Over the last three decades, ethanol made from corn has become an important fuel in Nebraska and across the country. Biofuels like corn-based ethanol directly replace petroleum-based fuels – and they’re renewable. Ethanol is better for the environment, helps keep fuel dollars here at home and it supports rural communities because that’s where most ethanol is produced.
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.
Nebraska ethanol plants have a capacity of more than 2.0 billion gallons – making Nebraska the second-largest ethanol producing state in the country. They use about 700 million bushels of corn annually – and directly provide and support thousands of jobs. Since ethanol is made only from the starch in a kernel of corn, these corn ethanol plants also produce more than 6 million tons of distillers grains, a nutritious livestock feed from the remaining parts of the kernel, including protein and fat.
On a national level, fuel ethanol production capacity has passed 13.0 billion gallons at more than 200 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.
Ethanol has been the fuel choice of most drivers in Nebraska – with market share reaching 70 percent beginning in 2007.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.
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.
Don’t mess with the RFS infographic. The RFS has reduced America’s dependence on foreign petroleum.
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.
A 2010 report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture noted that ethanol has an energy ratio of 2.3 to 1.
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.
A Nebraska Corn Board study demonstrated that ethanol is a more efficient fuel than regular gasoline – that you get more miles per BTU with ethanol.
There has also been some discussion that using corn for ethanol somehow replaces food for people or raises the price of food.