Corn ethanol may be worse for the planet than gasoline, study says
Researchers said corn ethanol production is unlikely to contribute to climate change mitigation
MADISON, Wis. – Corn-based ethanol, which has been lauded as a green replacement for some fuels, is more detrimental to the ecosystem than the gasoline it has replaced, a study led by the University of Wisconsin–Madison has found.
The study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that ethanol production from corn led to a decrease in water qualities and caused additive emissions through the production processes.
Researchers said the combined sum of emissions from corn-based ethanol could be 24 percent more than the fuel they were designed to replace.
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"It basically reaffirms what many suspected, that corn ethanol is not a climate-friendly fuel and we need to accelerate the shift toward better renewable fuels, as well as make improvements in efficiency and electrification," Tyler Lark, a scientist in the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center and the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies at UW–Madison, said in a statement.
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According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, six states produce more than 70 percent of U.S. fuel ethanol in the country, with Iowa leading the pack.
The study says the production belt should be concerned about nitrate leaching, phosphorus runoff, and soil erosion levels being higher than anticipated.
Despite the warnings, some experts in the renewable fuels industry say the study should be taken with a grain of salt.
Geoff Cooper who is President and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association called the report nothing more than a "fantasy novel."
"In keeping with their previous ‘research’ on biofuels and the RFS, the authors of this new paper precariously string together a series of worst-case assumptions, cherry-picked data, and disparate results from previously debunked studies to create a completely fictional and erroneous account of the environmental impacts of the Renewable Fuel Standard," Cooper said in a statement.
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The RFA admitted that ethanol production does produce a carbon footprint but did say the industry is on track to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
The group says farmers should accomplish the goal by changing production methods and implementing stricter conservation methods.
It is unclear what the most recent findings will mean for discussions by the Environmental Protection Agency on fuel blending methods.
"Our findings suggest that profound advances in technology and policy are still needed to achieve the intended environmental benefits of biofuel production and use," Lark said.