Sunday, June 18, 2006

Ethanol and water use in Illinois

The Associated Press ran a story on June 18 about ethanol's water demands in Illinois, reporting that some city officials in Champaign and Urbana are concerned that production of the corn-based fuel could strain local water supplies. The story quotes the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association as saying that it takes about 300 million gallons of water to produce 100 million gallons of ethanol. New plant technologies continue to improve this ratio.

The story also cites some downstate residents' concerns about chemicals and wastewater from ethanol plants contaminating local water supplies. An Iowa RFA spokesman quoted in the story rejected the notion, adding that the water that "comes out of the plant may be cleaner than was pumped into it."

Does this story sound a bit familiar? It should -- the local concerns about energy-industry plants taxing the water supply or contaminating local groundwater are similar to the issues anti-nuclear activists often raise with regard to neighboring plants. If this matter continues to mirror anti-nuclear battles, expect to hear questions about clean water leaving ethanol plants at a slightly heated temperature endangering local aquatic systems.

But, before Illinois ethanol producers write off the controversy as an annoying chapter from the anti-nuclear playbook, they'd be wise to remember that Illinois residents may be super-sensitized to this issue -- earlier this year, the Braidwood nuclear plant was in the news for several weeks after Exelon disclosed finding tritium in on-site groundwater after a small leak.

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