The Car and Truck Fleet and Leasing Management Magazine

Report Says Biofuels from Crops Not Sustainable

July 12, 2005

SYRACUSE, NY – A new report from two leading universities says producing ethanol and biodiesel from corn and other crops is not worth the energy, reports According to a Cornell University release, turning plants such as corn, soybeans, and sunflowers into fuel uses much more energy than the resulting ethanol or biodiesel generates, according to a new Cornell University and University of California-Berkeley study. David Pimentel, professor of ecology and agriculture at Cornell, and Tad W. Patzek, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Berkeley, conducted a detailed analysis of the energy input-yield ratios of producing ethanol from corn, switch grass, and wood biomass as well as for producing biodiesel from soybean and sunflower plants. Their report is published in Natural Resources Research (Vol. 14:1, 65-76). In terms of energy output compared with energy input for ethanol production, the study found that corn requires 29 percent more fossil energy than the fuel produced; switch grass requires 45 percent more fossil energy than the fuel produced; and wood biomass requires 57 percent more fossil energy than the fuel produced. In terms of energy output compared with the energy input for biodiesel production, the study found that: soybean plants require 27 percent more fossil energy than the fuel produced, and sunflower plants require 118 percent more fossil energy than the fuel produced. The researchers considered such factors as the energy used in producing the crop (including production of pesticides and fertilizer, running farm machinery and irrigating, grinding and transporting the crop) and in fermenting/distilling the ethanol from the water mix. Although additional costs are incurred, such as federal and state subsidies that are passed on to consumers and the costs associated with environmental pollution or degradation, these figures were not included in the analysis. "Ethanol production in the United States does not benefit the nation's energy security, its agriculture, economy, or the environment," says Pimentel. "Ethanol production requires large fossil energy input, and therefore, it is contributing to oil and natural gas imports and U.S. deficits." He says the country should instead focus its efforts on producing electrical energy from photovoltaic cells, wind power, and burning biomass, and producing fuel from hydrogen conversion.
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