I recently read a book titled, Alcohol Can Be a Gas! It is an excellent 600 page book. A lot of time and research went into it. The book teaches almost everything you’d need to know to produce ethanol. I highly suggest you read the book if you’re at all interested in learning more about the ethanol industry, especially if you’re interested in investing in the industry. It might teach you something that could help you decide which ethanol companies are on the right track. I for one, won’t invest in producers using corn as their primary feedstock. There are many other efficient crops that make economical sense and don’t depend on government subsidies.
There are a lot of myths circulating about ethanol, so I thought I’d briefly show how the book debunks some of them.
Myth: It takes more energy to produce alcohol than it’s worth.
This myth is false, perpetuated by people that believe corn is the only crop that can create ethanol. Corn isn’t a very efficient crop, but luckily there are crops out there that are MANY times more efficient than corn. Brazil uses sugarcane to produce energy in a very efficient manner and is one of the most energy self-sustainable countries on the planet. The biomass parts of the plant that can’t be turned into ethanol are used to help distillation. It’s a very efficient method. There are other crops that are even more efficient than sugarcane, as alcohol can be made from anything with sugar or starch. There are also many companies and researchers working on creating cellulosic ethanol which will allow an even greater variety of plants to create ethanol. Regardless, some ethanol crops can be made very efficiently and produce MORE energy than consumed. It all depends on what crop, how it’s being grown, etc.
The people that cite this myth also often discount, or completely forget, the byproducts that result from manufacturing ethanol. Even corn ethanol results in a byproduct called DDGS. This ‘dried distillers grains with soluble’ still contain all of the protein and fat, and much of the cellulose, vitamins and minerals. The only thing that has been removed is the starch. This byproduct can still be used as an animal feed, and has been proven to be better than corn when fed to cattle (quicker cattle growth!). The removal of the starch, which goes through cattle undigested, allows quicker digestion and growth of the animal when DDGS is used.
Myth: Not enough land for food and fuel.
In terms of corn growth, corn only utilized ~8% of arable farmland, about 17% of the prime land, in the U.S. However, the reason so much corn is grown is to support the cattle industry and now the food industry in general (sugar from corn is now used in many of our soft drinks and other food products). In fact, the reason the U.S. ethanol industry uses corn is because for years, due to government subsidies, farmers have been growing more corn than we know what to do with. Yes, ethanol production in the United States began using corn as an answer for the overproduction. Otherwise, much of the U.S. ethanol would be grown using much more efficient crops and crops that don’t have subsidies.
You can’t forget that the byproduct of producing ethanol still leaves us with DDGS, which can effectively feed many animals. Also, if it were necessary, we could grow fish. Cattle take about ten pounds of feed to produce one pound of meat. That isn’t very efficient. We can improve the situation, if you’re truly worried about starving, by switching to fish. Fish only require 1.5 pounds of feed to produce one pound of meat. We could also use natural desert plants, on government land, for ethanol purposes, without any additional water or using up valuable farmland - Mesquite! The ocean can also be used to produce marine algae. What I’m trying to say is, many plants can be used on a variety of lands (and even sometimes on the ocean).
Myth: Ethanol is dirtier than gasoline.
Ethanol actually burns a lot cleaner than gasoline! Alcohol doesn’t have many of the harmful chemicals that gasoline does. Just go get your emissions checked while you’re running on 100% ethanol - they will assume their machine isn’t working because almost none of the normal pollutants from gasoline are present.
One part of the equation often forgotten is that during the growth of the plant, a lot of carbon dioxide is converted to oxygen, and a lot of carbon dioxide is sequestered in the cellulose tissue. Growing plants is good for the environment!
I didn’t include all the facts. The book, Alcohol Can Be a Gas! is an excellent one that has been well researched and contains a plethora of information. I’m 100% in favour of solar technology, but I think we often forget that plants are natures’ sustainable solar technology. We can use plants for fuel and food in a sustainable manner.
Often times the ethanol is just one piece of the puzzle. If you want to increase food production of both protein and plants, while solving our energy needs, it can be done. You take the DDGS byproduct from the crop (whatever crop you decide to use) during the production of ethanol. This byproduct is very valuable. You can either sell it to farmers/feedlots or you can grow your own protein. Cattle will grow faster with it! Even better, you can grow fish extremely efficiently. The fish create their own effluent (waste) that is just like a liquid fertilizer. The fish waste can be pumped into a greenhouse that is growing highly valuable vegetables/herbs/flowers/fruit/etc. You just got free fertilizer to grow a high quality crop! The plants take the effluent out of the water and the water can then be recycled back into the aquaculture system and is now safe. Yup, the fish feed the plants and the plants clean the water for the fish, which reduces the amount of water needed to grow fish. Now you can sell ethanol, high quality greenhouse crops, and valuable fish. Talk about efficiency and making economical sense - we can feed more people, make more money, and solve our energy problems. Not bad, eh?