New! Make your own ethanol fuel
See Energy Balance of Corn Ethanol Results -- six charts that show the picture at a glance (Acrobat file, 140 kb)
Regarding the energy balance of biodiesel, see, eg:
Life Cycle Inventory of Biodiesel and Petroleum Diesel for Use in an Urban Bus -- A Joint Study Sponsored by: U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Energy Final Report May 1998. 1.8 Mb Acrobat file:
An Overview of Biodiesel and Petroleum Diesel Life Cycles, Sheehan, Camobreco, Duffield, Graboski, Shapouri, National Renewable Energy Laboratory of the U.S. Department of Energy, Midwest Research Institute, May 1998. 655kb Acrobat file: http://www.biodiesel.org/resources/reportsdatabase/reports/
How Much Energy Does It Take To Make A Gallon of Soydiesel? by David Morris, Irshad Ahmed and John Decker, 15-Feb-05, 1.5Mb Acrobat file:
"The Pimentel/Patzek study uses outdated information on agricultural practices as well as unrealistic and unsubstantiated assumptions regarding energy inputs. At least eight other peer-reviewed studies that have been conducted over the past 12 years find exactly the opposite, that biodiesel has a highly positive energy balance. This new study is not convincing and does not represent a significant contribution or advance in this area of energy research." -- Dr. Robert McCormick, US DOE National Renewable Energy Laboratory, in National Biodiesel Board, DOE, USDA Officials Dispute Biofuels Study: Pimentel/Patzak study deeply flawed, researchers say, NBB, July 21, 2005. 36kb Acrobat file:
Energy Balance of Biodiesel
Units of energy produced for 1 unit of energy consumed *
- Petroleum 0.88 units produced
- Ethanol 1.62 units produced
- Soy Biodiesel 3.24 units produced
The energy in-energy out life-cycle studies use a standard farm as the production model. Such a thing as a standard farm may exist as a statistical average, but a "standard" farming procedure is a myth even on industrialised farms. Anyway, industrial farming has about as much future as the cheap fossil fuels it depends on so heavily, it's hardly a suitable model for sustainable biofuels production. One 15-year study found that organic farming is not only kinder to the environment than "conventional", intensive agriculture but has comparable yields of both products and profits. The study showed that yields of organic maize are identical to yields of maize grown with fertilisers and pesticides, while soil quality in the organic fields dramatically improves. (Drinkwater, L.E., Wagoner, P. & Sarrantonio, M. Legume-based cropping systems have reduced carbon and nitrogen losses. Nature 396, 262265.) These findings are widely corroborated. See, eg: The case for organics -- Scientific studies and reports
Minnesota Department of Agriculture
See also Food or Fuel?
What would these models have to do with a homesteader who has a good supply of waste wood to burn and no better way of using it, plus a large supply of past-their-use-by-date cakes from a bread factory that he's rescuing from the waste stream? (An actual case.) The cakes could go to a pig farm instead, but they don't. There are many such niches -- spoiled fruit from farms that ought to have pigs but don't, and so on and on. Such factors never get calculated.
What would it have to do with this? "We are looking at a very interesting integrated distillery approach being developed by the Brazilians, where instead of going for the large 300,000 litres per day plants, a fully integrated approach is taken with a 1,500 ha area, farmed by small growers, and feeding sugarcane and sweet sorghum into a 20,000 litres per day plant, with cattle feedlots at the distillery, the manure going into [biogas] digesters with the stillage, producing enough energy for the distillery, leaving the bulk of the bagasse to be used for power generation to supply the surrounding areas." (Energy projects in Africa.)
See also Bio-regional energy -- India's Talukas.
Once you start looking at the local level and at integrated approaches to crop production and wastes, and include energy production and use, a different picture emerges that leaves these broad generalisations without much meaning.
A sustainable mixed farm can produce all its own fuel, with much or possibly all of it coming from crop by-products and waste products without any dedicated land use, and with very low input levels.
Biofuels production only makes real sense when the fuel is used as close as possible to where the crop is grown. It makes no sense to waste energy trucking crops long distances to a centralised Big Biofuels plant and then wasting even more energy trucking it all the way back again. The Fuel Miles issue is the same as the Food Miles issue.
See also How much fuel can we grow? How much land will it take?
There's yet another way of looking at it. This is from Offgrid-Online, April 5, 2000.
"Will we get out more energy than we put in? Does it matter? Generally a scheme that did not create more energy than it consumed would be useless, but in this case we might have a different view. Since we are after a portable fuel, we might be willing to spend more energy to get it, so long as we used a non-portable fuel to do so. For example, suppose we use wood-fired heat to make alcohol. Wood is a poor fuel as far as portability in general is concerned and is nearly useless for internal combustion engines. [But see Woodgas -- JtF] So what if we have to spend 2 BTUs of wood heat for each BTU of alcohol fuel produced? That might still be a good deal if we had lots of wood and gasoline was (that is, continues to be) highly priced."
The Sierra Club, among other "green" organisations in the US, has a different objection to ethanol. They see the whole issue as clouded by the high levels of nitrogen fertilisers used to grow the maize, and the eco-damage the N-runoff causes.
But that's an objection to US factory farming, not to ethanol. In a more rational system there's no need for nitrogen fertilisers, and no loss of yield through not using them.
It seems strange that an organisation like the Sierra Club doesn't know about organic farming, or pretends not to. But then they're still fighting diesels.
See also Food or Fuel?
En español -- Biocombustibles, biodiesel
Biofuels supplies and suppliers
Make your own biodiesel
Mike Pelly's recipe
Two-stage biodiesel process
FOOLPROOF biodiesel process
Biodiesel in Hong Kong
Nitrogen Oxide emissions
Biodiesel resources on the Web
Do diesels have a future?
Vegetable oil yields and characteristics
Biodiesel and your vehicle
Food or fuel?
Straight vegetable oil as diesel fuel
Ethanol resources on the Web
Is ethanol energy-efficient?
The energy in-energy out life-cycle studies use a standard farm as the production model. Such a thing as a standard farm may exist as a statistical average, but a "standard" farming procedure is a myth even on industrialised farms. Anyway, industrial farming has about as much future as the cheap fossil fuels it depends on so heavily, it's hardly a suitable model for sustainable biofuels production.
One 15-year study found that organic farming is not only kinder to the environment than "conventional", intensive agriculture but has comparable yields of both products and profits. The study showed that yields of organic maize are identical to yields of maize grown with fertilisers and pesticides, while soil quality in the organic fields dramatically improves. (Drinkwater, L.E., Wagoner, P. & Sarrantonio, M. Legume-based cropping systems have reduced carbon and nitrogen losses. Nature 396, 262265.) These findings are widely corroborated. See, eg: The case for organics -- Scientific studies and reports
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