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Study: Corn Ethanol Plants Using Less Energy

Ethanol plant analysis shows energy to produce a gallon of corn ethanol has decreased since 2008

Published on: May 6, 2013

Recent innovations in corn ethanol production have resulted in increased yield per bushel even as less energy is required for production, according to a study released last week by the Renewable Fuels Association.

The study, entitled "2012 Corn Ethanol: Emerging Plant Energy and Environmental Technologies," shows that thermal energy use at a typical dry mill ethanol plant has fallen 9% since 2008, showing a diminishing carbon footprint of corn ethanol, RFA said.

The most recent analysis is a follow-up to a benchmark study completed in 2008. The authors, Steffen Mueller, PhD, of the University of Illinois at Chicago Energy Resources Center and John Kwik, PE, of Dominion Energy Services, LLC explained that the study includes an assessment of over 50% of operating dry grind corn ethanol plants and their output and energy use to create ethanol.

Ethanol plant analysis shows energy to produce a gallon of corn ethanol has decreased since 2008
Ethanol plant analysis shows energy to produce a gallon of corn ethanol has decreased since 2008

They found that on average, 2012 dry grind plants produce ethanol at higher yields with lower energy inputs than 2008 corn ethanol.

"Significantly more corn oil is separated at the plants now, which combined with the higher ethanol yields results in a slight reduction in DDG production and a negligible increase in electricity consumption," the authors explained in the report.

Mueller said in the future, he believes the corn ethanol industry will continue to grow. Already, he explained, many plants have retrofitted equipment to improve corn oil separation, just over the last four years.

Bob Dinneen, RFA CEO, said the study shows that ethanol producers are "evolving, innovating and improving the production process."

He said ethanol yields have gone from 2.78 gallons per bushel to 2.82 – what he said is a "huge" increase, all while using less energy for production. Dineen explained that the study shows the improving carbon footprint of ethanol is outpacing the carbon foot print of oil, which is increasing.

"We're getting better, they're getting worse," he said. "Today’s ethanol industry is using less energy and water than ever before and greatly reducing GHG emissions associated with the corn ethanol lifecycle."

The study also summarizes several new technologies being adopted by ethanol producers and feedstock providers.

Click here to read the analysis in full.