Iowa Public Television


Proponent: Environmental Concerns Over Ethanol Unfounded

posted on August 17, 2007

Immigration isn't the only hot button topic for agriculture. The American quest to become less dependent on foreign oil has farmers and entrepreneurs clamoring for a piece of the ethanol pie.

But that's not to say the home-grown fuel is being produced without opposition.

While proponents boast of ethanol's economic influence on the rural economy, critics question the subsidies it receives and its impact on the environment.

Proponent: Environmental Concerns Over Ethanol Unfounded

The most recent complaint against the predominately corn-based fuel is its potential impact on the water table. In states experiencing unprecedented drought, the worry extends to farmers who irrigate their crops. Experts from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln have been studying water consumption by Nebraska's ethanol plants and concluded the impact on the water table is minimal. According to UNL Extension Engineers, a conventional ethanol plant takes 3 gallons of water to produce 1 gallon of product. Last year, 2 billion gallons of water were used by Nebraska's 15 bio-refineries to produce 676 gallons of ethanol. Despite what appears to be a large amount of water, Nebraska Extension officials point out annual rainfall in just one western county of the Cornhusker state is 900 billion gallons.

But opponents of ethanol believe differently. Outspoken expert Dr. David Pimentel, a staunch opponent of all things ethanol, believes the water use is higher than UNL officials believe. Pimentel, whose studies have been discredited by several scientists including some who work for USDA, puts the number closer to 15 gallons of water for every single gallon of ethanol produced.

And butanol, one of ethanol's renewable competitors, may have received a setback on its road to commercialization. In 2006, along with its limited partner DuPont, BP announced a possible release date for the biofuel of sometime in 2007 but BP announced a new target sometime in 2009.

Butanol appeals to many renewable fuels proponents because of its advantages over ethanol. According to scientists, the biofuel can be made from the same natural products as ethanol, pumped through pipelines, and deliver almost 80% of the power found in regular gasoline. Studies have revealed ethanol only produces 60 percent of the power in its petroleum-based counterpart and might cause corrosion in older pipelines.


Tags: agriculture biofuels ethanol news renewable fuels