Biofuels

Published on October 20th, 2008 | by Ariel Schwartz

9

Alternative Fuels Could Deplete Water Supplies

October 20th, 2008 by  

A recent study from the University of Texas at Austin puts a wrench in the recent advancements of the biofuels world. According to researchers at the university, producing biofuels or hydrogen en masse may require the use of much more water than conventional petroleum-based fuels.

The researchers analyzed the amount of water withdrawn (consumed and returned to the source) and consumed (not returned to the source) per mile traveled by a car running on conventional petroleum, biofuels, hydrogen, and electricity.

The results of the study are unsettling— vehicles running on hydrogen and water produced with electricity withdraw 20 times more water and consume 5 times more water than vehicles using conventional petroleum. And biofuels derived from irrigated crops such as corn use up to 3 times more water per mile than conventional fuels.

Fortunately, not all fuels use quite as much water as irrigated crops. Non-irrigated biofuels and hydrogen derived from renewable sources use the same amount of water as petroluem.

So while alternative fuels are necessary today, it may be wise to hold off on mass production until non-irrigated biofuels are more common and a renewable energy infrastructure is in place.


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About the Author

was formerly the editor of CleanTechnica and is a senior editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine, and more. A graduate of Vassar College, she has previously worked in publishing, organic farming, documentary film, and newspaper journalism. Her interests include permaculture, hiking, skiing, music, relocalization, and cob (the building material). She currently resides in San Francisco, CA.



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  • Andy Olsen

    Folks, I’d go easy on the algae boosterism. It’s still a ways off.

    And I question if all the water consumption for oil exploration, development and production are included, especially for enhanced oil recovery. The numbers sounds a bit low and the water when oil is done with it is not especially potable. (Not that many crops have a lot of bragging room there).

  • Andy Olsen

    Folks, I’d go easy on the algae boosterism. It’s still a ways off.

    And I question if all the water consumption for oil exploration, development and production are included, especially for enhanced oil recovery. The numbers sounds a bit low and the water when oil is done with it is not especially potable. (Not that many crops have a lot of bragging room there).

  • Noa

    This article is a joke. I’m surprised it made it in here.

  • Noa

    This article is a joke. I’m surprised it made it in here.

  • ngi.jag

    MadMax gets at the truth of the matter here in these studies put out by Universities. Today, unfortunately, most universities receive endowments from large corporations. These endowments allow industries to influence academic research and bend results to be favorable to the corporations and industries that fund them. It is no wonder that it was the University of Texas that came up with this study. I would like to point out that this study did not take into account the amount of water that is needed to drill for the oil, nor the chemical and sludge pits that surround extraction sites. It is a sad day in America when institutions of higher learning can not be trusted to remain neutral in their search for knowledge. Shame on you University of Texas; your alumni should be ashamed!

  • ngi.jag

    MadMax gets at the truth of the matter here in these studies put out by Universities. Today, unfortunately, most universities receive endowments from large corporations. These endowments allow industries to influence academic research and bend results to be favorable to the corporations and industries that fund them. It is no wonder that it was the University of Texas that came up with this study. I would like to point out that this study did not take into account the amount of water that is needed to drill for the oil, nor the chemical and sludge pits that surround extraction sites. It is a sad day in America when institutions of higher learning can not be trusted to remain neutral in their search for knowledge. Shame on you University of Texas; your alumni should be ashamed!

  • MadMaxx13

    And he’s on the payroll of big oil! What a lot of hooey. Yes if current practices are followed with standard crops some of this might be right. The current state of the art, using algae can use primary treated sewage water and output better quality water than secondary and tertiary teatment currently does. Thus not only no increase in water usage but a decrease since the chemicals and technologies for secondary and tertiary treatment would not be required and the water for producing them not needed. Money sources for research need to be published as well as the research results!!!!

  • MadMaxx13

    And he’s on the payroll of big oil! What a lot of hooey. Yes if current practices are followed with standard crops some of this might be right. The current state of the art, using algae can use primary treated sewage water and output better quality water than secondary and tertiary teatment currently does. Thus not only no increase in water usage but a decrease since the chemicals and technologies for secondary and tertiary treatment would not be required and the water for producing them not needed. Money sources for research need to be published as well as the research results!!!!

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