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Ethanol Myths and Facts

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  • Ethanol Myths and Facts

    U.S. Department of Energy - Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy

    Biomass Program - Ethanol Myths and Facts

    The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is committed to advancing technological solutions to promote and increase the use of clean, abundant, affordable, and domestically- and sustainably-produced biofuels to diversify our nation's energy sources, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and reduce our dependence on oil.
    U.S. energy consumption is expected to grow over 18 percent by 2030. Biofuels must continue to play a significant role as we work aggressively to diversify our nation's energy sources and provide a balanced portfolio of energy solutions to help meet our growing demand for energy.
    Since 2007, DOE has announced over $1 billion in multi-year biofuels research and development projects. Integral to this work is the ongoing examination of reducing greenhouse gases as well as land and water use.
    As part of President Bush's Advanced Energy Initiative, the U.S. Department of Energy is carrying out a comprehensive plan to increase energy efficiency as well as the use of renewable fuels in the transportation sector. This includes basic and applied research and development projects with a broad range of technology demonstrations to help rapidly bring online next-generation biofuels.

    Future biofuels will be made from a wide range of hardy and fast-growing plants, such as switchgrass--which is a perennial native to American prairies. Switchgrass requires about a quarter of the irrigation and fertilization of row crops.

    Ethanol is a clean, renewable fuel. It is helping to reduce our nation's dependence on oil and offers a variety of economic and environmental benefits. As we look to broaden our domestic energy resources, common misconceptions about ethanol production and use need to be cleared up. Frequently Asked Questions page.

    MYTH: In terms of emissions, ethanol pollutes the same as gasoline or more.
    FACT: Ethanol results in fewer greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions than gasoline and is fully biodegradable, unlike some fuel additives.

    • Today, on a life cycle basis, ethanol produced from corn results in about a 20 percent reduction in GHG emissions relative to gasoline. With improved efficiency and use of renewable energy, this reduction could be as much as 52 percent.
    • In the future, ethanol produced from cellulose has the potential to cut life cycle GHG emissions by up to 86 percent relative to gasoline.
    • Ethanol blended fuels currently in the market whether E10 or E85 meet stringent tailpipe emission standards.
    • Ethanol readily biodegrades without harm to the environment, and is a safe, high-performance replacement for fuel additives such as MTBE.

    In comparison to gasoline, ethanol made from cellulose and produced with power generated from biomass byproducts can result in an 86 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

    MYTH: Ethanol cannot be produced from corn in large enough quantities to make a real difference without disrupting food and feed supplies.
    FACT: Corn is only one source of ethanol. As we develop new, cost-effective methods for producing biofuels, a significant amount of ethanol will be made from more abundant cellulosic biomass sources.

    • Future ethanol will be produced increasingly from cellulose found in crop residues (e.g., stalks, hulls), forestry residues (e.g., forest thinning, wood byproducts), energy crops (e.g., switchgrass, sorghum), and sorted municipal wastes. Some promising energy crops grow on marginal soils not suited for traditional agriculture.
    • A high-protein animal feed, known as Distiller's Dried Grains with Solubles (DDGS), is produced in the process of making ethanol from corn.
    • The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA) requires use of 36 billion gallons of renewable transportation fuels in the U.S. by 2022. Of that quantity, 16 billion gallons must be cellulosic biofuels. Ethanol from corn is capped at 15 billion gallons.
    • The U.S. Departments of Energy and Agriculture's Billion Ton Study (PDF 8.5 MB) Download Adobe Reader found that we can grow adequate biomass feedstocks to displace approximately 30 percent of current gasoline consumption by 2030 on a sustainable basis – with only modest changes in land use. It determined that 1.3 billion tons of U.S. biomass feedstock is potentially available for the production of biofuels – more than enough biomass to meet the new renewable fuel standard mandated by EISA.

    MYTH: More energy goes into producing ethanol than it delivers as a fuel.
    FACT: In terms of fossil energy, each gallon of ethanol produced from corn today delivers one third or more energy than is used to produce it.

    • Ethanol has a positive energy balance that is, the energy content of ethanol is greater than the fossil energy used to produce it and this balance is constantly improving with new technologies.
    • Over the last 20 years, the amount of energy needed to produce ethanol from corn has significantly decreased because of improved farming techniques, more efficient use of fertilizers and pesticides, higher-yielding crops, and more energy-efficient conversion technology.
    • Most studies that claim a negative energy balance for ethanol fail to take into account the energy contained in the co-products.

    This graph shows how much fossil energy is required to provide 1 BTU of each fuel at the pump. The graph does not reflect energy derived from solar or other renewable sources used in the production of ethanol.

    MYTH: Ethanol-gasoline blends can lower fuel economy and may harm your engine.
    FACT: Ethanol blends in use today have little impact on fuel economy or vehicle performance.

    • While ethanol delivers less energy than gasoline on a gallon-for-gallon basis, today's vehicles are designed to run on gasoline blended with small amounts of ethanol (10 percent or less) with no perceptible effect on fuel economy.
    • Flex-fuel vehicles designed to run on higher ethanol blends (E85 or 85 percent ethanol) do experience reduced miles per gallon, but show a significant gain in horsepower.
    • As a high-octane fuel additive and substitute for MTBE, ethanol enhances engine performance and adds oxygen to meet requirements for reformulated gasoline.

    Race cars of the Indy Racing League benefit from the high performance characteristics of ethanol.

    MYTH: Rainforests will be destroyed to create the new croplands required to meet food, feed, and biofuels needs, thus accelerating climate change and destroying valuable ecosystems.
    FACT: Biofuels have the potential to significantly reduce global GHG emissions associated with transportation, but—as with all types of development—controls are needed to protect ecologically important lands.

    • In Brazil and elsewhere, laws have already slowed deforestation, and for the past decade China has converted marginal croplands to grassland and forests to control erosion.
    • Links between U.S. ethanol production and land use changes elsewhere are uncertain. We cannot simply assume that increases in U.S. ethanol production will lead to increased crop production abroad. Since 2002, during the greatest period of ethanol growth, U.S. corn exports increased by 60 percent and exports of Distiller's Dried Grains (DDGs) also increased steadily. In part, improvements in U.S. corn yield (about 1.6 percent annually since 1980) have enabled simultaneous growth in corn and ethanol production.
    • Greenhouse gas emissions will decrease dramatically as biofuels of the future are increasingly made from cellulosic feedstocks and as the associated farming, harvesting, transport, and production processes increasingly use clean, renewable energy sources.

    Biomass Program Home | EERE Home
    Last Updated: 12/08/2008

  • #2
    Re: Ethanol Myths and Facts

    Hey Curtis thanks, I guess, for the ethanol info. Guess we cng supporters have to be tolerant of lesser "solutions" out there.

    Big gaping hole with DOE efforts, however have been that bunch of that money went to basic corn ethanol plants. Many of these are in towns with lots of Water and Natural Gas so that ethanol plant can burn through resources for their prize of X million annual gallons of ethanol to get their Federal subsidy per gallon. For example, near the Oklahoma border in Hugoton, KS a ethanol plant was put in . . . . what a TRAVESTY as this town has massive natural gas supplies which were previously being sold to Anadarko or ONEOK. Yet not a single cng site (either private or public) in that area of Kansas . . . arrgghhh!!!$$%%&&??##!!

    Further, DOE has blatantly ignored solution that Brazil has perfected with SUGAR BEET ethanol - - - a simple product that USA could begin growing NOW!! Same with sugarcane, but hey the sugar lobby wouldn't let sugarcane be used for ethanol for autos, instead we get stuck paying $3 to $4 per box of corn flakes for breakfast!

    I say get our priorities straight and just MOVE FORWARD with CNG!! Quit wasting natural gas to produce ethanol or even hydrogen.


    • #3
      Re: Ethanol Myths and Facts

      MYTH: Ethanol-gasoline blends can lower fuel economy and may harm your engine.
      FACT: Ethanol blends in use today have little impact on fuel economy or vehicle performance.
      I have an F250 SuperDuty that gets 3 to 4 mpg less on E10 than regular gasoline. And everyone knows that Ethanol is corrosive, so this is nothing more then spin.

      So much for the facts ...

      ?Innovation is driven by having access to things.? -- Gleb Budman, CEO of


      • #4
        Re: Ethanol Myths and Facts

        This info didn't take long to draw some responses. What we must focus on is that there is no magic bullet to resolve our energy crisis. Clean Cities works to develop ALL fuel sources toward this end.

        I think reading the info I posted would shed some light on the current state of biomass use in developing these fuels. DOE research has shown that use of non-food grade corn stock and corn waste, like husks, stalks, etc. pose no risk, nor have any effect on food supplies or prices.

        The report also goes on to note a shift toward Switch grass and other forms of biomass that require less water, fertilizer and resources (in general) to produce fuels more efficiently.

        Since the Clean Cities forum is open to discussion and info on various fuel technologies, I will continue to expand your horizons to other solutions to our energy future.

        No one is a bigger proponent to switching our transportation system to natural gas than I am. But as a Clean Cities Coordinator, I must open my mind a bit and realize that it is not necessarily a solution that is viable in all parts of the country, or the world for that matter.

        Bio fuels are a reality that we will have to live with in our war to displace foreign oil, be it bio-diesel, ethanol, butynol, electrics, hydrogen, or whatever is next. I agree that many of these areas of research receive funding and attention beyond what would seem reasonable given the current state of development of fuels like cng, but those are issues that are beyond our control.

        We should embrace any alternative that makes sense. The reason that I posted this info is to displace some of the myths that shed unwarranted negative views on some of these technologies... like corn ethanol driving up food prices... absolutely not true.

        I do a lot of research before posting info here. My sources are research labs, DOE, NREL, EERIE, ANAL, universities and other institutes that are at the forefront of our energy future. I would only hope that you would read the info, glean what you will and move forward.


        • #5
          Re: Ethanol Myths and Facts

          Myth: US DOE gave straight answers to the questions they posed.

          Fact: They either didn't answer or deceptively answered only parts of each question they posed.
          Last edited by freedml; 01-28-2009, 03:14 PM.
          02 GX
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          • #6
            Re: Ethanol Myths and Facts

            And how about the Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico created by all the fertilizers being used to grow all this corn. It's about the size of New Jersey.

            I agree with Curtis that solving the energy crisis will require multiple technologies. Getting more vehicles to use CNG is one solution. That should be accompanied by developing more renewable sources of methane from landfills, sewage treatment, feedlots, biomass, etc.

            Liquid fuels will always be a significant chunk of the transportation pie. The most promising "technology" I see in the liquid fuels arena is oil from Algae. I've heard of claimed yields of 10,000-20,000 gallons per acre per year compared to about 300-500 gallons of ethanol per acre (and it takes about 200 gallons of fossil fuels to get those 300-500 gallons of ethanol).

            The reason I brought up algae is that the "Dead Zone" exists because of algae growth robbing the water of oxygen. If someone could figure out how to grow an oil lipid rich algae in the dead zone then they could help solve a couple of problems....

            BTW - I was in Phoenix yesterday and I love all those CNG shuttles in the airport. Cleanest air of any airport I've been in. And then I took a city bus and it was LNG. Even saw a lot of CNG city and state vehicles. Kudos to the Phoenix Clean Cities advocates and city government.
            Last edited by nttrainer; 01-28-2009, 03:28 PM.
            2004 Toyota Avalon bi-fuel
            2013 Tesla Model S 85


            • #7
              Re: Ethanol Myths and Facts

              I have to AGREE 100% with NTTrainer that cng should have more bio-cng push all across the USA to capture wasted methane. This is prime infrastructure spending zone that Obama can pursue IMHO, of course ONLY IF those systems result in more public cng refueling sites, and fleets of cng vehicles.

              As ironic as it is, town in Michigan with GM roots (Flint, MI) in undergoing first attempt in USA for wastewater biogas system with help from Sweden company that has already perfected it. See at:


              • #8
                Re: Ethanol Myths and Facts

                Personally I am not a huge advocate of any type of crop based fuel development for many reasons, unless we're talking Switch grass, or other forms of indigenous plant that requires no fertilizers or water to be sustainable.

                Sustainability is the key here. The algae projects are great because they can be done in effective and sustainable fashion. Switch grass grows wild and has great yields with virtually no help from anyone other than nature.

                But I think these things are only an intermediate solution. Technologies in development that are beginning to come to market will most likely offer better long term solutions.

                I just spent an hour on the phone with a gentleman named Allen Dusault, who is the Program Director for a company called Sustainable Conservation, a non-profit entity, that has a process for turning municipal solid waste into 2.7 billion gallons of ethanol per year. The process also can generate as much as 36 megawatts of electricity as a byproduct of capturing the heat from the process. I'm going to have him on my radio show in a couple of weeks to discuss it.

                This process could eliminate landfills from this country and turn the waste into not only fuel to displace gasoline, but electricity, syngas, hydrogen, urea, fertilizers and more. And that's just the bio waste solids. The process can even use tires, plastics, and most anything we toss away that has to be specially disposed of. They are getting ready to put their first plant in Florida.

                This is the type of technology that's going to displace gasoline and break our addiction to oil. I talk to companies with emerging technologies every day. Some are very exciting, some are a ways off given current legislation and the lobbies they are fighting to get their projects into the market.

                Liquid fuels are never going to go away... unfortunately. A hydrogen future is so far out in the future as to be unsee able from our current vantage point. We are going to explore many intermediate technologies before we get to a state of energy independence.

                Sure CNG/LNG is here now. cngacrossusa, Boone Pickens (and I) would like to see an immediate conversion to gaseous fuel... starting yesterday. But it isn't a reality we'll soon (if ever) see. CNG is a major player, and will continue to grow as a valued replacement for oil.

                The Clean Cities organization is concerned with one outcome, getting the country away from foreign oil as fast as possible. Bio fuels are going to be the poster child for this movement despite our greatest efforts to get cng recognized for what it is... here now and cleaner than all the other choices being offered.

                We will hang in there, fight the fight, spread the word, drive our cars, cuss out broken fuel dispensers and overpriced fuel providers... and build our army of cng proponents. When we are strong enough, and loud enough, we will begin to be heard, as we already have been.

                This group, and the Yahoo Groups that proceeded it, have already made a difference, effected policy, legislation, pricing policies, and more. We will continue to carry the banner and raise the awareness of those that we can reach in making cng a more widely accepted step toward energy independence. We gather allies to our cause simply by gathering the type and volume of industry experts we have here at cngchat. We are gaining our voice as we grow.

                So for now, tolerate the bio fuels industry, take DOE's reports with a grain of salt (if you must Michael), welcome the new technologies that make sense and let's all band together to break the back of OPEC before they break ours.


                • #9
                  Re: Ethanol Myths and Facts

                  BLUE 09 GX


                  • #10
                    Re: Ethanol Myths and Facts

                    The biggest thing that has slowed/stopped ethanol adoption in the US is the Corn lobby. By making sure the legislation for the incentives was focused strictly towards corn based ethanol, they successfully gave ethanol a bad reputation. Competing with food demand caused ethanol prices to go up as high/higher than gasoline, for less energy content.
                    1997 Factory Crown Victoria w/ extended tanks ~~ Clunkerized!
                    2000 Bi-Fuel Expedition --> ~~ Sold ~~ <--


                    • #11
                      Re: Ethanol Myths and Facts

                      Curtis, all that Myth/Fact data was very informative.

                      Just for kicks, I created my own Octane Graph to include Natural Gas
                      Attached Files


                      • #12
                        Re: Ethanol Myths and Facts

                        The only problem with this arguement is that the corn being used was not the type used for human consumption, it is feedstock corn and not fit for our consumption.

                        I have read the reports about ethanol driving up food prices (I even bought into it myself for a while) and it turns out that this is a spin launched by the anti-ethanol groups that was picked up by the press and has no basis in fact. I will look through my files and see if I can find the report on this.

                        My objection to corn ethanol is that is a far lower yield than other technologies available, high demand for water, fertilizers and oil based fuels to tend, harvest and transport.

                        In the decades to come, water is going to be as big of an issue as oil is now.


                        • #13
                          Re: Ethanol Myths and Facts

                          Originally posted by Curtis View Post
                          The only problem with this arguement is that the corn being used was not the type used for human consumption, it is feedstock corn and not fit for our consumption.

                          I have read the reports about ethanol driving up food prices (I even bought into it myself for a while) and it turns out that this is a spin launched by the anti-ethanol groups that was picked up by the press and has no basis in fact. I will look through my files and see if I can find the report on this.

                          My objection to corn ethanol is that is a far lower yield than other technologies available, high demand for water, fertilizers and oil based fuels to tend, harvest and transport.

                          In the decades to come, water is going to be as big of an issue as oil is now.
                          Curtis, it's not a matter of it directly using food corn, which as you pointed out, it isn't really, but it doesn't really matter what type of CORN it uses, it's a matter of how much Farmland it uses, which would be the same, if it DID use food grade corn. Corn is happiest in specific soil/climate conditions. Other stocks such as switchgrass can grow in much less favorable fields, meaning it wouldn't compete with food on nearly as direct a level. It would also be able to grow in a lot more of the nation, reducing the transportation hurdle/cost, by localizing it a bit. Of course, this is a reason for the huskers to fight against it. They would love to have their own little Corn-OPEC out there in Nebraska...
                          1997 Factory Crown Victoria w/ extended tanks ~~ Clunkerized!
                          2000 Bi-Fuel Expedition --> ~~ Sold ~~ <--


                          • #14
                            Re: Ethanol Myths and Facts

                            stealing food foor fuel just so we can ride in our suvs sucks I have traveled lots saw lots of hunger they would be happy with feed corn or anything else to put in there bellys also there is less btu in ethanol so it takes more to go a mile we used to race carts and would drill the jets out twice as big to start dialling it in so this tells me that it will take twice as much to go a mile last but not least it rots out gas tanks on older cars might be the plan to kill old cars but this just SUCKS


                            • #15
                              Re: Ethanol Myths and Facts

                              I can't disagree with either of you.

                              Like I said, it's emerging technologies that will really be the future of alt fuels. Can't wit to see the day when cars are fueled like the Delorean in the "Back to the Future" sequal where the Doc pulls up to a garbage can and throws a few pounds of trash in the hopper and drives/flies off. That technology already exists with plasma gasification but the power requirements are huge.