Pennsylvania Democrats Dreaming

Pennsylvania is not going to grow its way to energy independence, no matter what Keystone State Democrats, including Ed Rendell and my representative, Chris King, think. Let’s examine for a minute why. First, a few facts about corn ethanol:

  1. It takes 271 gallons of gasoline just to grow a hectare of corn.
  2. It takes much more energy to mash, ferment, and distill the alcohol out of the corn than it takes to grow it.
  3. Corn ethanol yields slightly less than 900 gallons of ethanol per hectare. This is about half what you get from sugar based processes.
  4. Estimates are that ethanol production from corn either produces slightly more energy than it consumes, or produces less energy than it consumes.
  5. Ethanol contains only about 70% as much energy per gallon as gasoline.

Now, let’s look at Pennsylvania’s corn crop:

  1. Pennsylvania has roughly 600,000 hectares of land dedicated to corn production.
  2. If Pennsylvania took it’s entire corn crop, it would be able to produce 531 million gallons of ethanol, which is energy equivalent to 372 million gallons of gasoline.
  3. The energy profile of other plants that grow in our climate looks about as abysmal as corn.

The Democrats say we can make 900 million gallons of biofuels and make ourselves energy independent:

Replace 900 million gallons of the state’s transportation fuels over the next decade with alternatives, such as ethanol, biodiesel, or fuels derived from coal liquefaction processes equipped with carbon offsets. The 900 million gallons represents the forecasted amount of fuels that will be imported to Pennsylvania from the Persian Gulf 10 years from now.

Ah… there’s the dirty little secret. Coal liquefaction. Yes. Pennsylvania has enough coal to make 900 million gallons of fuel from it, and we probably also have the natural gas you need to make the process work. But is this a green process? Hardly. It produces more CO2 than digging the coal out of the ground and burning it, or pumping and refining oil. It’s a viable alternative fuel, but selling it as green is disingenuous when part of the alternative energy appeal is carbon neutrality.  It’s also not a cheap process.

I am not against developing alternative fuel resources, especially those that would be generated from industrial or agricultural waste, if it makes economic sense.  But that’s only going to be a small part of the energy puzzle.  If Pennsylvania Democrats wants to get serious about energy policy, we need to start talking about reviving nuclear power in the commonwealth.  Coal liquefaction is a serious proposal, but it’s not economical without subsidies, and it’s not green.  Politicians want to sell us simple solutions to monstrously complicated problems.  It’s important to remember that politicians are mostly full of crap.