Grow Corn to Power Biomass Power Plant to Power EVs, not Ethanol

ethanol vs. biomass


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.

Image by Larsz on Flickr under a Creative Commons License

Jennifer Lance

Jennifer lives on 160 acres off-the-grid in a home built with her own two hands (and several more skilled pairs of hands) from forest fire salvaged timber. Her home is powered by a micro-hydro turbine, and she has been a vegetarian for 21 years. Jennifer graduated from Humboldt State University with a degree in art education and has been teaching art to children for over 16 years. She also spent five years teaching in a one-room schoolhouse before becoming the mother of two beautiful children. Jennifer has a Master's Degree in Early Childhood Education and is currently teaching preschool, as well as k-8 art. She enjoys writing, gardening, hiking, practicing yoga, and raising four akitas. Jennifer is the founder and editor of Eco Child's Play ( "I’ve always been concerned about the earth and our impact upon it. Now that I have children, I feel compelled to raise them with green values. From organic gardening to alternative energy, my family tries to leave a small carbon footprint." Please visit my other blog: