Ethanol assessment, questioning of the Price Waterhouse Coopers study

Questioning of the Price Waterhouse Coopers study by David Lefebvre

A new study on the energy balance of the beet, corn and wheat bioethanol sectors will be carried out, because a number of experts have questioned the calculation methods of the Price Waterhouse Coopers Ademe-Direm 2002 study, which nevertheless served as a basis for setting up bioethanol channels.

Energy balances of bioethanols channels beet, corn and wheat biofuels are disputed by a number of experts. They blamed the Price Waterhouse Coopers study ADEME-DIREM 2002, which was the basis for the development of the bioethanol sector, of not taking into account all energy costs attributable to the production of biofuels. A new, more contradictory analysis is planned. The points of contention also address taxation and thus the cost for public finances and on the future of co-products primarily for animal feed protein.

At first glance, the development of biofuels would reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases and our energy dependence on oil. And biofuels production would have beneficial consequences of creating new jobs 24 000 2010 to the horizon, to open new markets for wheat, sugar beet and oilseed rape, and replace 5,4 million tons of soybean meal that France imports each year by protein co-products (draff and oilcake). Well presented, biofuels therefore raises enthusiasm.

challenged energy efficiency

Yet the development of biofuels and bioethanol in particular is challenged by some experts. The first point of contention key to energy efficiency is the ratio of the energy restored by the biofuel when the burning and non-renewable energy required to produce primary. The study of ADEME - DIREM and Price Waterhouse Coopers (PWC), published in 2002, believes that burn ethanol from wheat and beet emerges 2,05 times more energy than was necessary non-renewable energy for their production, a balance sheet so favorable.

But another analysis, the association Eden (Sustainable Energy in Normandy) and a network of associations
specialized on the greenhouse effect, believes this ratio closer to 1,43. And it would be even 0,98 corn for bioethanol, which would mean that corn ethanol requires as much or more fossil energy it can generate when it is burned.

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energy costs of production

Why such a difference in the analysis? The calculation methods are different. Bioethanol is 43% of the total dry matter produced in the field. Bioethanol is actually produced only from starch, but the plant is also composed in particular of cellulose, proteins, which are intended for food. The PWC study has therefore charged that 43% of fossil energy costs to total production. Or Eden association estimates that biofuels must bear the entire energy costs, reduced only energy savings generated by the product recovery in animal feed in replacement for soybean meal.

These differences in the evaluation of energy efficiency are as obvious for beet bioethanol, 2,05 for Adème and 1,31 for Eden, as for the methyl ester of vegetable oil, 2,99 against 2,19. According to the Eden association, upgrading bioethanol to ETBE - a chemical reaction product between bioethanol and gasoline, advocated by oil companies - rather than bioethanol, further reduces energy efficiency. It would be reduced to 1,10 for wheat bioethanol, to 1,03 for that of beet and to 0,88 for that of corn! Finally, note the energy efficiency assessed by the Eden association with regard to crude vegetable oil: it would be 3,80.

Competitiveness against the Brazilian bioethanol

What about the Brazilian sugar cane? According Eden and according Milton Maciel, a Brazilian journalist specializing in the issue, energy efficiency of Brazilian sugarcane bioethanol would be higher than 4, this because of bagasse into electricity and valued because sugarcane requires very little 'nitrogen. Hence also, a Brazilian bioethanol much more competitive than ours, which raises the question of the competitiveness of our bioethanol in the global market.
Retorts that the die face these differences? With second generation biofuels, that is to say the recovery not only of the starch but also straw and other cellulosic waste into bioethanol, and with the recovery of protein co-products into another energy rather than feed the share of energy recovered solids will represent much more than the current 43%, resulting in energy efficiency will be greatly improved. But such a scenario implies the exploitation of flaws and therefore the export of organic matter requires consider preventive solutions to lower organic fertility and structural stability of the soil and in any case to surrender monoculture. As for burn "cleanly" protein boiler, this poses for the moment the problem of nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions very impacting on the greenhouse effect.

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Bill for public finances

The points of differences as stumbling over the fiscal cost of bioethanol. Recall that the taxation of € 0,37 / l of bioethanol and 0,59 € / liter of unleaded petrol. This therefore implies a shortfall for public finances.

For those involved in the sector, “the bioethanol production chain will bring in almost as much in taxes, social contributions, savings in health spending, unemployment benefits and pollution treatment, etc… as will cost the ICT exemptions. (internal tax on consumption, ex TIPP) ”. But for the Eden association, the cost of tax exemption represents as much tax revenue that the State will lack, which it will seek to compensate elsewhere. Thus, households will have to bear an additional tax burden which will not generate any
Net employment. As for government experts, it is specified that the tax exemption is made to decrease as production performance will be improved. The issue of performance is going to ask for some plants and a little less for others.

Example, Roquette plant in Beinheim that will draw its energy from geothermal energy can be particularly competitive. What
is it for other plants in plain Champagne or Picardie?

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To a market saturated protein?

The government plan provides for 2010, production 3 million tonnes of biodiesel, and 1,1 million tons of ethanol. The biodiesel from rapeseed and sunflower should generate the protein equivalent of 3,4 million tons of soybean meal. Besides protein grains from ethanol production. Which a priori should reduce our Amazon soya imports.

But, according to the Eden association, of the 5,4 million tonnes of imported soybeans, only three are substitutable, the other two million tonnes, in round figures, are not because they are intended for feeding chickens. and this production needs a concentrated protein source which cannot be derived from grains or cakes. According to the Eden association, the most elegant solution from an energy point of view would consist of methanizing these co-products rather than burning them, a solution which would also have the merit of restoring nitrogen to the soil - via methanization effluents - rather than the atmosphere and redisseminate minerals. To do this, the ethanol plants would have to be smaller than what is currently envisaged, because the current sizing requires an effluent spreading radius of 100 km, which is far too expensive to manage.

The debate on the energy and greenhouse gas balances of agrofuels is therefore reopened both in the USA and in Great Britain and in France. A call for tenders will therefore be launched to appoint a study office responsible for establishing which calculation method best reflects the impact of these new energy production sectors on GHG emissions and fossil carbon consumption. .

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