The Bee published a commentary on Feb. 14 by Tom Tanton titled "Making Ethanol is Wasting California's Water." The premise of the opinion piece was that the nation's Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) that sets a minimum level of renewable fuel to be used in America should be done away with because ethanol consumes too much water in California. That opinion doesn't square with reality and the facts.
The RFS has reduced gasoline demand, decreased our reliance on foreign oil and improved our environmental impact. On a cumulative basis, ethanol has accounted for 8 out of every 10 barrels of new liquid fuel from U.S. sources from 2005 to 2011.
According to the U.S. Energy Administration Information Agency in 2011 alone American-made ethanol contributed more volume to the U.S. fuel supply than the gasoline refined from oil imports from Saudi Arabia.
Ethanol is also used as an effective means to reduce pollution from tailpipe emissions such as cancer-causing toxins, small particulates that cause smog, and CO2. California-produced ethanol has a much lower carbon footprint than gasoline, which is why locally produced ethanol is in great demand by the oil companies for blending to reduce their own carbon footprint. Ethanol is so effective in cleaning the air that China and other foreign countries are now buying almost 100 million gallons a month to help reduce their smog problems.
In terms of water use, the facts tell a very compelling story. Ethanol produced in California today is made primarily from Midwest corn that is rain fed as the sole or main water source. That rain-fed corn is then manufactured in California into two valuable products that the California economy needs: clean, affordable fuel for our cars and a highly valued feed supply for the livestock industry.
The feed, because it is made in California and does not have to be dried to transport, is a wet feed that actually provides water to the livestock feeders!
Yet it is important to have perspective when comparing water usage. A typical 50-million-gallon-per-year ethanol/feed plant uses about 375,000 gallons of water per day. This is roughly equivalent to the daily water use of an 18-hole golf course. What's more, all the water is recycled back into the process or goes directly to the livestock industry to supplement their daily requirements and use. For every gallon of ethanol produced, about two gallons of water is used and recycled.
Compare that with other manufacturing uses, according the U.S. Geological Survey: 5.4 gallons of water needed to produce one board-foot of lumber, 24 gallons of water to produce one pound of plastic, 101 gallons of water for one pound of cotton, 62,600 gallons of water for one ton of steel, one gallon of water for a quarter-pound hamburger, 2,072 gallons to make four new tires, 20 gallons of water per glass of beer, 36 gallons of water per egg, and 2.6 gallons of water per sheet of paper.
Clearly ethanol production stands out as a water-efficient manufacturing process.
Pacific Ethanol has built two major ethanol refineries in California's Central Valley, creating jobs and tax income to our great state. We are not the only ones. Calgren Renewables in Pixley, Aemetis Biofuels in Keyes, and Edeniq Corp. in Visalia all have invested steel in the ground producing ethanol, feed and innovation on next-generation technologies generating over a combined 3,500 jobs economywide. We are partnering with the state of California to provide a key environmental fuel supply to reduce carbon and car emissions while giving consumers a real choice. Combined we are California's largest feed manufacturer of high-value protein to our livestock industry. We are proud of what we do and the products we provide. California is in better shape because of our facilities and is poised to lead the nation in the next phase of advanced biofuels.
So rather than attacking the Renewable Fuels Standard, the policymakers in Washington, D.C., and Sacramento should appreciate the cheapest domestically produced, environmentally friendly fuel today. Ethanol can be put into the current distribution system, which generates hundreds of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in economic growth and environmental benefits nationally.
Ethanol is the cheapest fuel available to the consumer as an alternative to straight gasoline. Consumers now have a real choice to fill their cars and trucks with an alternative fuel that is made in California and cheaper than gasoline.
Former California Secretary of State Bill Jones is chairman of Pacific Ethanol's board of directors.