No brainer: Ethanol is a good energy value

No brainer: Ethanol is a good energy value By Paul Roberts The July 22 Plain Talk editorial "Ethanol can't ease energy woes" sharply criticized both ethanol and ethanol production. The article starts out saying, �When you stop and think about it, it�s a no brainer.� Well, let�s stop and think about the basis for this editorial conclusion.

The editorial challenges positive statements about ethanol by our congressional delegation and ethanol industry as rhetoric and uses a recent study for this basis. There certainly has been a discussion for many years about the �energy balance of ethanol.� So let�s first look at the study this editorial uses for its conclusions.

The study used by the Plain Talk editorial to discredit the energy value of ethanol was released a few weeks ago by Professors David Pimentel of Cornell University and Tad Patzek of the University of California, Berkeley. They claim it takes more energy to produce a gallon of ethanol than the ethanol offers as a motor fuel.

The study uses outdated corn and energy data from 1992. It uses energy data relative to manufacturing from 1979. In addition, if you look at the study it uses an unreasonable basis for measuring the energy equation of ethanol.

The study, in a most complicated and detailed presentation, ridiculously and unfairly uses all the energy used to grow a bushel of corn as energy costs associated with ethanol. Ethanol is a co-product of corn production. Corn is grown as an overall market product, not a crop grown specially for ethanol. The study also attributes the energy costs of irrigation applying to all corn production when only about 15 percent of U.S. corn production is irrigated.

The study assigns the cost of energy used in the manufacture of farm machinery to ethanol. The study even goes so far as to assign cost to ethanol for the �soil humus and micro-element depletion� for the soils used to grow corn. In addition, Pimentel gives almost no credit to the valuable co-products created through the ethanol production process like livestock feed stocks, corn sweeteners and carbon dioxide.

Since 1995, 12 studies have been undertaken to determine the energy balance of ethanol. Only three of those studies found ethanol to have a negative energy balance. Not surprisingly, all three studies were authored by Pimentel. Maybe the reason these studies find a negative energy for ethanol is a long standing relationship to big oil; Patzek spent nearly a decade working for Shell Oil Company.

Or could it be the funding received from the oil industry for such studies. The latest figures from the USDA show that ethanol provides a net energy gain of 67 percent or more. Government agencies, universities, and independent researchers have all found ethanol to be an efficient fuel made through an efficient process.

Maybe our editor should spend a little space talking about the hidden costs of imported foreign oil. The price paid at the pump is only a small part of the cost for oil. What would that cost of oil be if we assigned the direct cost of dependence on imported oil? What is the cost in the defense budget protecting foreign sources of oil, fighting wars, which might be less importance if the Middle East did not control our oil life?

Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but readers of the Plain Talk would be better served by opinions based on facts. Ethanol has positive energy balance. The value of ethanol can be defined in terms of its economic value to farmers as producers, to plant investors, to local economies, to states like South Dakota, and as part of the national energy solution to lessen the risks associated with this countries dependence on foreign oil.

Ethanol also has a positive environmental value in that it produces a cleaner burning fuel, and that makes it an environmentally friendly fuel.

When you stop and think about it, and look at the facts, �it is a no brainer.� Ethanol is a good energy value.

Paul Roberts, Vermillion, is manager of Clay Union Electric.

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