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Corn+Soybean Digest

New Study Shows Updated Ethanol Efficiency

A new study shows that ethanol production is more efficient than previously stated. The study was conducted by Dan Walters, a University of Nebraska Institute of Ag and Natural Resources Scientist.

Walters found that today's ethanol has a positive energy balance and provides more energy than is used to produce it. Walters calculated the energy output to energy input ratio for converting irrigated corn to ethanol is 1.3-to-1 and 1.4-to-1 for dryland corn.

To calculate a modern energy balance for ethanol, Walters gathered and assessed current information on all the fossil fuel needed to grow and transport corn and to convert it to ethanol, blend it with gasoline and get it to the pump.

"Advances in ethanol conversion and plant efficiency are part of the equation," he says, "In 2002 a bushel of corn produced 2.7 gallons of ethanol, up from 2.5 gallons in 1990. Ethanol byproducts such as livestock feed enhance efficiency because energy would be needed to produce these products if they weren't made during ethanol conversion."

Walters also says that improvements in seed genetics, water use, crop management, nitrogen efficiency and production equipment also help boost energy efficiency.

Dakota Renewable Fuels Chairman Duane Dows of Page, ND says that, "This new study once again shows that ethanol production has made and continues to make great strides in efficiency. The positive energy balance shows that it makes sense to continue to build more ethanol plants."

Walters predicts ethanol's energy equation will continue improving along with farming and processing efficiencies.

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