Wichita The quality and quantity of water is becoming one of the most important factors in ethanol plant expansion and construction, an industry expert told the Kansas Water Congress on Friday.
It takes three gallons to five gallons of water to produce one gallon of ethanol, said Teresa Delano, environmental affairs specialist with ICM, Inc., a Colwich-based company working in the design, construction and support of ethanol plants.
That means a typical ethanol plant that produces 50 million gallons of ethanol each year would need a sustainable supply of between 150 million and 250 million gallons of water, she said.
New technologies have helped reduce water use, with the latest numbers representing an improvement over the nearly six gallons of water plants used to produce one gallon of ethanol in 1998.
The quality and availability of water looms over the future of ethanol plants in arid places like western Kansas where shrinking aquifers have made water a precious commodity.
"Capital and operating costs are heavily dependent on water quality," Delano said, noting plants need high water quality to minimize expensive scale and deposits that build up in the system.
Kansas produces about 213 million gallons of ethanol, about 3.9 percent of the nation's ethanol supply. By 2008, that production is expected to double in the state as the state takes on a 4.3 percent share of the total U.S. ethanol production, Delano said.
"It is an opportunity unparalleled in my lifetime for rural Kansas," Kansas Agriculture Secretary Adrian Polansky said during the annual conference of the Kansas Water Congress.
The average ethanol plant in the state contributes $70 million of economic activity for its construction plus another $70 million annually for each year of operation. It employs between 30 and 50 jobs in rural communities, plus another 120 support jobs in the community.
It also provides a market so farmers can produce crops at capacity.
"It has almost been too easy making the case for renewable fuels in the last two years," Polansky said.
But Polansky said he has been getting a little perturbed at claims that the ethanol industry uses too much water. He said meatpacking plants use as much water as an ethanol plant, and dairies also use a lot of water.