FAQs About Ethanol and E³ BioFuels
Why are we hearing so much about ethanol?
Ethanol, or grain alcohol, makes up 99 percent of all biofuels in the United States. 3.4 billion gallons of ethanol were blended into gasoline in 2004, about 2 percent of all gasoline sold by volume that year, a share that is growing rapidly. To avoid having to use so much foreign oil to power our cars, the Big Three U.S. automakers have set a goal by 2012 of making half of all American cars "Flexible Fuel Vehicles" which can run on E85 (fuel that is 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline, as opposed to gasoline currently sold at the pump which already may be up to 10-15 percent ethanol).
Green is the new red, white, and blue.
—Thomas Freidman, author and New York Times columnist
How does E3 BioFuels' system improve on the energy balance of ethanol?
Because no fossil fuels are required to heat the boilers, and an E3 BioFuels plant instead produces its own energy by digesting cow manure, far more net energy is produced from the E3 process than with traditional ethanol.
Estimates for the net energy balance of gasoline vary, but most industry analysts accept a ratio of 3:1. In June 2004, the USDA estimated a net energy balance of 1.67:1 for traditional ethanol production. Because our production system is so efficient, we've calculated the energy balance inside the walls of the E3 plant at 46 units of ethanol energy produced per unit of fossil fuels (which still generate the electricity we use at the plant).
E3's total "corn-to-consumer" energy balance is better than 5:1. At the same, it's important to note that while corn is the primary grain involved in E3's system, we are also using corn cellulose as part of our production process.
Does ethanol reduce your car mileage?
Ethanol replaces gasoline, but slightly more of it is required (anywhere from 5 to 25 percent) to travel the same distance. Over time, its price will adjust to reflect this; meanwhile, the government subsidizes ethanol because of its major environmental, economic and foreign policy advantages that gasoline cannot match. In addition, as more vehicles become available made specifically to run on ethanol, advances in fuel efficiency will continue to be integrated into auto manufacture.
Does ethanol make economic sense even without government subsidies?
Current laws provide for a federal tax exemption of 51 cents per gallon of ethanol blended into gasoline. For example, fuel blended with 10 percent ethanol receives a tax credit of 5.1 cents per gallon. E-85, which is 85 percent ethanol by volume, receives a 43 cent credit for each gallon. Legislation passed in 2004 (the Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit) extends this tax credit through 2010.
Even with the federal tax credit, ethanol receives far less government support than the oil industry. "A recent study by the U.S. General Accounting Office found that, since 1968, the oil industry has received approximately $150 billion in tax incentives. By contrast, the ethanol industry has received $11.2 billion through a partial exemption of the federal excise tax and $200 million in income tax credits." Oil has received 92.4 percent more financial support than ethanol from the government.
A 1997 editorial in the New York Times put the real cost of gasoline—including military expenditures to protect oil interests —at $5 per gallon. Such costs have risen dramatically in the decade since.
Will we have enough corn to meet our ethanol needs?
According to the USDA, the average corn yield was 103 bushels per acre in 1979-1981 and increased to 144 bushels per acre in 2002-2004 (an increase of 40 percent). New technology increases the productivity of corn farming techniques and puts land previously considered marginal into production, meaning we can grow more corn on the same amount of land. Additionally, agricultural companies are developing hybrid grains with greater ethanol yields per bushel of corn.
At the same, it's important to note, that while corn is the primary grain involved in E3's system, we are also using corn cellulose as part of our production process.
Additionally, as advances are made in the technology and production of ethanol—including cellulosic ethanol—it is expected that E3's "closed loop" system will also be able to applied to difference sources of grain and cellulosic matter.
How does E3 BioFuels' closed-loop system help prevent global warming?
Ethanol made with closed loop system is carbon neutral in a "corn to consumer" perspective. As it grows, the corn used in ethanol production absorbs greenhouse gasses equal to the amount that ethanol releases when burned. And because E3 BioFuels uses no fossil fuels in the conversion of corn to ethanol, that carbon neutral state remains over the life of the product. Traditional ethanol plants do use fossil fuels, which unfortunately makes their ethanol a net contributor to global warming.
What is E3 BioFuels doing to keep the topsoil productive, now that there's a major new demand for corn?
One of E3 BioFuels' products is aqueous ammonia fertilizer, which in the closed-loop system is created from manure treated in the anaerobic digesters. After manure is processed at the anaerobic digesters, it is sent to a nutrient recovery unit that extracts aqueous ammonia fertilizer, which can serve as a replacement to commonplace natural-gas based fertilizers used to grow corn. This ammonia fertilizer is injected below the surface, so virtually all of it stays in the soil to nourish the corn, instead of two-thirds of its nutrients potentially washing away when manure is applied at the surface.
The ammonia fertilizer is also a marketable product, so it's an additional source of income for the plant—important from a business and investment perspective.
Will poor people around the world still be able to afford corn?
According to USDA, the cost of a 6 billion gallon-per-year corn ethanol program is 25 cents per bushel of corn, or less than a 10 percent increase in the cost. The cost of grain represents a very minor component of food cost. Transportation and distribution challenges, security against theft, and war are the main hurdles to solving world hunger.
Will more corn displace soybean farming to tropical rainforests?
Using current farming techniques, corn need not displace soybeans. Corn crops are typically rotated with other crops, notably soybeans, in order to keep the land fertile. The rotation results in higher yield of both crops than can be gained from farming a single crop intensively.