Sunday, June 3, 2007

DSM Register: WATER USE - Biofuel Plants' Thirst Creates Water Worries

Water use: Biofuel plants' thirst creates water worries
State regulators fear some parts of Iowa won't have enough water to handle the booming biofuels industry.

PERRY BEEMAN |REGISTER STAFF WRITER | Des Moines Register | June 3, 2007

Plant operators say they have reduced the amount of water needed to produce ethanol, but the facilities still need abundant local water supplies. A single plant producing 100 million gallons of ethanol a year - a capacity quickly becoming the norm - uses as much water as a town of approximately 10,000 people, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources reports.
That's 400 million gallons of water a year for one plant - and scientists aren't sure the state has enough water to handle the ethanol boom and other expanding industries.

The last statewide water-use inventory was a dozen years ago. Back then, biofuel plants used less than 5 percent of the state's water. The percentage is 7 percent now and could grow to 14 percent by 2012, after planned expansions and new plants come online, according to an October study by the Minnesota-based Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.

"It frankly is one of our important natural resource issues," said state geologist Robert Libra of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. "We haven't paid attention to the water supply in a long time. We need to do so before there is a panic." The Legislature this year allocated $480,000 so the DNR can update water records that haven't had a full review since the mid-1990s.

Those studies suggested water resources were already poor in most of west-central and southern Iowa, fair in the state's northwest corner and good in the northeast.

Meanwhile, local water supplies are dictating industry growth in Iowa and other states.

In Buena Vista County near Alta, Oregon Trail Energy recently requested permission to pump up to 788 million gallons of water a year for a 120 million-gallon-a-year ethanol plant. State officials approved the request, which includes water for future expansion.

In Minnesota, plans to build a plant in Pipestone were abandoned because the area lacked the 350 million gallons of water a year that was needed to make 100 million gallons of ethanol, a report by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy found. Plants built in Heron Lake and Atwater moved from locations with water supply problems.

In Grand Island, Neb., an ethanol plant won approval only after its water demand was offset by cutbacks in water use in an agricultural area 15 miles away, the trade and policy institute reported.

"Ethanol won't dry up the state," Libra said of Iowa. "But it raises local questions, especially with other development." Power plants, the state's largest water users, consume far more than ethanol plants. But while power plants return water to streams and rivers, ethanol plants are a different story. They recycle some water, but export much of it in steam.[snip]

Ethanol plants use so much water that the DNR plans to study how much water the state's rivers and underground supplies can provide under various conditions. The supply changes significantly with rain and with drought.

"Today, biofuels are a small part of the groundwater demand, but a growing one," Libra said.


"We are lacking the scientific basis for some of our water-supply decisions," Gieselman said.

Greg Krissek, director of governmental affairs for Kansas-based ICM, an engineering firm that has worked on many Iowa plants, said the industry has become more efficient in its water use. Producing a gallon of ethanol took six gallons in 1998, compared with six to 11 gallons for gasoline. Water use dropped to three to four gallons per gallon of ethanol produced by last year, and is expected to drop below three gallons this year, Krissek said.

Production of biodiesel fuels uses even less water: An average of one to two gallons of water per gallon of fuel, he said.

Plants are looking for ways to use wastewater from municipal plants, and maybe even livestock operations, to reduce the amount needed from underground supplies. However, Krissek said limits on chloride and other salts in discarded water may make that recycling difficult.

Dennis Keeney, a senior fellow at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy who led an analysis of the issue last fall, offers another warning. "We don't know what's out there and what the water table is" in Iowa, said Keeney, who once ran the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University. "This is true for all development. We need to know what's out there before we go willy-nilly into something."
[For full details concerning biofuels and water issues visit The Bioeconomy Blog posting for PowerPoint presentation(s) and a radio interview with Dennis Keeney.]


1 comment:

reducing water usage said...

Oh no, i wasnt aware...
Biofuels are used globally and biofuel industries are expanding in Europe, Asia and the Americas. The most common use for biofuels is as liquid fuels for automotive transport. The use of renewable biofuels provides increased independence from petroleum and enhances energy security, which are very important...
did you know that Biofuel from plants could be a solution to the looming depletion of cheap oil, but making it out of food crops poses problems that are brought into sharp resolve by the current food crisis?

Great informative article!