A Range of Estimates on Ethanol's Benefits

On the positive side, analysts at the Agriculture Department concluded in their most recent assessment that ethanol offered a substantial gain, producing a positive output 67 percent greater than the energy inputs. But others who view ethanol favorably are more conservative, with several estimating the net energy benefit at about 20 percent.

David Pimentel, a professor of agriculture and life sciences at Cornell University, is one of several researchers who has challenged the Agriculture Department’s conclusion. He has estimated that ethanol requires 29 percent more energy from fossil fuels than it delivers in savings from not using gasoline.

Dr. Pimentel, along with Tadeusz W. Patzek, a civil and environmental engineer from the University of California at Berkeley, published research finding that the Agriculture Department’s analysis excluded the energy required to produce or repair farm machinery, as well as the steel and cement used to build the plants.

The Agriculture Department counters by noting that the professors failed to consider the energy benefit of certain ethanol byproducts, including corn oil and corn gluten, and said they were using old farm machinery data.

“They put all the energy on the ethanol,” said Roger Conway, director of the department’s office of energy policy and new uses.

The Agriculture Department also points to increases in corn yields, and efficiency improvements in the fertilizer and ethanol industries, which add to ethanol’s energy benefit.

Dr. Pimentel acknowledged the omissions of some byproducts, saying they might have boosted the energy balance to as much as break even. But he said that even a best-case scenario, using his calculations, did not justify a heavy investment in ethanol. He called the push into ethanol a “boondoggle” motivated by farm-state politics and big profits.

Dr. Pimentel, who first began criticizing ethanol as an energy alternative about 25 years ago, said that he has never been supported by the oil industry. Dr. Patzek has worked as a researcher for an oil company in the past but said that his biofuels research had received no support from the industry.

More at the source.

After the article, nobody will wonder why some big companies have accounting problems, I suppose. Is it 20% profit or loss? 🙂

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