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In the next issue of "The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences" is a report on the efficiency of producing biodiesel fuels from corn and soybeans.

A team of Minnesota ecologists and economists added up all the costs and benefits of the two food based biofuels.

They included the energy required to grow the crops, run the machinery, the cost of pesticides and fertilizers as well as the environmental impacts of the chemicals used. They added in the cost of transportation and processing required to transform the food source into ethanol.

Overall, corn yields 25% more energy than the cost to produce the fuel, while soybeans yield 93% more energy as biofuel.

Ecologist David Tillman, at the University of Minnesota in St. Paul, noted:

The goal wasn't to pick a winner or loser...Using food for biofuels has been a very good way to demonstrate that biofuels are a viable product.

The analysis noted that even if all the corn in America was converted to biofuels, only 12% of the gasoline and 6% of the diesal demand could be met.

Extracted from Science News, 15 July 2006 vol 170 p 37 by A. Cunningham.

Originally posted to drdave on Tue Jul 18, 2006 at 07:17 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (4+ / 0-)

    Note, Daniel Kammen of UC Berkeley, a critic of corn / biodiesel subsidies, said this was "neat work".

  •  Cottonseed (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I did my senior project on production of biodiesel from used oil feedstock (i.e. used cooking oil).  We employed a supercritical method [warning: PDF link] which wasn't profitable AT ALL, but when supplementing the feedstock with local Texas cottonseed oil, the project was insanely profitable.  Where there's a will, and a financier, there's a way.

    •  Prairie Grass (0+ / 0-)

      Congratulations on a good study.

      Prairie Grass is another source that has distinct advantages over corn from an energy production and environmental impact viewpoint.

      Brasil does it with sugarcane.

      •  and almost (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        drdave, snacksandpop

        75% of the cars made there now can run on it. The US could import the fuel if only a $.54 tax wasn't levied on every gallon. (note this nyt article.)

        The reason this fuel isn't being imported should be clear - no US company will be making money off of it.

        This leads to the more important notion that the main concern for the development of any fuel, clean buring or not, is who stands to profit from it. I have to imagine that Bush's decision to support hydrogen fuel cells isn't based in what is most efficient or even feasible, but how much moeny can be made of it.

        Solar powered electric cars would put the ability to power cars in each person's hands and not at the whim of some multi-national. Any other reason come to mind why this technology is rarely mentioned when functional electric cars are already in existance?

  •  My impression is that (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    all of these technologies are pretty much hopeless, because the amount of ag land required is just too big.

    The only method with some hope is the conversion of cellulose (not starch, sugar, or veg oil) to fuel.

    This is a technology that is just getting off the ground.


    Any thoughts?

    •  Incremental gains (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      There is no need to get a single technology to solve all the problems.

      1000 pieces yielding 1/10 % each is 100%

      That is how the marketplace works.

      Ask the guy munching a Snickers bar how many steps are required to deliver the candy bar to his lips.

      Ask the Intelligent Design advocate how many Billions of Dollars are required to create from scratch the delivery system for a Snickers bar to his lips.


      •  At a certain point, the pie will (0+ / 0-)

        have to have a few big slices.

        Today the big slices are coal, oil, natural gas, and nuclear.

        Tomorrow's pie will potentially have slices made up of nuclear, biomass, cleaner coal, wind, solar, ocean thermal, etc.

        But there aren't a 1000 different technologies, good for a 1000 slices.  We have a half-dozen or so potential ways to fill all of our energy needs.

  •  Not hopeless. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    drdave, snacksandpop

    We need to avoid hopelessness.

    10% of our oil usage would be a big deal.

    I'll bet we could easily improve overall fleet milage by 20% in short order.

    We can't walk away from oil today, but that's no reason not to decrease our usage.

    (Currently getting 40 mpg from my VW Beetle TDi, running on 100% biodiesel, currently cheaper than regular gas)

    •  No magic bullet (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      There is a place for a lot of new fuel to fit in to the big picture, along with efficiency. Biodiesel is a piece of the puzzle. Beetle sized cars are another.

      Visualize subpoena power

      by George on Tue Jul 18, 2006 at 08:40:18 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Remember, its more than 10% of imports (0+ / 0-)

      There is also the national security angle.  A 10% supplement from a genuinely renewable biofuel (eg, switchgrass ethanol, corn stover ethanol, not corn starch ethanol!!!), a 10% increase in efficiency, and a 10% reduction in travel required by fighting urban sprawl, equals

      100% - (90%)*(90%)*(90%) = 100% - 73% = 27% saving.

      If 60% is imported, that is almost half of US imports for transport.

      20% improvement in efficiency plus 20% reduction in required travel is:

      100% - (90%)*(80%)*(80%) = 100% - 58% = 42% saving.

      That's more than two thirds of US imports for transport.

      And reducing US import demand is the only step that the US can take to slow the price increase for crude oil.

  •  I have heard about (0+ / 0-)

    algae as a feedstock

    Wiki article

    and heard some claims that it is much more efficient than even soybeans-twice as much yield or more in the lab.

    Any comments on this?  I've been an ethanol fan for a loooooong time, but am not as informed on biodiesel.

    Live Free or Die-words to live by

    by ForFreedom on Tue Jul 18, 2006 at 09:20:13 PM PDT

  •  Link? (0+ / 0-)


    Only $1 donations accepted.
    A Senator you can afford.
    Masel for Senate
    1214 E. Mifflin
    Madison, WI 53703

    by ben masel on Tue Jul 18, 2006 at 09:47:13 PM PDT

  •  Algae (0+ / 0-)

    My friend at the Bio Diesel Coop says Algae yields the most energy per acre.

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