E85: "Water Could Be the Achilles Heel"

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago
e85 water could be the achilles heel

A report by the Minneapolis-based Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy warns that the ethanol industry's appetite for H20 may torpedo its future. As reported by The Economist, "a typical ethanol factory producing 50m gallons of biofuels a year needs about 500 gallons of water a minute." The mag cites opposition to plants in Missouri, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas and in central Illinois based on proposed plants draining local aquifers. As we've reported before, Florida is amongst those states providing ethanol-justified subsidies to its corn growers. And yet… "OFFICIALS in Tampa, Florida, got a surprise recently when a local firm building the state's first ethanol-production factory put in a request for 400,000 gallons (1.5m litres) a day of city water. The request by US Envirofuels would make the facility one of the city's top ten water consumers overnight, and the company plans to double its size. Florida is suffering from a prolonged drought. Rivers and lakes are at record lows and residents wonder where the extra water will come from." While the ethanol industry has halved its H20 needs in the last ten years, 50 percent of a massive amount of water to turn corn into ethanol still ain't chicken feed. Literally.

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  • N Number N Number on Mar 03, 2008

    I'm glad somebody is bringing this up. I had imagined the extra strain put on aquifers from growing the corn itself, but I had no idea that the production facilities would need this much. Ground water is already being drained faster than it can be replaced by natural processes in many places. Placing fuel above food and especially water should be criminal.

  • Starlightmica Starlightmica on Mar 03, 2008

    E85: Drink OR Drive.

  • Stein X Leikanger Stein X Leikanger on Mar 03, 2008

    Consumptive water use by ethanol plants largely comes from evaporation during cooling and wastewater discharge. Ethanol plants are designed to recycle water within the plant. The quality of the cooling water is key because of the need for high quality water in the boiler system. As a rule of thumb, water utilization is 10 gallons per minute for each 1 million gallons of yearly ethanol production.

    Thus a typical 50 million gallons per year ethanol plant would need 500 gallons per minute of water. Modern ethanol plants have sophisticated water treatment techniques to enable recycling of water to boilers. These treatment techniques should also enable the plants to use lower quality water such as sewage treatment plant effluents and possibly even water recycled from animal feedlots.

    There are no publicly available records on water use by ethanol plants for the U.S. In a review of ethanol states, only the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources apparently has records on water use by specific plants in reference to the amount of ethanol produced. Minnesota ethanol plants report a wide range of water use, with most plants in a range from 3.5 to 6.0 gallons of water consumed per gallon of ethanol produced. Average water use has declined from 5.8:1 in 1998 to 4.2:1 in 2005, indicating that the plants are achieving greater efficiency over time.

    The Renewable Fuels Association estimates as "little" as 3 gallons of water per gallon of ethanol. And they're even trying to look kindly on the problem, given their vested interest.

    pdf: http://www.agobservatory.org/library.cfm?refid=89449

  • on Mar 03, 2008

    Nothing I haven't been saying in prior posts. Working in the water industry, I have been well aware of the declining availability of water for domestic and ag uses for years. When I read the estimated amount of water was required to produce one gallon of corn ethanol including the irrigation of the corn, I was shocked that people couldn't see the massive damage wholesale production of ethanol could produce both through use of water and pollution of remaining surface water.