47. SAMURAI says:

    A rhetorical question: Rather than flushing $billions/$trillions down the toilet on “Green” energy, why don’t the kleptocrats simply spend 10’s millions establishing LFTR rules and regs and allow the private sector to build as many LFTRs as they feel the market requires?

    For this to work, all energy subsidies must be abolished and just let the free market work it out…

    Not a DIME of taxpayer money would be needed…

  48. ntesdorf says:

    This is but yet another example of the pointless boondoggles unleashed on Society by the Brigade of Warmistas with their hald-baked scientific concepts. In twenty or so years they nay come to their sebses, or then again, they may never get there.

  49. Patrick says:

    “mjmsprt40 says:

    April 22, 2014 at 4:39 am

    Those things run a methanol/nitromethane mix and produce obscene power at the drive wheels. The downside is that engines running that mix don’t last long, a couple of races tops is about it. Alcohol runs at 8 parts air to 1 part alcohol, nitromethane runs at just about 1 to 1 rates. More fuel to the engine=more power– but at the cost of blowing engines a lot.”

    In an engine like this it’s how much air you can ram down the induction system, with a slightly “lean” mix as it burns hotter and faster (Top end burn outs results). That is why there are superchargers and turbochargers bolted to the induction system. Forced induction increases volumetric efficiency of a cylinder.

  50. bernie1815 says:

    Has anyone found free access to a copy of the actual Liska study? It seems sufficiently complex and nuanced to require a close reading of what it says and doesn’t say.

  51. Rod Everson says:

    One of the more likely benefits of a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution would be that most of the tax dollars devoted to the green subsidies and the studies of carbon dioxide and global warming would be cut off. Only when money seems to be never-ending can this nonsense be funded year after year, regardless of the economic distortions and actual damages incurred.

    And yes, I realize this is a study that supports “our side,” but left to the free markets, the most efficient use of corn stover would have been sorted out eventually. Around here, it’s baled and used for bedding cattle, with enough left on the ground to prevent erosion. It’s rarely plowed into the ground any longer, as no-tillage planting is practiced by most of the bigger producers.

    And, believe it or not, a round bale of corn stalks (stover) has an actual price attached to it since it competes with other bedding products, leading the producer to decide how much to remove and how much to leave, while bearing in mind that at least some of it must be removed or it will interfere with the planting of next year’s crop. Pricing–what a novel idea!

    Another thing about pricing vs. subsidization: With pricing, usages change to reflect new opportunities (efficiencies), whereas subsidies tend to lock in usages regardless of new opportunities (efficiencies) because it takes a significant change in relative pricing to overcome a significant subsidy. For example, if there is a shortage of a bedding competitor, say oat straw, then corn stover bales will increase in price, encouraging producers to remove more of it. Subsidies overwhelm the price signals.

    Which is why, if you ask a liberal about free market pricing today you will generally get the response that “Free markets have failed humanity” or similar gibberish. Seriously. Ask one.

  52. George Daddis says:

    For those that doubt the above research conclusion, they have none other than the world’s greatest (and Nobel winning) climate expert to back them up (in 2010!):
    “It is not a good policy to have these massive subsidies for first-generation ethanol,” Al Gore told a gathering of clean energy financiers in Greece this week. The benefits of ethanol are “trivial,” he added, but “It’s hard once such a program is put in place to deal with the lobbies that keep it going.”
    He further explained:
    “One of the reasons I made that mistake is that I paid particular attention to the farmers in my home state of Tennessee, and I had a certain fondness for the farmers in the state of Iowa because I was about to run for President.”
    (WSJ Nov 27 2010)

    A rare outbreak of honesty from the warmists.

  53. Resourceguy says:

    And it was quite predictable that the POTUS and many lawmakers attacked the study because it does not fit the political science. Actually, the study represents a minimum net negative impact because it does not account for consumers and businesses working proportionately longer and harder to pay for the policy distortion in the first place.

  54. Tom O says:

    “dp says:
    April 21, 2014 at 6:37 pm
    Killing the planet my arse – they’re killing the poorest inhabitants of the planet.”

    That’s right, DP. and it’s always been their intent. The biggest difference is that with the increases in cost of living, the “middle class” is now part of “poorest inhabitants” as well, so population reduction is even greater. We don’t need no stinking useless eaters, just like Kissinger said, and Ted Turner’s statement of Earth supporting only about 750 million, well, that would be what they are aiming at – a million or so of the new nobility and the remaining to be the surfs that support them in luxury.

  55. Phil. says:

    mjmsprt40 says:
    April 21, 2014 at 7:00 pm
    From the “I coulda tol’ ya, but ya wouldn’a lissened” department:
    Ethanol has been a bad bet from the get-go. Alcohol burns at a considerably faster rate than gasoline does, so that means you lose fuel mileage.

    Not from the get-go, the original reason for adding oxygenates to gasoline (1970s) was to reduce emissions from carbureted engines which were the predominant type at that time. At this they worked well and also gave a slight octane boost. It does not have the same benefit with modern fuel injected engines. The one preferred by the fuel industry was MTBE but when that hit pollution problems they switched to ethanol, Bob Dole anxious to look after his Kansas constituents had a law drafted that said that the ethanol had to be manufactured from corn!

  56. Old Huemul says:

    @Michael D (April 21, 2014 at 5:53 pm), who says: “I think what they mean by that is “the corn stover is going to turn into CO2 whether you turn it into biofuel and burn it, or leave it to rot in the Nebraska soil.” So biofuels are carbon neutral.”
    No, they are not, methinks, because producing ethanol out of the residues will require expenditure of energy (for field machinery, trucks for transportation, and equipment for processing the residues into fuel). The process not only keeps the soil from incorporating the organic carbon and nitrogen contained in the residues, thus ultimately degrading soil fertility, but also forces more energy use, and thus more emissions, than should be needed in case the residues are left to rot in the field.

  57. Robert W Turner says:

    How much CO2 do they assume is returned to the air and how much is assumed to be sequestered in soil if the corn residues are left to decompose in the field? I’ve been curious to see what ratio they use for quantitative studies such as this and especially for livestock studies where purportedly huge amounts of aCO2 are generated. Anyone actually seen their numbers?

  58. Anthony says:

    What is the feeling over Jatropha seed to produce biofuel? I have done some deep study`s regarding Jatropha and i can not really see that it will cause a grate deal of damage to the environment?

  59. A. Scott says:

    The same uninformed and in many cases ignorant comments regarding ethanol biofuels as we always see here.

    This study would make a global warming kook like Michael Mann proud. Cooked books, falsehoods and outright lies. Alleged facts presented in worst possible light with no connection to reality.

    And even with all that – the report claims biofuels from corn waste biomass was still only 7% worse than gasoline … and then ONLY in the short term. They admit in the long term the headline claim is NOT true.

    You people are acting like Dana Nuccitelli to a Stephan Lewandowsky masterpiece – buying a manipulated headline claim – that ignores the fact the report shows the long term benefit is POSITIVE – lock, stock and barrel.

    Ethanol from corn does not have a negative energy balance – there are large numbers of credible peer reviewed reports that prove the outright falsity of that claim – a claim made almost exclusively by Patzek and Pimental at Berkely. Corn used to produce ethanol generates appx 1.6 units of energy for every 1 unit expended in production. PLUS the same bushel of corn used for ethanol returns effectively almost 50% of the feed value the corn originall had, thru creation of Distillers Dried Grain Solids – a high quality animal feed, along with corn oil, corn meal and other co-products.

    Ethanol produced from corn waste – cellulosic biomass – has a net energy yield, conservatively, of 4 to 6 units of energy for every 1 unit expended in production.

    And last I have repeatedly shown – with real world facts and data – from the actual USDA Field Crop Yearbook data – and other sourced documentation – that corn used for ethanol is not causing anyone to go hungry, nor is it causing any significant increase in food costs.

    The REALITY is the areas experiencing food price pressure – Mexico and Guatemala to good examples – IMPORT US corn to help LOWER food prices – because US corn is CHEAPER.

  60. Dr. Strangelove says:

    The Dept. of Energy is wasting $1 billion on R&D on corn ethanol. It is already known that it uses more energy than its output. To produce 1 liter of ethanol requires more than 1 liter of gasoline or its equivalent energy. Ethanol is more expensive to produce. It’s more sensible to just burn gasoline in your car and drink ethanol. Your 80-proof vodka is 40% ethanol.

  61. A. Scott says:

    It takes almost ZERO effort to show this report for the complete garbage it is:

    The researchers … used a supercomputer model … to estimate the effect of residue removal on 128 million acres across 12 Corn Belt states. The team found that removing crop residue from cornfields generates an additional 50 to 70 grams of carbon dioxide per megajoule of biofuel energy produced (a joule is a measure of energy and is roughly equivalent to 1 BTU). Total annual production emissions, averaged over five years, would equal about 100 grams of carbon dioxide per megajoule — which is 7 percent greater than gasoline emissions

    rom the USDA Crop Production data:

    Corn planted area for all purposes in 2013 is estimated at 97.4 million acres, up slightly from last year. This represents the highest planted acreage in the United States since 1936 when an estimated 102 million acres were planted.

    The USDA tells us 97.4 million acres were planted in corn of all types in 2013 … and the most corn ever planted was 102 million acres back in 1936.

    This alleged scientific study used corn residue removal on 128 million acres in its model. These crack scientists inflated the corn acres planted by 131.5% over reality and even with this massive cooking of the books, still found ethanol would see just a 7% higher emissions scenario than gasoline.

    The U.S. has NEVER planted anywhere remotely near 128 million ares of corn, nor will they in ANY foreseeable future. And there is no way in hell farmers, who the study points out “… have long recognized the importance of retaining crop residue on their fields to protect against erosion and preserve soil quality” … would destroy their soils by taking away ALL of the crop residue.

    This “study” is of no more value than a Lewandowsky paper. A sensationalized headline treatment of a MINOR finding which is supported by the barest of data (even AFTER they cooked the books – inflating planted acreage by 131+%) all while IGNORING the major finding, that corn residue based cellulosic biomass is a net BENEFIT in the long term.

    And people here sadly blindly buy it – with zero critical thought or attempt to verify the claims made.

  62. A. Scott says:

    Strangelove:

    It is already known that it uses more energy than its output. To produce 1 liter of ethanol requires more than 1 liter of gasoline or its equivalent energy.

    An outright, bald-faced lie.

    A LARGE number peer reviewed studies, including from government entities/agencies show that ethanol from corn produces appx 1.6 units of energy for every 1 unit of energy consumed in making it. Cellulosic biomass as discussed in this “study” produces 4 to 6 units of energy for every 1 unit expended in production.

  63. Dr. Strangelove says:

    Scot

    Of course these government agencies must show ethanol is viable in order to continue getting research funds. But to quote an objective study from Cornell University and UC Berkeley:

    “Pimentel and Tad W. Patzek, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Berkeley, conducted a detailed analysis of the energy input-yield ratios of producing ethanol from corn, switch grass and wood biomass as well as for producing biodiesel from soybean and sunflower plants. Their report is published in Natural Resources Research (Vol. 14:1, 65-76).”

    “In terms of energy output compared with energy input for ethanol production, the study found that
    corn requires 29 percent more fossil energy than the fuel produced”

    http://www.news.cornell.edu/stories/2005/07/ethanol-biodiesel-corn-and-other-crops-not-worth-energy

  64. A. Scott says:

    Sorry “Strangelove” … quoting a single study from 2005 by the widely and completely discredited Patzek and Pimentel – which was virtually the ONLY paper making these ridiculous claims – shows you aren’t the least bit serious about the facts. There are somewhere around a dozen papers that refuted Patzek & Pimentel’s grossly erroneous claims.

    This current paper is right up there with them, or Lewandowsky, for the gross and apparently intentional false and/or inaccurate claims

  65. A. Scott says:

    Not only does this alleged “scientific paper” grossly overstate corn acres planted – 128 million acres – by over 131% compared to 2013 plantings, had they looked at the USDA corn planting projections for the next 10 years they’d have found the USDA (and analysts) says plantings are projected to DROP – down to appx 88 million acres in next several years, increasing to appx 92.5 million acres in 2022-23 season.

    The USDA projects an annual average appx 89.8 million acres of corn planting over the next 10 years. Compared to this “scientific paper” which claims 128 million acres will be planted in corn – this puts their planted acres at 143% above USDA projections for the next 10 years.

    And even with that massive error they find in the short term ethanol from corn residue is just 7% higher emissions than gasoline … and that in the long term – 10 years – the ethanol from corn residue has better emissions than gasoline.

  66. A. Scott says:

    They also completely ignore ACTUAL practices in the fields today …

    The authors assume ALL farmers across the ALL of the alleged 128 million acres they say will be planted in corn (which is inflated by more than 141+% than USDA projected corn acres planted over the next 10 years) would purposely remove 60-75% of the corn residue from their fields – completely ignoring best tillage practices, soil types, crop rotations, and similar factors.

    A grossly inflated assumption ignoring best mgmt. practices – which generally recommend removing no more than 40-50% of the residue in no-till systems, no more than 20-30% in conservation tillage practices, and less than 10% under conventional tillage.

    Corn residual removal rates recently have been in the 10-25% range, with higher rates shown sustainable under certain conditions. The farmer’s most important asset is their soil – destroy or weaken it and you destroy you ability to grow. Every farmer understands their success depends on maintaining and improving their soil quality. No farmer would purposely degrade their most important asset.

    The authors here ignore that most basic and important principle.

    They also admit there are mitigation strategies that can offset impact of higher corn residual usage rates, but fail to include or consider any such mitigation, which can be as simple as spreading generally readily available manure on fields.

    Last – the authors completely ignore that many, if not most, of the new cellulosic biomass ethanol plants use the waste plant material after ethanol production to burn as fuel to power the plant. This means considerably less power is consumed from the grid. The majority of the grid is powered by coal fired plants. Using the corn residue significantly reduces coal fired fossil fueled electricity, thus significantly reducing the emissions overall of the cellulosic biomass process.

    All of the above is readily verifiable. Unlike the authors specious and grossly inflated claims.

  67. Dr. Strangelove says:

    Sorry Scot your handwaving is less credible than the study of two professors from Cornell and Berkeley. You should enroll at these fine universities and learn basic chemistry. It’s hard for biofuels to beat gasoline in energy efficiency because crude oil is already fuel to begin with. You have to plant, harvest and process corn to turn it into ethanol. All that require energy input. People who say manufacturing biofuels is more energy efficient than fossil fuels don’t know what they’re talking about or trying to mislead the public.

  68. bernie1815 says:

    A. Scott: Some references would help make your case.

  69. A. Scott says:

    bernie – search ethanol and my username here at WUWT – you’ll find I have provided detailed data and sources many times here for these same items/issues

    Strangelove … there is no point wasting time with someone with no clue – and that is what you have by continuing to rely on the findings of Patzek and Pimentel – who were thoroughly and completely refuted in 1999 and 2005. You go right ahead and continue to believe their claims – it only shows an ignorance – or lack of caring – about actual facts …

  70. A. Scott says:

    “Patzek is the director of the university’s Oil Consortium, which receives funding from the oil industry including Chevron and Phillips Petroleum. Patzek also worked for more than a decade for Shell Oil Company as a research, consultant, and expert witness.”

  71. A. Scott says:

    http://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/addicted-to-bad-data

    Wang from Argonne Labs 2005 (using old EROI numbers for ethanol):

    Here is the link to a summary of the Argonne National Laboratory study by Wang. look at it for yourself:

    http://ethanolrfa.org/page/-/objects/documents/981/energy_and_ghg_emissions_-_wang_2005.pdf?nocdn=1

    “As you can see, the fossil energy input per unit of ethanol is lower—0.74 million Btu fossil energy consumed for each 1 million Btu of ethanol delivered, compared to 1.23 million Btu of fossil energy consumed for each million Btu of gasoline delivered.”

    More links:

    http://www.ethanolrfa.org/pages/reports-and-studies-archives

  72. Dr. Strangelove says:

    Scott

    Your materials are propaganda not science. The whole case is summarized in Slide 4. It is wrong. Only fossil fuels energy input is included in the calculation of efficiency. All engineers know that

    energy efficiency = total energy output / total energy input

    Michael Wang is probably not an engineer or just trying to fool us.

    It’s easy to demonstrate gasoline is more energy efficient than ethanol. The energy content of crude oil is 45 MJ/kg without energy input for refining. The energy content of biomass is 14 MJ/kg. Less than one-third of crude oil and you still need energy input to convert it into ethanol.

    Ethanol yield is 0.15 liter per kilogram of biomass. The energy content of ethanol is 29 MJ/liter. So you get 4.38 MJ of ethanol per kg of biomass but biomass contains 14 MJ/kg. Therefore, the energy efficiency of biomass to ethanol production is 4.38/14 = 0.31

    In short, you start with 1 MJ energy and end up with 0.31 MJ of ethanol. All “studies” that claim the energy output of ethanol production is greater than the energy input is false because it violates the law of conservation of energy. It created energy out of nowhere. Dear Michael Wang, surely you this because it is taught in high school physics.

  73. Dr. Strangelove says:

    Scott, don’t believe everything you read on the internet. With a little basic knowledge in science, you can easily dismiss the nonsense.

  74. A. Scott says:

    Ah yes Strangelove … that must be it – Wang is an idiot – a complete buffoon – who knows nothing about the topics he has repeatedly published peer reviewed work on … #needsmoretinfoil

  75. A. Scott says:

    From the 2010 USDA “2008 Energy Balance for the Corn-Ethanol Industry” detailed study …

    (a) which used the ACTUAL energy input results of a survey of 1,814 corn farmers in 19 States on corn production practices and costs, and;

    (b) which used the ACTUALproduction results of a survey of 22 ethanol producers in Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, and eastern South Dakota conducted in late 2008 and early 2009 including questions about the extent of thermal and electric energy use, the type of energy used,
    the type of ethanol production process used, and processing yield

    … they find the following:

    “Together, the recent energy use estimates show that the ratio of energy in ethanol to the external energy used to produce ethanol is about 1.4, even WITHOUT allowing for the processing component of the byproduct credit. After fully allowing for heat used to produce byproducts, the energy ratio is between 1.9 and 2.3.”

    “Biomass power reduces the external fossil energy needed to produce ethanol … some of the fossil energy used to produce corn ethanol is recovered. … survey responses shown in Column 3, external thermal energy [is reduced] by about one-half … on an output basis …

    Under these circumstances, the energy balance ratio increases to 2.8, even using the lower byproduct credit from the regression results. Similar calculations that used a short rotation woody crop (willow) instead of stover yielded similar energy balance estimates. ”

    “… complete replacement of external processing energy for thermal energy and electricity extends beyond the range of survey responses. But the possibilities are interesting. Corn residues, which contain about the same energy (BTUs) as the corn, are presently discarded. But residues represent enough energy to replace ALL of the process heat and electricity needed for ethanol, and combined heat and power plants are capable of producing the required process heat and electricity. Hence, the energy balance could increase to about 25.7 when half of the renewable energy produced in corn production (the residue) is no longer discarded.”

    “Conclusion:

    A dry grind ethanol plant that produces and sells dry distiller’s grains and uses conventional fossil fuel power for thermal energy and electricity produces nearly two times more energy in the form of ethanol delivered to customers than it uses for corn, processing, and transportation. The ratio
    is about 2.3 BTU of ethanol for 1 BTU of energy in inputs, when a more generous means of removing byproduct energy is employed.

    Some dry mills are already using up to 50 percent biomass power. The energy output for these plants is near 2.8 times energy inputs, even using the conservative byproduct allowance. As processors master the logistics of handling bulky biomass, the energy balance ratio could reach
    26 BTUs of ethanol per BTU of inputs used. ”

    Based on direct survey responses from farmers and ethanol plants – on the ACTUAL detailed real world data on growing expenditures and ethanol production, current corn ethanol production shows a positive energy yield of 1.9 to 2.3 units of energy produced per unit of energy expended.

    Add in the fact that many plants are generating appx. half of their own power onsite, from the waste material from ethanol production, and the energy balance ratio increases to 2.8 units of energy created for every unit of energy expended.

    And when the plants become sophisticated enough to use biomass for all of the power needed, when they start replacing all the plant energy needs with biomass, the study notes the net energy yield jumps to over 25 units of energy created for each one unit expended.

    In the alternative, as many new plants are already doing, when you add a cellulosic biomass plant to produce ethanol alongside a corn ethanol plant, so you use ALL of the corn – the corn kernel and the crop residue – the stover – the net energy yield from a bushel of corn skyrockets far above these numbers. Cellulosic biomass net energy yields are in the 6 to 8 to 1 range – add 2.8 to 1 for corn ethanol after co-products are accounted for and you get net energy yields of well over 10 to 1, before taking into account onsite power generation from production waste materials.

    I will repeat – this was a highly detailed 2010 report that used all ACTUAL corn production costs from over 1800 farms surveyed … and used ACTUAL ethanol plant costs and production numbers from 22 operating corn ethanol plants.

    I’m sure you’ll find reason to ridicule it anyway though …

    http://www.usda.gov/…/energy/2008Ethanol_June_final.pdf

  76. A. Scott says:

    Yep Strangelove – Wang is a clueless idiot … NOT. I’m sure he’ll be interested in your assessment of his abilities … again NOT. Paying attention to the willfully clueless and ignorant accomplishes nothing.

    http://www.anl.gov/contributors/michael-wang

  77. Brian H says:

    Oh, the cog dis! All of a sudden I may be in favour of ethanol and biofuels.
    That really hurts!

  78. A. Scott says:

    Kinda like what happened to turn me from a warmist to a skeptic … when facts – real documented and sourced facts, and not made up blind recitation of dogma – are presented, those who care about the truth sometimes learn a bit and become able to make a more intelligent and informed decision.

    I didn’t really try too hard in this thread, considering the caliber of the attackers – but if you search WUWT or my username and ethanol there is a lot more. In particular the detailed review of the data on claims that ethanol drives up cost of food in places like Mexico or Guatemala is particularly interesting.

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