Published on July 28th, 2009 | by Jennifer Lance
Grow Corn to Power Biomass Power Plant to Power EVs, not Ethanol
A lot of concern has been expressed about ethanol. From the overuse of antibiotics to watering down Waxman-Markey in support of corn farmers, it is questionable as to whether ethanol is the solution America needs for its foreign oil dependency. Thomas R. Blakeslee of the Clearlight Foundation thinks we are better off using corn for Combined Heat and Power (CHP) biomass power plants to run electric vehicles rather than converting it to ethanol.
Blakeslee writes in Renewable Energy World:
Corn ethanol is one of the worst wastes of biomass: An acre of corn produces about 330 gallons/year if you cook it using fossil fuel.
Use the ethanol as a heat source and the net yield drops to 214 gallons/year. Car gas mileage is 30% lower with ethanol. At 25 miles/gallon we can only drive 25 X 214 = 5350 miles per year on an acre of corn.
If we take that same acre of corn and burn it to make electricity to charge an electric car, we will be able to drive the car 22 times as far! About 117,096 miles per year!
Only 8% of US powerplants use CHP, compared to 53% in Denmark, and such plants can exceed 90% efficiency. Blakeslee argues CHP is more applicable in rural settings, but there are problems with what to do with the heat when there is no demand, such as in the summer months, and the thermal output from CHP plants would not be directly used to power cars. Considering the excessive need for water and fertilizer to grow corn, it may be better suited for biomass rather than ethanol when considering efficiency.