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New Study Questions Energy Balance of Ethanol, Biodiesel.

Cornell University recently announced that a new study conducted by Cornell ecology and agriculture professor David Pimentel and University of California-Berkeley civil and environmental engineering professor Tad Patzek finds that the amount of energy required to convert crops into ethanol and biodiesel is far greater than the amount of energy generated by the alternative fuels.

Specifically, the researchers report that corn requires 29 percent more fossil energy than ethanol produces, with switch grass requiring 45 percent more energy and wood biomass 57 percent more, while soybean plants require 27 percent more fossil energy than biodiesel produces and sunflower plants require 118 percent more energy.

"The United States desperately needs a liquid fuel replacement for oil in the near future, but producing ethanol or biodiesel from plant biomass is going down the wrong road...," said Pimentel. "The government spends more than $3 billion a year to subsidize ethanol production when it does not provide a net energy balance or gain, is not a renewable energy source or an economical fuel."

Ethanol and biodiesel groups have been quick to condemn the new study as inaccurate and reliant on antiquated figures.

According to American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) president Bob Stallman, the federation will continue to stand behind the results of a study conducted last year by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Energy (DOE), which concluded that for each Btu of energy it takes to produce corn-based ethanol, the fuel yields 1.67 Btus of energy.

"It's a compound effect, and it truly must make one wonder if the researchers have not intentionally stacked the deck to make ethanol look as bad as possible leading up to a crucial vote on federal energy legislation," said Stallman.

Similarly, American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE) vice president of market development Ron Lamberty has slammed the study as "just the latest regurgitation of Pimentel's research from 1979," adding that Patzek spent nearly a decade working for Shell Oil Company as a researcher, consultant and expert witness, as well as founded and serves as the current director of the US Oil Consortium.

The National Biodiesel Board (NBB) also weighed in on the new research findings, noting that the "prevailing" 1998 USDA and DOE life-cycle study of the energy balance of biodiesel found that for every one unit of fossil energy used in the entire biodiesel production cycle, 3.2 units of energy are gained when the fuel is burned.

Contact: Cornell, website

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Publication:Alternative Transportation Fuels Today
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 25, 2005
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