Today American farmers are producing twice as much corn on virtually the same amount of acres as a generation ago. This makes them the most productive and efficient of any farmers around the world. Similarly, productivity and efficiencies are being mirrored across domestic ethanol production.
The Renewable Fuels Association has begun a series on efficiency and as part of the dialogue, RFA Vice President Geoff Cooper takes on the critics who claim that both farming and ethanol production is simply too energy-intensive. Cooper says those critical of farmers and by extension ethanol producers, will tell you that the tremendous growth in corn production is due to increased fertilizer use.
Yet Cooper says these are not the facts. USDA data shows that 2010 application rates of three common macronutrient fertilizers (nitrogen, potassium and phosphate) were the same or below the application rates seen in the early 1980s. As such, nitrogen application per bushel of corn has decreased more than 30 percent since this time while potassium and phosphate usage per bushel is down nearly 40 percent.
Also reduced between 1987 – 2007 is water, energy and land usage required to produce a bushel of corn according to Keystone Alliance. For example, the energy requirement (as measured in British Thermal Units or BTUs) to produce one gallon of ethanol has dropped by 28 percent since 2001, to just shy of 26,000 BTUs. Cooper says that compares to 77,000 BTUs found in one gallon of ethanol. Electricity demand has fallen by 32 percent and water use has decreased by 47 percent.
“As the data clearly demonstrate, America’s ethanol producers are mirroring the efficiency gains of the American farmers upon whom they rely for feedstock,” said Cooper. “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.”