Does it take more energy to produce a gallon of ethanol than the energy we get out of it?
No. This has been a common misconception of the ethanol industry, that it takes more energy to make ethanol than is available to the final consumer. Remember, ethanol is produced from plant matter, today dominated by corn, wheat, potatoes, sorgum, etc. Plants grow through the use of energy provided by the sun and are a renewable resources. In the future, ethanol will be produced from waste products or “energy crops.” In fact, a partner of the NEVC, BC International (BCI), is currently constructing an ethanol production plant in Louisiana that will use sugar cane waste to produce ethanol. Additionally, BCI is considering the establishment of ethanol production facilities in California that would use the waste hulls from rice growers and wood waste from the forrest industry to produce ethanol. Energy crops such as perennial switch grasses, timothy, and other high-output/low-input crops will be used in the future.
Current research prepared by Argonne National Laboratory (a U.S. Department of Energy Laboratory), indicates a 38% gain in the overall energy input/output equation for the corn-to-ethanol process. That is, if 100 BTUs of energy is used to plant corn, harvest the crop, transport it, etc., 138 BTUs of energy is available in the fuel ethanol. Corn yields and processing technologies have improved significantly over the past 20 years and they continue to do so, making ethanol production less and less energy intensive.