Ethanol (non)efficiency

February 26, 2008

True or False: It takes about seven barrels of oil to make eight barrels of ethanol.

The answer is: TRUE.

Despite being pitched as an alternative to oil, the ethanol production process actually depends on oil to work, leading some to claim that ethanol is actually boosting demand for oil, not curbing our appetite for it.

In the words of the Cato Institute, “It takes a lot of petroleum…to produce and distribute corn and turn it into moonshine – about seven barrels of oil to produce eight barrels of corn-based ethanol.”

The different forms the oil takes include diesel fuel, fertilizer, plastics and pesticides, Cato says, adding that you get less energy from the eight ethanol barrels than you do from the seven oil barrels. The reason: The fuel economy of a car drops when it runs on Ethanol, so you need more Ethanol to match the energy you get from oil — which means you need more oil to make that extra Ethanol.

The recent rise in corn prices–almost 70 percent in the past six months–caused by the increased demand for ethanol biofuel has come much sooner than many agriculture economists had expected.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, this year the country is going to use 18 to 20 percent of its total corn crop for the production of ethanol, and by next year that will jump to 25 percent.,


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