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Amid a U.S. ethanol boom, new research offers another take on the long-debated question of whether corn grain ethanol provides more energy than its production consumes. A recent study that takes into account all the energy used in farming and processing corn to make ethanol concludes that there is a small energy gain, but that the gain from using soybeans to make diesel is far greater–and that biodiesel is less of a greenhouse-gas polluter, too.

Energy in, energy out
Farming and processing corn grain to make ethanol yields about 25 percent more energy–in ethanol and co­products such as animal feed–than it consumes. In contrast, biodiesel and coproducts yield 93 percent more energy.

Greenhouse-gas emissions
Producing and burning ethanol results in 12 percent less greenhouse-gas emission than producing and burning gasoline. Producing and burning biodiesel from soybeans offers a 41 percent reduction compared with regular diesel.

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