Burning Water: A Comparative Analysis of the Energy Return on Water Invested
- 421 Downloads
While various energy-producing technologies have been analyzed to assess the amount of energy returned per unit of energy invested, this type of comprehensive and comparative approach has rarely been applied to other potentially limiting inputs such as water, land, and time. We assess the connection between water and energy production and conduct a comparative analysis for estimating the energy return on water invested (EROWI) for several renewable and non-renewable energy technologies using various Life Cycle Analyses. Our results suggest that the most water-efficient, fossil-based technologies have an EROWI one to two orders of magnitude greater than the most water-efficient biomass technologies, implying that the development of biomass energy technologies in scale sufficient to be a significant source of energy may produce or exacerbate water shortages around the globe and be limited by the availability of fresh water.
KeywordsBiofuels EROEI Water Energy production Ethanol Energy crops
Kenneth Mulder was supported by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Nate Hagens was supported by a grant funded by the Moore Foundation. Brendan Fisher was supported by a grant from the Leverhulme Trust.
- Alcamo, J., et al. 2005. Changes in nature’s balance sheet: Model based estimates of future worldwide ecosystem services. Ecology and Society 10(2): 19.Google Scholar
- Berndes, G. 2008. Bioenergy—a new large user of scarce water? In Food and water, ed. J. Förare. Formas: Forskningsrådet för miljö, areella näringar och samhällsbyggande.Google Scholar
- Börjesson, P. 2008. Good or bad ethanol—what determines this? Report no. 65, Environmental and Energy Systems Studies, Department of Technology and Society, Lund University, Sweden.Google Scholar
- Drought threatens crop catastrophe. The Guardian, Apr 20, 2007. www.guardian.co.uk/australia/story/0,,2061761,00.html.
- Farrell, A., R. J. Plevin, B. T. Turner, A. D. Jones, M. O’Hare, and D. M. Kammen. 2006. Ethanol can contribute to energy and environmental goals. Science 311: 506–508.Google Scholar
- Flynn, H., and T. Bradford. 2006. Polysilicon: Supply, demand, and implications for the PV industry. Cambridge: The Prometheus Institute for Sustainable Development.Google Scholar
- Georgescu-Roegen, N. 1973. The entropy law and the economic problem. In Toward a steady state economy, ed. H.E. Daly. San Francisco: W. H. Freeman and Company.Google Scholar
- Gleick, P.H. 2000. The world’s water. Washington, DC: Island Press.Google Scholar
- Hall, C.A., C. Cleveland, and R. Kaufmann. 1986. Energy and resource quality: The ecology of the economic process. New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
- Hutson, S.S., N. L. Barber, J. F. Kenny, K. S. Linsey, D. S. Lumia, and M. A. Maupin. 2004. Estimated use of water in the United States in 2000. US Geological Survey, Circular 1268.Google Scholar
- Mann, M.K., and P. Spath. 1997. Life cycle assessment of a biomass gasification combined-cycle system. NREL/TP-430-23076. Golden: National Renewable Energy Laboratory.Google Scholar
- Mortimer, N.D., M.A. Elsayed, and R. Matthews. 2003. Carbon and energy balances for a range of biofuel options. Sheffield: Resources Research Unit, Sheffield Hallam University.Google Scholar
- National Research Council. 2008. Water implications of biofuels production in the United States. Report prepared by the Committee on water implications of biofuels production in the United States, National Research Council, ISBN: 978-0-309-11361-8.Google Scholar
- Odum, H.T. 1973. Energy, ecology, and economics. AMBIO 2: 220–227.Google Scholar
- Ragauskas, A.J., C. K. Williams, B. H. Davison, G. Britovsek, J. Cairney, C. A. Eckert, W. J. Frederick, Jr., J. P. Hallett, et al. 2006. The path forward for biofuels and biomaterials. Science 311: 484–489.Google Scholar
- Sheehan, J., V. Camobreco, J. Duffield, M. Graboski, and H. Shapouri. 1998. An overview of biodiesel and petroleum diesel life cycles. NREL/TP-580-24772. Golden: National Renewable Energy Laboratory.Google Scholar
- Smil, V. 2006. 21st century energy: Some sobering thoughts. OECD Observer 258/59.Google Scholar
- Soddy, F. 1933. Wealth, virtual wealth and debt; the solution of the economic paradox, 2nd ed. New York: E.P. Dutton.Google Scholar
- Spreng, D.T. 1988. Net-energy analysis and the energy requirements of energy systems. New York: Praeger.Google Scholar
- United States Department of Agriculture—National Agriculture Statistics Service. 2007. http://www.nass.usda.gov/index.asp.
- Alberta Chamber of Resources. 2006. Calgary, Alberta, Canada.Google Scholar
- Griffiths, M., A. Taylor, and D. Woynillowicz. 2006. Troubled waters, troubling trends: Technology and policy options to reduce water use in oil and oil sands development in Alberta. Drayton Valley: The Pembina Institute.Google Scholar
- International Standard Organization. 1997. Environmental management—life cycle assessment—principles and framework. Geneva: ISO.Google Scholar
- Kidd, S. 2004. Nuclear: Is there any net energy addition? Nuclear Engineering International 49: 12–13.Google Scholar
- No author. 2006. Deer Creek Energy Limited: Joslyn SAGD Project—phase 2 application for approval. Environmental Impact Assessment.Google Scholar
- Shapouri, H., J. Duffield, and M. Wang. 2003. The energy balance of corn ethanol revisited. Transactions of the ASAE 46: 959–968.Google Scholar
- Smeets, E., M. Junginger, A. Faaij, A. Walter, and P. Dolzan. 2006. Sustainability of Brazilian bio-ethanol. NWS-E-2006-110. Utrecht: Copernicus University.Google Scholar
- Stiegel, G.J., et al. 2006. Estimating freshwater needs to meet future thermoelectric generation requirements. Pittsburgh: DOE/NETL-2006/1235, National Energy Technology Laboratory.Google Scholar
- Tyson, S.K., C.J. Riley, and K.K. Humphreys. 1993. Fuel cycle evaluations of biomass—ethanol and reformulated gasoline. NREL/TP-463-4950. Golden: National Renewable Energy Laboratory.Google Scholar
- U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2005. Oilseed yearbook.Google Scholar
- U.S. Department of Energy. http://www.eere.energy.gov/afdc/.