Ethanol is energy-efficient and a plus for the environment

Saturday, September 30, 2006


In an op-ed column titled "Ethanol boondoggle" in the Sept. 20 Southeast Missourian, professor Michael Devaney of Southeast Missouri State University levels many criticisms about ethanol that are either highly misleading or, in some cases, patently false.

Specifically, Devaney claims that "credible studies" indicate ethanol requires more energy to produce than the energy it creates. He also states that, based on certain data, the U.S. Department of Agriculture was able to report that ethanol from corn is only "marginally efficient."

This claim is so preposterous that both the U.S. Department of Energy and the USDA have vehemently refuted it. According to a 2005 study by the Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory, ethanol generates 34 percent more energy than it takes to produce it. Therefore, clean-burning, renewable ethanol provides a positive net energy balance to our nation's energy supply.

This same DOE Argonne study indicates that it takes less fossil fuel energy to produce ethanol than it takes to produce gasoline. It takes 74 percent of fossil fuel energy to produce a unit of ethanol, while it takes 125 percent of fossil energy to produce a unit of gasoline.

The DOE study is in addition to a 2004 analysis completed by the USDA that also concluded that ethanol produces significantly more energy than it takes to produce it.

In terms of the environmental benefits of ethanol, Devaney once again misses the mark.

Ethanol is one of the best tools we have to fight automobile air pollution. Gasoline containing 10 percent ethanol will reduce smog-generating emissions like carbon monoxide by 25 to 30 percent, soot particles by 50 percent and volatile organic compounds such as benzene by 7 percent. Of course, these benefits of ethanol are only important if one cares about fighting cancer, heart disease and carbon emissions.

So the fact remains that whether it is produced from corn, other grains or biomass, ethanol production is an extremely energy-efficient process that has positive impact on the environment.

Kit Bond is a U.S. senator from Missouri.

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