, Volume 39, Issue 1, pp 30–39 | Cite as

Burning Water: A Comparative Analysis of the Energy Return on Water Invested

  • Kenneth MulderEmail author
  • Nathan Hagens
  • Brendan Fisher
Review Paper


While various energy-producing technologies have been analyzed to assess the amount of energy returned per unit of energy invested, this type of comprehensive and comparative approach has rarely been applied to other potentially limiting inputs such as water, land, and time. We assess the connection between water and energy production and conduct a comparative analysis for estimating the energy return on water invested (EROWI) for several renewable and non-renewable energy technologies using various Life Cycle Analyses. Our results suggest that the most water-efficient, fossil-based technologies have an EROWI one to two orders of magnitude greater than the most water-efficient biomass technologies, implying that the development of biomass energy technologies in scale sufficient to be a significant source of energy may produce or exacerbate water shortages around the globe and be limited by the availability of fresh water.


Biofuels EROEI Water Energy production Ethanol Energy crops 



Kenneth Mulder was supported by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Nate Hagens was supported by a grant funded by the Moore Foundation. Brendan Fisher was supported by a grant from the Leverhulme Trust.


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Copyright information

© Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Green Mountain CollegePoultneyUSA
  2. 2.Gund Institute for Ecological EconomicsUniversity of VermontBurlingtonUSA
  3. 3.Program in Science, Technology and Environmental Policy Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International AffairsPrinceton UniversityPrincetonUSA

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