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Home » BioRefineries, Biorefinery Infrastructure, Feedstocks, Field Crops, Infrastructure, Logistics, R & D Focus, Sustainability

From Farm to Biorefinery: Ethanol Production Efficiency Improves

Submitted by on December 29, 2011 – 10:25 amNo Comment

by Geoff Cooper (Renewable Fuels Association)  …According to a landmark study by the Keystone Alliance (a group including both farm groups and environmental organizations, such as Environmental Defense Fund and The Nature Conservancy) the amount of water, energy, and land required to produce a bushel of corn were substantially reduced between 1987 and 2007.

…The same kind of dramatic gains are being made at the ethanol biorefinery.

Before getting into the nitty-gritty details, here are a few facts to keep in mind.  Roughly 90% of the nation’s ethanol is produced using the dry mill process, with the remainder using what is known as a wet mill process.  Also, slightly more than 90% of the energy needed to run the nation’s 200+ ethanol biorefineries comes from natural gas—a plentiful domestic resource.  Finally, some 22% of these facilities are using Combined Heat and Power (CHP) technologies.

The average dry mill ethanol plant in 2008 used 28% less thermal energy per gallon than it did just seven years earlier in 2001. According to a recent studypublished in Biotechnology Letters by a researcher at the University of Illinois-Chicago, the average dry mill today uses less than 26,000 BTUs of thermal energy to produce a gallon of ethanol. That compares to the 77,000 BTUs of energy contained in the gallon.

…In 2011, the industry is expected to produce nearly 40 million metric tons of distillers grains for use in dairy, beef, swine and poultry diets in the U.S. and around the world.

As the data clearly demonstrate, America’s ethanol producers are mirroring the efficiency gains of the American farmers upon whom they rely for feedstock.  As existing processes evolve and new production technologies emerge, ethanol production in the U.S. will not only increase in volume, but also in efficiency. Without a doubt, today’s ethanol industry is high-tech and increasingly energy efficient.

While new sources of crude oil require more energy for extraction and refining and are increasingly carbon intensive, ethanol’s energy and environmental track record continues to shine.  READ MORE and MORE (Field to Market)  and MORE (The Keystone Center) and MORE (Biotechnology Letters)  Download Field to Market report Download dry mill report

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