Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Ethanol - the Net Energy Debate continues

The Alternate Energy Blog has this post on how ethanol may actually need more (fossil fuel) energy to produce, than it can give out. The cartoon is telling enough actually.

One reason The Indic View does not wax eloquent on the virtues of ethanol is the uncertainty over its net energy status. Alt-e has some figures here, which apparently depend on who you ask:

"The ethanol lobby claims there's a 30 percent net gain in BTUs from ethanol made from corn. Other boosters, including Woolsey, claim there are huge energy gains (as much as 700 percent) to be had by making ethanol from grass."

However according to, "David Pimentel, a professor of ecology at Cornell University who has been studying grain alcohol for 20 years, and Tad Patzek, an engineering professor at the University of California, Berkeley,...ethanol from corn requires 29 percent more fossil energy than the ethanol fuel itself actually contains." The corresponding figures for soybeans is 27%, switch grass 50%, wood biomass 57% and sunflowers 118%.

On the Indian scene, the government is committed to ethanol-ing retail petrol soon, and a 5% blend has already been made mandatory. However the roll-out is currently not on track because of the unavailability of ethanol (sugar crop was bad last year). With a good crop expected this year (until recently at least), the government and the ethanol groups were confident of supplying enough to get the roll-out on track.

What about the cost? The last time I heard, the sugar mills were going to sell ethanol to the oil companies at something between Rs 19-21 per litre. Yes, the numbers looks rather unrealistic even to me. Does someone have any other numbers though?