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A Probabilistic Analysis of the Switchgrass Ethanol Cycle

Author

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  • Tadeusz W. Patzek

    () (Department of Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering, The University of Texas at Austin, TX 78712, USA)

Abstract

The switchgrass-driven process for producing ethanol has received much popular attention. However, a realistic analysis of this process indicates three serious limitations: (a) If switchgrass planted on 140 million hectares (the entire area of active U.S. cropland) were used as feedstock and energy source for ethanol production, the net ethanol yield would replace on average about 20% of today’s gasoline consumption in the U.S. (b) Because nonrenewable resources are required to produce ethanol from switchgrass, the incremental gas emissions would be on average 55 million tons of equivalent carbon dioxide per year to replace just 10% of U.S. automotive gasoline. (c) In terms of delivering electrical or mechanical power, ethanol from 1 hectare (10,000 m2) of switchgrass is equivalent, on average, to 30 m2 of low-efficiency photovoltaic cells. This analysis suggests that investing toward more efficient and durable solar cells, and batteries, may be more promising than investing in a process to convert switchgrass to ethanol.

Suggested Citation

  • Tadeusz W. Patzek, 2010. "A Probabilistic Analysis of the Switchgrass Ethanol Cycle," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 2(10), pages 1-37, September.
  • Handle: RePEc:gam:jsusta:v:2:y:2010:i:10:p:3158-3194:d:9761
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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Jessica Zhang & Sarah Palmer & David Pimentel, 2012. "Energy production from corn," Environment, Development and Sustainability: A Multidisciplinary Approach to the Theory and Practice of Sustainable Development, Springer, vol. 14(2), pages 221-231, April.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    cellulose; yield; conservation law; GHG emissions; monte carlo;

    JEL classification:

    • Q - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics
    • Q0 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - General
    • Q2 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Renewable Resources and Conservation
    • Q3 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Nonrenewable Resources and Conservation
    • Q5 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics
    • Q56 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics - - - Environment and Development; Environment and Trade; Sustainability; Environmental Accounts and Accounting; Environmental Equity; Population Growth
    • O13 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Agriculture; Natural Resources; Environment; Other Primary Products

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