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Study finds that U.S. corn-based Ethanol is worse for the climate than gasoline
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Study finds that U.S. corn-based Ethanol is worse for the climate than gasoline

Feb 14 (Reuters). Corn-based ethanol, which has been used for years in large quantities to make gasoline at U.S. stations, is more likely to contribute to global warming that straight gasoline, according Monday’s study.

The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published the study. It contradicts previous research by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which showed ethanol and other biofuels to have a relatively green reputation.

The administration of President Joe Biden is currently reviewing policies on biofuels in a larger effort to decarbonize America’s economy by 2050 to combat climate change.

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Corn ethanol isn’t a climate-friendly fuel according to Dr. Tyler Lark of University of Wisconsin-Madison Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment and assistant scientist.

The National Wildlife Federation and the U.S. Department of Energy funded part of the research. It found that ethanol is likely to be at least 24% more environmentally-intensive than gasoline because of emissions from corn cultivation, as well as combustion.

Geoff Cooper, president of the Renewable Fuels Association and CEO, a ethanol trade lobby, said the study was “completely fictional” and “erroneous,” and that the authors used “worst case assumptions.” [and] cherry-picked data.”

The 2005 U.S. Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) requires that oil refiners mix approximately 15 billion gallons corn-based ethanol annually into gasoline. This policy was designed to reduce emissions, help farmers, and reduce U.S. dependence upon energy imports.

The mandate resulted in corn cultivation growing 8.7% and expanding to 6.9 million acres of land between 2008-2016, the study showed. The study showed that this mandate led to significant changes in land use. It included the tilling of cropland that would otherwise be retired or enrolled into conservation programs, and the planting of more corn on existing cropland.

While tiling fields releases carbon already stored in the soil, other farming activities like applying nitrogen fertilizers also emit greenhouse gases.

A 2019 StudyThe USDA, which has been widely cited in the biofuel industry, reported that ethanol’s carbon intensity was 39% lower than gasoline. This may be due to carbon sequestration associated planting new crops.

Lark explained that the research underestimated land conversion’s emissions impact.

USDA did not respond to our request for comment.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is currently considering changes to the program. It administers the nation’s biofuel policy. The RFS established blending requirements for 2022. However, Congress did not set any beyond that date, thus giving the EPA the authority to impose reforms. In May, the EPA will propose 2023 requirements.

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Reporting by Leah Douglas. Editing by David Gregorio

Our Standards The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles

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