The bottom line for ethanol — it’s a stop-gap measure for transitioning from gasoline to ? (the next auto fuel).
A new analysis by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley concludes that the production of ethanol from corn uses less petroleum energy than the production of gasoline. However, they also conclude that the reduction in greenhouse gases derived by using corn ethanol as a fuel is smaller than some thought—between 10% to 15%.
The researchers note that new technologies now in development such as those for the production of cellulosic ethanol promise to make ethanol a truly green fuel with significantly less environmental impact than gasoline.
The UC Berkeley study, published in this issue of Science, deconstructed six separate high-profile—and contradictory—studies of ethanol. They assessed the studies’ assumptions and then reanalyzed each after correcting errors, inconsistencies and outdated information regarding the amount of energy used to grow corn and make ethanol, and the energy output in the form of fuel and corn byproducts.
It is better to use various inputs to grow corn and make ethanol and use that in your cars than it is to use the gasoline and fossil fuels directly. The people who are saying ethanol is bad are just plain wrong.
But it isn’t a huge victory—you wouldn’t go out and rebuild our economy around corn-based ethanol.—Dan Kammen, co-director of the Berkeley Institute of the Environment and UC Berkeley’s Class of 1935 Distinguished Chair of Energy
The goal of the UC Berkeley analysis was to understand how six studies of fuel ethanol could come to such different conclusions about the overall energy balance in its production and use. Kammen and Alex Farrell of the Energy and Resources Group at UC Berkeley, with their students Rich Plevin, Brian Turner and Andy Jones along with Michael O’Hare, a professor in the Goldman School of Public Policy dissected each study and recreated its analysis in a spreadsheet where they could be compared side-by-side.