New Perspectives on the Energy Return on (Energy) Investment (EROI) of Corn Ethanol

Environment, Development and Sustainability, published online 11 July 2010

David J. Murphy, Charles A. S. Hall, and Bobby Powers

“Research on corn ethanol is overly focused on whether corn ethanol is a net energy yielder and, consequently, has missed some other fundamental issues, including (1) whether there is significant error associated with current estimates of the EROI of corn ethanol, (2) whether there is significant spatial variability in the EROI of corn ethanol production, (3) whether yield increases will translate linearly to increases in EROI, (4) the extent to which assumptions about co-product credits impact the EROI of corn ethanol, and (5) how much of the ethanol production from biorefineries is net energy. We address all of these concerns in this research by: (1) performing a meta-error analysis of the calculation of EROI, (2) calculating the EROI for 1,287 counties across the United States, and (3) performing a sensitivity analysis for the values of both yield and co-products within the calculation of EROI. Our results show that the average EROI calculated from the meta-error analysis was 1.07 ± 0.2, meaning that we are unable to assert whether the EROI of corn ethanol is greater than one. The average EROI calculated across 1,287 counties in our spatial analysis was 1.01, indicating that the literature tended to use optimal values for energy inputs and outputs compared to the average conditions across the Unites States. Increases in yield had a trivial impact on EROI, while co-product credits had a large impact on EROI. Based on our results from the spatial analysis and the location of biorefineries across the United States, we conclude that the net energy supplied to society by ethanol is only 0.8% of that supplied from gasoline. Recent work indicates that only energy sources extracted at EROIs of 3:1 or greater have the requisite net energy to sustain the infrastructure of the transportation system of the United States. In light of this work, we conclude that production of corn ethanol within the United States is unsustainable and requires energy subsidies from the larger oil economy.”

Impact Assessment of the European Biofuel Directive on Land Use and Biodiversity

Journal of Environmental Management, Volume 91, June 2010

Fritz Hellmann and Peter H Verburg

“This paper presents an assessment of the potential impact of the EUs biofuel directive on European land use and biodiversity. In a spatially explicit analysis, it is determined which ecologically valuable land use types are likely to be directly replaced by biofuel crops. In addition, it is determined which land use types may be indirectly replaced by biofuel crops through competition over land between biofuel and food crops. Four scenarios of land use change are analyzed for the period 2000-2030 while for each scenario two policy variants are analyzed respectively with and without implementation of the biofuel directive. The results indicate that the area of semi natural vegetation, forest and High Nature Value farmland directly replaced by biofuel crops is small in all scenarios and differs little between policy variants. The direct effects of the directive on European land use and biodiversity therefore are relatively minor. The indirect effects of the directive on European land use and biodiversity are much larger than its direct effects. The area semi natural vegetation is found to be 3-8% smaller in policy variants with the directive as compared to policy variants without the directive. In contrast, little difference is found between the policy variants with respect to the forest area. The results of this study show that the expected indirect effects of the directive on biodiversity are much greater than its direct effects. This suggests that indirect effects need to be taken explicitly into account in assessing the environmental effects of biofuel crop cultivation and designing sustainable pathways for implementing biofuel policies.”

Concentrating Solar Power in China and India: A Spatial Analysis of Technical Potential and the Cost of Deployment

Center for Global Development, Working Paper 219

Kevin Ummel

“Coal power generation in China and India could double and triple, respectively, over the next 20 years, which would increase exposure to fuel price volatility, exacerbate local air pollution, and hasten global climate change. Moving to concentrating solar power (CSP), a growing source of utility-scale, pollution-free electricity, would help alleviate these problems, but its potential in Asia remains largely unexamined. In this working paper, Kevin Ummel uses high-resolution spatial data to identify areas suitable for CSP and estimates power generation and cost under various land-use scenarios.

“Total CSP potential in China is at least 16 times greater than current coal power output; in India, it is at least 3 times greater. A CSP expansion program could provide 20 percent of electricity in both countries by midcentury. Under conservative assumptions, the program will require subsidies of $340 billion in present dollars. Estimated costs are especially sensitive to the assumed rate of technological learning, making it especially important to form committed public policy and financing to reduce investment risk, encourage the expansion of manufacturing capacity, and achieve long-term cost reductions.”

Spatial Analysis of Biomass Supply: Economic and Environmental Impacts

ASA, CSSA, and SSSA International Annual Meetings
31 October – 03 November 2010
Long Beach, California USA

David Archer

“The EPIC simulation model is used with SSURGO soils, field location information, and a transportation cost model to analyze potential biomass supply for a West Central MN bioenergy plant. The simulation shows the relationship between biomass price, locations of where biomass production is profitable, and impacts on economic optimum cropping practices. Results show expansion of production away from the bioenergy plant as biomass price increases. Also, increasing biomass price tends to increase harvest intensity and change the optimum crop rotation near the bioenergy plant. These changes have important implications for the environmental impacts of biomass harvest, since changes in harvest intensity and crop rotation can have substantial effects of soil erosion, soil carbon, and nutrient and pesticide runoff and leaching.”

Evaluating Potential Renewable Energy Resources in Poultney, Vermont: A GIS-based Approach to Supporting Rural Community Energy Planning

Renewable Energy, Volume 35, Issue 9, September 2010, Pages 2114-2122

John Van Hoesen and Steven Letendre

“The current electricity infrastructure in the United States relies on a centralized distribution network that carries a heavy carbon footprint and is susceptible to disruption and failure. Rural communities are more susceptible to longer term interruption and should strive towards a local distributed energy model. This transition will require municipalities to engage with and seek input from community stakeholders. This paper describes a possible model for supporting rural community energy projects using a Geographic Information System (GIS), which was used to develop an inventory of energy resource potential in a rural Vermont town for biomass, wind, and solar technologies.”

ArcGIS Server Now Available as Cloud-Based Subscription

New Option Provides Easier, Greener Deployment of Server GIS

ESRI announces that, for the first time, customers have the option to purchase a cloud-based subscription to ArcGIS Server, ESRI’s server-based geographic information system (GIS) software. With this option, users can purchase an annual subscription, which bundles a preconfigured ArcGIS Server instance on Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) infrastructure with 12 months of ESRI technical support and maintenance. ArcGIS Server Cloud Bundle expands ESRI’s growing cloud offerings and provides customers with another deployment option for ArcGIS Server.

Running ArcGIS Server in the cloud simplifies GIS server deployment and reduces the complexity of server management. It allows organizations to more rapidly meet larger-than-average workloads and demand by scaling up or down the number of ArcGIS Server instances without investing in new on-premises hardware. Users gain direct access to ArcGIS Server within minutes and can begin publishing services and supporting Web mapping applications immediately. ArcGIS Server Cloud Bundle is also a green computing option that allows organizations to reduce their overall energy consumption.

Customers with enterprise license agreements (ELAs) can purchase the bundle at a special ELA discount and deploy their licenses on Amazon virtual machines instead of on-premises computers.

For more information on the ArcGIS Server Cloud Bundle, visit

[Source: ESRI press release]

Windmill Site Selection Using Remote Sensing and GIS – A Case Study in Andaman, India

K. Selvavinayagam

“The Andaman and Nicobar Islands are the summits of a submarine mountain range lying on the great tectonic suture zone that extends from the eastern Himalayas to the Arakan along the Myanmar border and finally to Sumatra and lesser Sundaes. This archipelago consists of a group of 572 islands, islets and rock outcrops, but there are a total of 352 important islands comprising the main chain of Andaman and Nicobar, Ritches Archipelago and the out laying volcanic islands of Narcondam and Barren. The islands are spread over an area of 8,249, of which 6,408 sq. km of area is occupied by the Andaman group and 1,841 by the Nicobar groups of Islands. The Andaman group consists of 324 islands of which 24 are inhabited while the Nicobar group includes 28 islands of which 12 are inhabited. Undulating topography and intervening valleys characterize the physiography of this Archiepelago. There are several rain-fed streams, which dry up during summer. All the major islands support a luxuriant growth of evergreen, semi evergreen, moist deciduous and littoral forests from the water edge to the mountain top depending on the topography and nature of the soil. For administrative purposes, the Islands are divided into two districts, namely Andaman and Nicobar. There are a total of 204 revenue villages of which 197 are in the Andaman District. The Andaman and Nicobar is having a good economic turnover through Tourism Industry because of its rich natural scenic beauty and natural resources. At the same time these islands are facing problems such as population growth, commercial development etc and inturn facing acute power shortage.”

Using GIS in Ecological Management: Green Assessment of the Impacts of Petroleum Activities in the State of Texas

International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, May 2010, 7(5), 2101-2130

Edmund Merem, Bennetta Robinson, Joan M. Wesley, Sudha Yerramilli, and Yaw A. Twumasi

“Geo-information technologies are valuable tools for ecological assessment in stressed environments. Visualizing natural features prone to disasters from the oil sector spatially not only helps in focusing the scope of environmental management with records of changes in affected areas, but it also furnishes information on the pace at which resource extraction affects nature. Notwithstanding the recourse to ecosystem protection, geo-spatial analysis of the impacts remains sketchy. This paper uses GIS and descriptive statistics to assess the ecological impacts of petroleum extraction activities in Texas. While the focus ranges from issues to mitigation strategies, the results point to growth in indicators of ecosystem decline.”

Using GIS to Analyze Wind Turbine Sites within the Shakopee Public Utilities Electric Service Territory, Shakopee, MN USA

Papers in Resource Analysis, Volume 11, 2009

Jay T. Berken

“Shakopee Public Utilities (SPU) has been a publicly owned electric and water utility in Minnesota USA since 1902. Its electric service territory includes most of the City of Shakopee and some surrounding townships and a small portion of the City of Prior Lake. The City of Shakopee contains a main downtown district as well as residential, commercial, industrial, and agricultural zones. SPU is a separate entity from the City of Shakopee with a commission appointed by the Shakopee City Council. As an electric utility, SPU does not generate its own power and purchases all of its electric power demands from outside sources. SPU has been receiving inquiries from developers of power generating wind turbines since energy independence and the worries of global warming have become more prevalent. This study is a macro comprehensive spatial analysis to determine the best placement of wind turbines in SPU’s electric territory by analyzing geographic data layers.”

Apples, Bananas, and Oranges: Using GIS to Determine Distance Travelled, Energy Use, and Emissions from Imported Fruit

Papers in Resource Analysis, Volume 11, 2009

Greta Bernatz

“Public interest in food distribution systems as well as an increasing amount of food imports to the United States has resulted in a need for methods of quantifying the transportation of food imports in terms of distance travelled, energy use, and environmental impact. Geographic information systems (GIS) provide a powerful tool to organize and analyze spatial data. This study used a geographic information system to analyze monthly imports of apples, oranges, and bananas in 2008. Shipping routes were mapped, and statistics including average distance travelled, total energy use, and total greenhouse gas emissions were calculated. Bananas were imported in a much larger quantity than apples and bananas, but the average source distance, energy/ton, and emissions/ton measures were lower for bananas than for imported apples and oranges.”