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Corn+Soybean Digest

Exploding Myths About Ethanol

Ever been hit up about ethanol questions you couldn't quite answer or defend? For example, mainstream media often questions the economic and environmental feasibility of ethanol. Here are some rebuttals that will help you explain the other side of these arguments:

It takes more energy to make ethanol than you get from ethanol.

  • A study of all the studies agreed that ethanol's energy balance is positive (Journal Science Ethanol Energy Balance Report: January 2006, “Ethanol Can Contribute to Energy and Environmental Goals”).

  • Each gallon of ethanol provides on average 67% more energy than it takes to produce it. (See USDA's “Net Energy Balance of Corn-Ethanol” study by Hosein Shapouri at

  • After including the energy in corn farming (which decreases as yields increase), and after giving credit for the energy of distiller's dried grains with solubles (DDGS), ethanol provides as much as 1.8 btu for every btu used.

  • The argument that ethanol does not provide much energy relative to the imported hydrocarbon-fuel used to make it is not true. Every gallon of liquid fuel (imported petroleum-based fuel) used in the process yields 13 gal. of ethanol.

Ethanol plants consume too much water.

  • An ethanol plant uses about 3 gal. of water for every gallon of ethanol it produces.

  • A town with a population of 3,000 people will use about the same amount of water as an ethanol plant.

  • All of the ethanol production in the U.S. in 2006 — 5 billion gallons — used about as much water as the citizens of Omaha. Ethanol production represents .0001% of the water used in the U.S. each year.

Because of lower mileage, ethanol costs more to use.

  • Studies show the average difference in mileage is 1.5%. On a standard fill-up, that's 406 miles on unleaded vs. 400 miles on E10. Most of the more negative studies on mileage you hear about refer to E85, not E10.

  • Due to the lower taxes, the cost per mile is almost always lower when using ethanol blends.

  • Basing cost on mpg is shortsighted. Ethanol burns cleaner and cooler than gas, and will likely prolong engine life.

We are driving up food prices just to fuel our cars.

  • We don't use food to make ethanol. The DDGS go right back into the food supply.

  • When corn went from $2 to $4/bu., the cost of corn in a box of corn flakes went from 3¢ to 6¢.

  • At current prices, per-capita food spending will increase by about $10 a year in the U.S.

  • Is anyone really running out of corn … or just cheap corn?

Editor's Note: Much of the research on ethanol and the environment is collected on the Web site of the American Coalition for Ethanol at

Corn's Role In Food Prices

According to a new analysis of food, energy and corn prices conducted by John Urbanchuk of consulting firm LECG, “rising energy prices had a more significant impact on food prices than did corn.” In fact, rising energy prices have twice the impact on the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for food than does the price of corn, according to the report. “Energy is required to produce, process, package and ship each food item. Conversely, corn prices impact just a small segment of the food market since not all products rely on corn for production.

According to the study, “Increasing petroleum prices have about twice the impact on consumer food prices as equivalent increases in corn prices. A 33% increase in crude oil prices — the equivalent of $1/gal. over current levels of retail gasoline prices — would increase retail food prices measured by the CPI for food by 0.6-.9%. An equivalent increase in corn prices — about $1/bu. over current levels — would increase consumer food prices only 0.3%.”

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