The Green Side

Ethanol industry boasts greenhouse gas reductions under fuel standard.

Todd Neeley
By  Todd Neeley , DTN Staff Reporter
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A new study commissioned by the Renewable Fuels Foundation shows greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions Renewable Fuel Standard 2 (RFS2) have exceeded the EPA’s expectations.

The analysis, completed by Life Cycle Associates (LCA), based in California, reports RFS2 led to a GHG reduction of 579 million metric tons (mmt) going back to 2007, when the law was implemented. Originally, the EPA estimated a GHG reduction of 422 mmt.

For comparison, a GHG reduction of 600 mmt would be the equivalent of removing roughly half of the nation’s automobiles from the road for a full year. It would also be like shutting down 154 coal-fired power plants for a year. Both examples come from the EPA.

The LCA analysis shows RFS2’s primary GHG reduction success comes from improvements made in the ethanol-production process over the years.

“The GHG reductions are due to greater-than-expected savings from ethanol and other biofuels,” the study reports. “These emissions savings occur even though cellulosic biofuels have not met the RFS2 production targets. Biofuels have achieved and exceeded the GHG reductions estimated by EPA.”

The report notes a few things have contributed to the larger-than-expected GHG reductions, including the adoption of technology improvements in corn-ethanol production.

LCA says petroleum’s GHG emissions are higher than baseline estimates originally projected by EPA. That helped improve biofuels’ GHG profile compared to petroleum.


The report notes advanced biofuels like biodiesel, renewable diesel and renewable natural gas contributed additional GHG reductions even while actual cellulosic biofuel production has been lower than projected.

In 2018 alone, the study finds conventional ethanol reduced GHG emissions by 43% compared to petroleum. This result is with the land-use change included. Initially, EPA projected conventional ethanol would achieve only a 20% GHG reduction compared to petroleum.

Renewable Fuels Association president and chief executive officer Geoff Cooper says the analysis shows technological advancements are not needed to achieve GHG reductions now.

“With renewable fuels, we don’t need to cross our fingers and wait for the development and commercialization of a new technology,” Cooper said in a news release. “Ethanol is available here and now to help our nation decarbonize our transportation fuels in a cost-effective manner. As the new Congress turns its focus to climate change and efforts to reduce GHG emissions, we encourage lawmakers to recognize and build upon the incredible success of the RFS.”


Todd Neeley