Is ethanol cheaper to produce than gasoline?
Adjusting for this yields the figure below, which shows that ethanol in gasoline equivalent gallons is rarely cheaper than gasoline, typically 5% of the time.
|Fuel: liquid, US gallons||GGE||kWh/gal|
|Ethanol fuel (E100)||1.498||22.30|
|Jet fuel (naphtha)||0.9604||34.79|
|Jet fuel (kerosene)||0.8899||37.54|
More comprehensive analyses project that current cellulosic ethanol technology provides a net energy output from about 16.7 to 21.2 mega joules/liter (60,000 to 76,000 Btu/gallon) of ethanol compared to its lower heating value of 21.2 mega joules/liter (76,000 Btu/gallon), depending on the feedstock employed.
While E85 is typically cheaper per gallon than gasoline it might be more expensive per mile. Since ethanol contains less energy per volume than gasoline, FFVs will generally get 15%-27% fewer miles per gallon when fueled with E85, depending on the car and the driver's driving habits.
Through research performed at Cornell University, we know that 1 acre of land can yield about 7,110 pounds (3,225 kg) of corn, which can be processed into 328 gallons (1240.61 liters) of ethanol. That is about 26.1 pounds (11.84 kg) of corn per gallon.
The research, which was funded in part by the National Wildlife Federation and U.S. Department of Energy, found that ethanol is likely at least 24% more carbon-intensive than gasoline due to emissions resulting from land use changes to grow corn, along with processing and combustion.
Ethanol production costs were estimated at $3.48 per gallon using raw sugar as a feedstock and were estimated at $3.97 per gallon using refined sugar. For these feedstocks, feedstock costs accounted for more than 80 percent of the total estimated ethanol production cost.
Production of corn-ethanol is energy efficient, in that it yields 34 percent more energy than it takes to produce it, including growing the corn, harvesting it, transporting it, and distilling it into ethanol.
Assuming total ethanol production for the U.S. was 15 billion gallons in 2021, total (pre-tax) profit for all operating ethanol plants is estimated to be $5.1 billion.
Fuel Economy and Performance
The impact to fuel economy varies depending on the energy difference in the blend used. For example, E85 that contains 83% ethanol content has about 27% less energy per gallon than gasoline (the impact to fuel economy lessens as ethanol content decreases).