August 2007
Energy Tribune

The latest indictment of the biofuels madness concerns the copious quantities of water needed to produce them.

In late June, two Colorado scientists, Jan F. Kreider, an engineering professor at the University of Colorado, and Peter S. Curtiss, a Boulder-based engineering consultant, presented their peer-reviewed report, Comprehensive Evaluation of Impacts from Potential, Future Automotive Fuel Replacements at a conference sponsored by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. The two found that producing one gallon of corn ethanol requires the consumption of 170 gallons of water.

That figure includes the amount needed for all irrigation and distilling. For comparison, the two scientists estimated that each gallon of gasoline requires just 5 gallons of water. If Kreider and Curtiss are right, the 5 billion gallons of corn ethanol produced in America in 2006 required more water than production of the 140 billion gallons of gasoline the U.S. consumed that year.

The numbers for soybean-based biodiesel were even worse. Kreider and Curtiss calculated that each gallon of soy biodiesel requires a whopping 900 gallons of water. Cellulosic ethanol was slightly better than either, requiring some 146 gallons of water per gallon. When asked about the U.S. Senate's version of the energy bill mandating the production of 36 billion gallons of ethanol per year by 2022 (most of which presumably will come from cellulosic ethanol), Kreider told us that even if there were a proven production method for cellulosic ethanol, there's not enough land, not enough water, and not enough transportation infrastructure to provide [that] quantity of fuel.

What about carbon dioxide emissions? Kreider and Curtiss say that while soy biodiesel’s are comparable to conventional gasoline, corn ethanol is a loser. During the entire life cycle of ethanol, carbon dioxide emissions are “about 50 percent larger for ethanols than for traditional fossil fuels; such fuels are not the answer to global warming, they make it worse. To read the study, go to

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