Ethanol’s Potential to Reduce GHG Emissions

05 August 2019

The Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) has revealed two new studies that offer evidence of grain-based ethanol’s potential to significantly reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, This new research will allow policymakers and regulators to focus on the advances being made by corn farmers and ethanol producers in sustainability and efficiency.

“As the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers the GHG impacts of expanded ethanol consumption under the Renewable Fuel Standard, we urge them to strongly consider the latest science and data regarding ethanol’s tremendous carbon benefits,” said RFA President and CEO Geoff Cooper in a press release.

One of the studies was carried out by the Laboratory for Applied Spatial Analysis at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (SIUE-LASA). It highlights the research flaws surrounding land use change based on satellite imagery. The review of the data sets and methodologies used in the previous research revealed a number of  errors, such as areas of water, forest and pasture misclassification. 

The second study was partially funded by the US Department of Energy (DOE) and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). It found that corn residue retained on fields results in the sequestration of approximately 0.41 metric tons of carbon per hectare, per year, in the soil. This suggests the carbon intensity of corn-based ethanol is below current estimates by the EPA and other regulatory bodies.

The soil carbon sequestration benefits of corn production would reduce the existing ‘carbon intensity score’ of corn ethanol by 20-25%. This means most dry mill corn ethanol produced would result in 50-65% GHG savings, compared to gasoline.

The research was carried out by environmental and soil scientists from the DOE’s Argonne National Laboratory, the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, South Dakota State University and the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology.