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New Study Finds Corn Ethanol Reduces CO2 Emissions by 46%

Todd Neeley
By  Todd Neeley , DTN Staff Reporter
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A new study finds corn-based ethanol cuts carbon emissions by 46% compared to gasoline. (DTN file photo by Elaine Shein)

After the Biden administration announced plans to decarbonize the federal vehicle fleet using electric vehicles, a new study finds corn ethanol's carbon intensity is 46% lower than that of gasoline. In addition, the study led by Environmental Health and Engineering Inc. finds some corn ethanol on the market can achieve up to a 61% reduction.

The study was completed by scientists at Environmental Health and Engineering Inc., Harvard University and Tufts University.

The scientists credit efficiency improvements and the adoption of new technologies at ethanol plants for a steady reduction in the lifecycle carbon intensity of corn ethanol. The new study is scheduled to be published in the Environmental Research Letters.

"This new study provides further validation that ethanol is a highly effective tool that for decarbonizing liquid transportation fuels and significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector," Renewable Fuels Association President and Chief Executive Officer Geoff Cooper said in a statement.

"And with ethanol, we don't have to wait and hope for technological and economic breakthroughs. It's here today at a low cost and already has a proven track record. Ethanol can and should be allowed to do more to contribute to the fight against climate change, and that starts by breaking down the barriers to higher blends like E15, E30, and flex fuels like E85."

The scientists also found emissions from land-use change to be "a minor contributor" to the overall carbon footprint of corn ethanol, accounting for just 7% of total greenhouse gas emissions.

American Coalition for Ethanol Chief Executive Officer Brian Jennings, said the study confirms ACE's work on GHG emissions and ethanol.

"The findings in this report reinforce what we have been promoting for the last several years," Jennings said.

"The greenhouse gas reduction benefits of corn ethanol have been significantly undervalued because too many regulatory bodies refuse to apply or use the latest lifecycle science. Today's corn ethanol indeed reduces GHGs by approximately 50% compared to gasoline, and given improvements occurring in corn farming and within ethanol facilities, corn ethanol's carbon footprint will continue to decline over time.

"As elected leaders at the state and federal level look to craft new policies to tackle climate change and meet net-zero emission goals, we strongly encourage them to appreciate that corn farmers and ethanol producers are part of the solution."

A study done last year found transitioning to higher ethanol blends, such as from E10 to E15, would lower greenhouse gas emissions by 17.62 million tons per year.

Growth Energy Chief Executive Officer Emily Skor, said she's hopeful the Biden administration will update ethanol's carbon score to reflect new science.

"The evidence proves time and time again that ethanol should play a key role in our nation's climate goals of decarbonizing the transportation sector and reducing greenhouse gas emissions," Skor said.

"This latest report provides a much-needed update to ethanol's carbon-intensity score to highlight as our country, and our new administration, make climate change a top priority moving forward."

Read the study here: https://iopscience.iop.org/…

Todd Neeley can be reached at todd.neeley@dtn.com

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