WASHINGTON, Jan. 12, 2017 – A Department of Agriculture lifecycle analysis of ethanol’s greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) shows a favorable comparison to gasoline, and indicates a positive disparity between the two could continue to grow.

On an energy equivalent basis, the report says GHG emissions associated with corn-based ethanol are 43 percent lower than 2005-era gasoline. Under a scenario where energy efficiency of ethanol plants and conservation practices at the farm level are both at optimum conditions, that reduction jumps to 76 percent. That increased reduction could be realized as facility and production improvements continue in the industry, the report noted.

The analysis takes into account the entire lifecycle of corn ethanol from its time as a kernel in a bag of seed to its use in a motor vehicle engine. An argument against corn ethanol has been that the planting, harvesting, transporting, and refining of the feedstock led to more emissions over the life of production, but renewable fuel advocates have long said that was an erroneous assumption.

“This should answer the critics who have repeated Big Oil’s polemic that renewable biofuels somehow increase carbon emissions,” Bob Dinneen, president and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association President, said in a statement. “Clearly, the opposite is true.”

“We are pleased that USDA’s analysis reflects the tremendous efficiency gains our industry has made and continues to make,” he continued. “This is not your grandfather’s ethanol industry.”

The report differs from some previous studies on the subject on how it addresses land used for the growth of ethanol’s feedstock. Some previous studies operated under the assumption that new land would have to be brought into production via methods like deforestation or clearing of grasslands.  

The report also takes into account things like conservation practices on current farmland. Those practices – reducing tillage and using cover crops, for example – are estimated to reduce GHG emissions by 14 percent.

Emily Skor, CEO of Growth Energy, said the report underscores that ethanol and other biofuels “are the most effective alternative to fossil fuel and a critical tool for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving air quality.” National Corn Growers Association President Wesley Spurlock also spoke along the same vein, saying the report “reaffirmed what we already know: Ethanol does more than just save consumers money at the gas pump, it’s also better for the environment.”

Sen. Chuck Grassley – an Iowa Republican and one of the most vocal renewable fuel supporters on Capitol Hill – said the report “completely and definitively settles the debate regarding the positive environmental benefits of conventional corn ethanol.”

Learn about the benefits of subscribing to Agri-Pulse. Sign up for your four-week free trial Agri-Pulse subscription.

“The report shows there’s really no contest,” Grassley said. “Ethanol beats gasoline on lower greenhouse gas emissions by a mile.”

A spokeswoman for the American Petroleum Institute declined to comment, other than to point out that the process that enables more efficient ethanol manufacturing is coming through the use of natural gas.

Ethanol and renewable fuels policy will be a topic to watch under the incoming Trump administration. As a candidate, President-elect Donald Trump was vocally supportive of ethanol and the Renewable Fuel Standard, but his EPA pick – Scott Pruitt – has had adversarial opinions on the program.

As Oklahoma’s attorney general, Pruitt filed lawsuits challenging the RFS, but he has assured lawmakers the EPA will follow congressional intent on the biofuel policy, which sets renewable fuel blending requirements through 2022.


For more news, go to www.Agri-Pulse.com