Water Embodied in Bioethanol in
the United States
Y I - W E N C H I U , † B R I A N W A L S E T H , ‡ A N D
S A N G W O N S U H * , ‡
Water Resources Science and Department of Bioproducts and
Biosystems Engineering, University of Minnesota, 1390 Eckles
Avenue, St. Paul, Minnesota 55108
Received November 3, 2008. Revised manuscript received
February 13, 2009. Accepted February 17, 2009.
Prior studies have estimated that a liter of bioethanol requires 263-784 L of water from corn farm to fuel pump, but these estimates have failed to account for the widely varied regional irrigation practices. By using regional time-series agricultural and ethanol production data in the U.S., this paper estimates the state-level field-to-pump water requirement of bioethanol across the nation. The results indicate that bioethanol’s water requirements can range from 5 to 2138 L per liter of ethanol depending on regional irrigation practices. The results also show that as the ethanol industry expands to areas that apply more irrigated water than others, consumptive water appropriation by bioethanol in the U.S. has increased 246% from 1.9 to 6.1 trillion liters between 2005 and 2008, whereas U.S. bioethanol production has increased only 133% from 15 to 34 billion liters during the same period. The results highlight the need to take regional specifics into account when implementing biofuel mandates.