AgBioResearcher Calls for Better Ways of Measuring Energy Savings

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Bruce Dale (view larger image)

An MAES chemical engineering scientist says that, if the world is to make better decisions about developing new energy sources, it needs better ways to measure progress toward energy goals.

Speaking at this year’s meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Bruce Dale said that the world needs new metrics to assess work aimed at energy security.

“The problem is, how do we develop metrics that are relatively straightforward and easy to calculate?” said Dale, who also serves as associate director of the MSU Office of Biobased Technologies. “If we get bogged down in complexity, we’ll spend decades arguing about it while we continue to burn oil, coal and natural gas, and build up greenhouse gases.”

Dale said that energy return on investment (EROI) is one important and useful measurement. EROI measures how much energy is used to produce a unit of energy.

“The EROI metric has significant value, but it alone is not enough,” Dale said. “We also need to consider differences in energy quality, which EROI doesnÂ’t always address. Right now, the critical energy quality that we need is liquid fuel, fuels for people’s gas tanks.”

Some biofuels, for example, have a good EROI, about 15:1. That means that for every 15 units of biofuel energy produced, one unit is used.

“But if we’re going to enhance national energy security, we need to go beyond this. We also should consider critical materials required to pursue various energy alternatives, such as the availability of lithium for electric vehicles.”

Dale’s presentation, “Thinking Clearly About Energy,” was part of a symposium titled “Consequences of Changes in Energy Return on Energy Invested.”


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