Since its founding in 1978, the Nebraska Corn Board has worked closely with farmers, industry and the government to lay the foundation for today’s ethanol industry. Stone-by-stone and drop-by-drop, these tireless efforts add up to a tremendous success story: Clean burning ethanol fuel provides an important market for home grown corn and has jump-started many rural communities.
Just one Nebraska plant in 1985 has grown to 24 ethanol plants in 2011. Spread throughout much of the state, these plants have a capacity of nearly 2.0 billion gallons – making Nebraska the second-largest ethanol producing state in the country. Combined, these plants use more than 700 million bushels of corn per year – and produce more than 6 million tons of distillers grains, a high protein feed ingredient comprised of the parts of the corn kernel not used for ethanol production.
There is little doubt that the growth of the ethanol industry has significantly changed rural Nebraska – providing good paying jobs, a good market for locally grown corn and a beneficial feed ingredient that is of value for the livestock industry. In fact, a typical 100 million gallon ethanol plant adds on average 50 jobs in the community where it is located, purchases about 37 million bushels of corn from local farmers and produces about 320,000 tons of distillers grains (dried equivalent). It also generates nearly $4.5 million in tax revenue.
On a national level, fuel ethanol production capacity has passed 13.0 billion gallons at more than 200 production facilities. Renewable fuel legislation (the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007), high oil prices and consumers have pushed the growth rapidly – from 1.1 billion gallons in 1996. For the latest national figures, visit the Renewable Fuels Association.
The fuel of choice
Although E10 (10 percent ethanol blend) is common throughout Nebraska – and across the country – the use of E85 (a blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent regular unleaded gasoline) is also growing thanks to continued sales of flex fuel vehicles. Flex fuel vehicles can use regular unleaded, E10, E85 or any combination of ethanol and regular gas, including the E20 and E30 blends that are growing more common at stations that have installed ethanol blender pumps. Blender pumps are fueling pumps that blend gasoline and ethanol together in any combination. The most common blends are E10, E20, E30, E50, and E85. These higher blends are necessary because the industry is reaching a blend wall.
Just recently the EPA has approved the use of E15 in cars manufactured in 2001 and newer. This approval has resulted in some questions about ethanol – including the propagation of myths by those who oppose biofuels. Some of those myths are addressed here.
For more information about ethanol blending and blender pumps, visit the www.BYOEthanol.com (Blend Your Own Ethanol’s website). The Nebraska Corn Board also has a grant program in place to support the installation of blender pumps – click here for details.
Separating myth from fact
As the popularity of corn ethanol grew so did some of the myths about ethanol production. A few of these myths are addressed below, but the resources linked above provide very good, research-based facts about ethanol production and use.
A peer-reviewed study by the University of Nebraska (published in January 2009) noted that:
- The ethanol industry is producing a fuel that is 48 to 59 percent lower in direct-effect lifecycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions than gasoline. That’s two to three times the reduction reported in earlier studies that did not take into account recent advances in corn-ethanol production.
- The net energy ratio is 1.9-2.3 to 1. That means that for every unit of energy it takes to make ethanol, 1.9 to 2.3 units of energy are produced as ethanol. (These numbers were 1.2 to 1 in earlier studies.)
- Between 10 and 19 gallons of ethanol are produced for every gallon of petroleum used in the entire corn-ethanol production life cycle.
For more on that study, click here.
A 2010 report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture noted that ethanol has an energy ratio of 2.3 to 1. For details, click here.
Another report released in 2010 notes that corn ethanol plants have increased their efficiency and are producing more ethanol from a single bushel of corn – and using less energy in the process. For more, click here.
A Nebraska Corn Board study released last year demonstrated that ethanol is a more efficient fuel than regular gasoline – that you get more miles per BTU with ethanol. For information on that report, click here.
There has also been some discussion that using corn for ethanol somehow replaces food for people or raises the price of food. For more information on that subject, click here.