Ethanol vs. Oil

But, isn’t it better for the environment to burn ethanol than fossil fuels?

Not if the amount of fossil fuel used in ethanol production simply disguises the burning of oil.

David Pimentel, professor of ecology and agriculture at Cornell University, and Tad W. Patzek, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Berkeley, have researched the complete lifecycle of ethanol production and concluded that it takes more energy to produce a litre of ethanol than the ethanol releases when burned.

More optimistic researchers show a small net energy gain from ethanol. However, that surplus is much, much lower than the energy surplus available from petroleum. If ethanol was used as the sole energy source to produce ethanol, all or most of it would have to be used to run the production system, and only a small proportion (if any) would be left over to fuel cars.

Ethanol production is, in effect, a big “make work” project. Unless ethanol is made from ethanol, burning ethanol is simply an indirect way of burning oil.