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Seeking Alpha: Corn Ethanol Can Never Replace Meaningful Quantities of Motor Fuel

posted on: March 27, 2008
Scott Benson: Bio & more articles

Corn ethanol will never replace any meaningful quantities of gasoline nor diesel.

The math isn’t hard, but there are lots of zeroes:

In 2007:

  • 92.9 million U.S. acres of corn were planted
  • 86 million were actually harvested
  • 155 bushels per acre (average rate for 2007)
  • 13.2 billion bushels of American corn

Convert it ALL to ethanol (for laughs). Realistically, 7.2 billion gallons of ethanol were produced in 2007 using 20% of the U.S. corn crop.

14 billion bushels of corn (rounded from 13.2) with 2.8 gallons of ethanol per bushel gives us 39.2 billion gallons of American corn ethanol (becomes the 85% component of E85).

Realistically, it is predicted that we will produce 13 billion gallons of ethanol in 2008 with 30-40% of corn crop.

So we have 39.2 billion gallons of ethanol (becomes the 85% component of E85).

75,700 BTUs per gallon of ethanol gives us 2,967 trillion BTUs of energy available from the ethanol component and 6.9 billion gallons of gasoline (becomes the 15% component of E85).

115,000 BTUs per gallon of gasoline gives us 794 trillion BTUs available from the gasoline component.

2,967 + 794 = 3,761 trillion (3.761 quadrillion or “quads”) BTUs total from 100% of the corn crop made into E85 (for a total of 46 billion gallons of ethanol and gasoline made into E85 per year).

Forget ethanol for a minute. The U.S. normally consumes:

  • 150 billion gallons of gasoline burned per year
  • 115,000 BTUs per gallon
  • 17,250 trillion of gasoline BTUs
  • 60 billion gallons of diesel burned per year
  • 130,500 BTUs per gallon
  • 7,830 trillion of diesel BTUs

17,250 + 7,830 = 25,080 trillion (25.1 quads) total BTUs consumed burning gasoline and diesel per year in the U.S.

So, we find that:

Only 15% (3,761/25,080) of gasoline and diesel BTUs can be replaced by E85 using every kernel of U.S. corn — all of it.

Meanwhile, we have no food. We are starving, all the animals we eat are starving (50% of corn is animal feed), and the rest of the world is starving because we have no corn to export (if they all don’t go to war with us first).

In reality, ethanol (spark ignition) will not substitute for diesel (compression ignition) anyway without substantial vehicle and fuel changes. Ethanol will not easily substitute for heating oil nor jet fuel neither. And if you add in ALL the energy-related inputs, some have said we may be able to replace, at best, 3-4% of U.S. gasoline using all U.S. corn

Corn ethanol will never displace any meaningful quantities of gasoline nor diesel. and its also non-profit sister websites,,,,, and are all owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia article.

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