March 10, 2008
The Energy Independence and Security Act requires 15 billion gal of corn ethanol in 2016.

The Energy Independence and Security Act requires 15 billion gal of corn ethanol in 2016. Using an average corn yield of 147 bushels/acre (the average over the 6-year period 2002-07), we find 41 million acres would have to be devoted to corn production for fuel ethanol. These 15 billion gal of ethanol would displace just 245 million bbl of reformulated gasoline—just 7.2% of year 2007 gasoline consumption. This hardly qualifies as ending our dependence on foreign oil.

Ethanol production is currently much above the previous legislative mandate. Energy Information Administration data show that year 2007 fuel ethanol production should total about 6.5 billion gal. The new energy bill will therefore require 8.5 billion gal of additional ethanol by 2016. This production will necessitate converting 23 million additional acres to corn production. The table summarizes acreage data for corn, soybeans, and wheat for the period 2003-07.

Between 2006 and 2007, corn acreage increased about 15 million acres. This clearly came at the expense of soybean acreage, which decreased by 12 million acres. Not surprisingly, the price of soybeans closed at $12.10/bushel on Jan. 29, compared to $6.85/bushel a year ago. In her TV commercials in California, Hillary Clinton is telling people they should not have to pay $3/gal for gasoline. Thanks to Congress and the ethanol mandate, the price of eggs has increased from $1.10/dozen a year ago to $1.43/dozen today. She has been strangely silent on the increase in food prices.

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Average per-capita gasoline consumption over the 6-year period 2001–06 is 11.24 bbl/year. The new energy bill raises the corporate average fuel economy standards in 2012. In my judgment, it is far from clear what effect this will have on US gasoline consumption, but I suspect it is going to be considerably less than its supporters hope. In any event, it will have very little effect by 2016. Let’s assume per-capita consumption remains constant at 11.24 bbl/year. Estimating the US population in 2016 is difficult because we don’t know what the level of immigration will be.

My estimate is 327.6 million. (The resident population on July 1, 2007, was 301.6 million). The Census Bureau’s projection for 2016 is 324.8 million. However, this was made in March 2004 before the recent surge in immigration. If per-capita gasoline consumption remains constant, US gasoline consumption in 2016 will be 3.682 billion bbl, compared to 3.394 billion bbl in 2007. Thus, gasoline consumption will increase by 288 million bbl. The 8.5 billion gal of new ethanol production between 2007 and 2016 will displace only 139 million bbl of gasoline. So the increased gasoline demand between 2007 and 2016 is just about double the energy supplied by the 8.5 billion gal of additional ethanol. And these idiots call this the Energy Security and Independence Act.

A quick calculation indicates that if the 21 billion gal of “advanced” biofuels mandated for 2022 consists of ethanol derived from switchgrass, some 42 million additional acres of cropland would have to be converted to switchgrass production. An accurate assessment of this is not possible today because we really don’t know the efficiency of converting switchgrass to ethanol.

Donald F. Anthrop
San Jose State University