Ethanol Production Methods More Efficient Now: Study

May 27, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- A new University of Illinois at Chicago study of facilities that produce most of the nation's ethanol found that the energy needed to make a gallon of the corn-based fuel decreased on average by about 30 percent within the past decade.

Steffen Mueller, principal research economist at UIC's Energy Resources Center, surveyed the nation's 150 "dry mill" plants -- the type that produce about 85 percent of the ethanol for energy use -- between November 2009 and January 2010.

The findings may prove useful to state and federal energy policy makers studying the pros and cons of fuels based on their "full life-cycle" -- the total energy needed to create a fuel compared to its energy output, the greenhouse gases emitted during production, the water used in production, and other factors.

"Policy makers rightfully pay attention to life cycle of fuels," said Mueller. " refineries, including plants, are in a rapid innovation phase."

He said his survey shows that adoption of new technologies reduces energy production needs.

"The challenge for policy makers will be to keep up with these developments so that regulations are meaningful and reflect state-of-the-art industry practices," he said.

Mueller received 90 responses -- about 60 percent of the plants contacted. But those responding produce about 66 percent of the 35 billion or so liters of ethanol distilled yearly in the U.S.

Mueller said the high response should provide a sound statistical basis for policy makers, environmental groups, and researchers who will help design new energy-efficient and eco-friendly methods.

Mueller found plants use 28 percent less thermal energy -- mostly natural gas, but some coal, biomass and landfill gas -- and 32 percent less electricity to turn corn into ethanol. The savings may be due to more efficient equipment being used by new plants and older ones undergoing retrofits, he said.

The 24-question survey was developed with ethanol industry input. Senior or operations plant managers at all 150 U.S. dry mill plants operating during 2008 were contacted. The web-based survey was created by the University of Illinois Survey Research Laboratory, which also collected the data.

Mueller's findings were compared to the last comprehensive survey taken in 2001, commissioned by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Since that time there has been a nearly 10-fold increase in the number of U.S. ethanol plants.

The findings are published online in the May 15 issue of Biotechnology Letters.

Explore further: Going nuts? Turkey looks to pistachios to heat new eco-city

Related Stories

Lower gas prices beat lower greenhouse gases in online survey

May 27, 2009

Asked to choose between lower gasoline prices and reduced greenhouse gas emissions from gasoline, 66 percent of Americans in a new online survey chose lower gas prices and the rest said that reducing the emissions that cause ...

Study critiques corn-for-ethanol's carbon footprint

Mar 02, 2009

To avoid creating greenhouse gases, it makes more sense using today's technology to leave land unfarmed in conservation reserves than to plow it up for corn to make biofuel, according to a comprehensive Duke University-led ...

Ethanol production said increasing erosion

Jul 06, 2005

Large-scale farming of sugar cane and corn for ethanol fuel is increasing erosion and reducing biodiversity, Washington State University researchers say.

Recommended for you

Obama launches measures to support solar energy in US

Apr 17, 2014

The White House Thursday announced a series of measures aimed at increasing solar energy production in the United States, particularly by encouraging the installation of solar panels in public spaces.

Tailored approach key to cookstove uptake

Apr 17, 2014

Worldwide, programs aiming to give safe, efficient cooking stoves to people in developing countries haven't had complete success—and local research has looked into why.

User comments : 4

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Shootist
1 / 5 (4) May 27, 2010
"Ethanol Production Methods More Efficient Now: Study"

Ethanol still contain 1/2 the BTUs per pound of gasoline. Put ethanol in your tank, go fewer miles for more money.

Stupid corn lobby. Stupid Iowa.
merlinson
5 / 5 (2) May 28, 2010
BTUs are a measure of the fuels ability to boil water at room temp and pressure, but in an internal combustion engine, the fuel-air mixture is compressed and then exploded at extremely high temp and pressure to do work pushing down on a piston. The compression ratio dominates the efficiency of an IC engine. Google "scania diesel-ethanol" to get an idea of what an engine designed for ethanol is like. In addition, the fuel can be vaporized by a preheater rather than injected as a fine mist of liquid droplets before exploding to further increase the efficiency. We could end up with a vehicle with 20% better mileage than diesel with a relatively cheap engine. But first we will have to learn to stop drinking the oil company kool-aid and get to the next step of widely available sustainable ethanol from non-food sources.
PinkElephant
not rated yet May 28, 2010
Thanks to merlinson, I learned something new today:

http://gas2.org/2...sel-too/

Seems custom-built ethanol "diesels" achieve thermal efficiency in excess of 40% (!!), compared to max efficiency of ~25% for the best gasoline engines. So even if you need twice the fuel on pure energy content basis, yet you're using it almost twice as efficiently, then on balance your cost and distance traveled wouldn't be that different.

Seems like a nice incremental step forward. Of course, what would get me really excited, is a practical direct ethanol fuel cell (that in theory could raise efficiency upward of 60%.) There's still a long way to go, however:

http://en.wikiped...uel_cell
Sean_W
2 / 5 (4) May 28, 2010
Regardless of its potential as a vehicle fuel, ethanol is an important industrial chemical and making it with less money and energy will always be a positive development. Also, many of the efficiency gains that have been achieved and are in development are just as beneficial for non-corn sourced ethanol. Some of them are even helpful in butanol production which is a much better vehicle fuel for several reasons and can also be produced by fermenting biomass but is further behind in the R&D process.

More news stories

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Airbnb rental site raises $450 mn

Online lodging listings website Airbnb inked a $450 million funding deal with investors led by TPG, a source close to the matter said Friday.

Health care site flagged in Heartbleed review

People with accounts on the enrollment website for President Barack Obama's signature health care law are being told to change their passwords following an administration-wide review of the government's vulnerability to the ...

A homemade solar lamp for developing countries

(Phys.org) —The solar lamp developed by the start-up LEDsafari is a more effective, safer, and less expensive form of illumination than the traditional oil lamp currently used by more than one billion people ...

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...