WASHINGTON, Jan. 19, 2017 - A new analysis released by the Agriculture Department finds that greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) associated with corn-based ethanol can be 43 percent lower than gasoline.
“This report provides evidence that corn ethanol can be a GHG-friendly alternative to fossil fuels, while boosting farm economies,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a release.
The report, A Life-Cycle Analysis of the Greenhouse Gas Emissions of Corn-Based Ethanol, shows that the reductions in GHG emissions were driven by improvements in ethanol production “from the corn field to the ethanol refinery.”
While other studies of GHG benefits have relied on forecasts of future ethanol production systems and expected impacts on the farm sector, USDA says this study reviewed how the industry and farm sectors performed over the past decade to assess the current GHG profile of corn-based ethanol.
Previous estimates of ethanol’s GHG balance report lower efficiencies, USDA notes, largely due to anticipated conversion of grasslands and forests to commodity production as a result of increased demand for corn used in ethanol production.
But USDA says recent studies of international agricultural land use trends show that since 2004, the primary land use change response of the world’s farmers to rising commodity prices has been to use available land resources more efficiently rather than to expand the amount of land used for farming.
Here are some highlights from the report:
- Ethanol production in the U.S. increased significantly over the past decade, from 3.9 to 14.8 billion gallons per year between 2005 and 2015.
- The report projects that the GHG profile of corn ethanol will be almost 50 percent lower than gasoline in 2022 if current trends in corn yields, process fuel switching, and improvements in trucking fuel efficiency continue.
- If additional conservation practices and efficiency improvements are pursued, such as the practices outlined in USDA’s Building Blocks for Climate Smart Agriculture and Forestry strategy, the GHG benefits of corn ethanol are even more pronounced over gasoline—about 76 percent.
- On-farm conservation practices, such as reduced tillage, cover crops and nitrogen management, are estimated to improve the GHG balance of corn ethanol by about 14 percent.
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