Corn Ethanol Worse than Oil? California Rules Yes

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Image via Renaissance Ronin

In what would certainly be a huge blow to the US' formidable corn-ethanol industry, the California Air Resources Board is readying a report that says ethanol is worse than oil in terms of greenhouse gas emissions. According to the Daily Climate, the California regulators are prepared to go as far as to declare that biofuels cannot help the state fight climate change--could this be the beginning of the end for ethanol?The Corn Ethanol Question
The ethanol industry is obviously worried about the move, and is opposing it—they say cutting off investments in the technology now would prevent them from reaching their fuel efficiency goals.

But California says it ain't so—they say that due to the new state emissions standards, they've got to encourage cleaner forms of energy like hydrogen, cellulosic ethanol, and electricity. Corn-based ethanol is far worse in the long run, when considering the big picture. From DC:

If increased production of corn-based ethanol in the U.S. raises corn prices and accelerates the conversion of rainforests and conservations lands to farmland worldwide, greenhouse emissions and loss of the carbon sink associated with such deforestation and disruption must be counted towards the biofuel’s total emissions.

Which is true, especially considering the relative inefficiency of using corn-based ethanol as biofuel. This is how ethanol could potentially be even worse than oil when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions—not strictly from emissions when compared side by side, but when considering the entire cycle necessary to create corn ethanol. Not to mention the obscene amount of water corn sucks down, which doesn't factor directly into such emission questions . . .

An Ethanol Precedent?
What's especially interesting about all this, however, is that such a groundbreaking finding will probably have a major impact at the national level as well: Obama is leaning towards establishing a national emissions standard, so California's report is bound to form something of a precedent. Which spells bad news for the corn industry.

But they're getting some good news too—good news that seems to be in direct contradiction of CARB's findings—the EPA is considering ramping up the amount of ethanol required in the nation's gasoline from 10% to 15%. And all of that would come from corn.

So which finding will win out politically if the ethanol battle reaches the national stage? Hard to say—Obama prides himself on his pragmatism and respect for science, which would appear to tilt the scale in favor of cutting out the corn-based ethanol. And if there's an established precedent to follow . . . Then again, there's a huge corn industry in Iowa—a state whose economy Obama may be especially keen on supporting (I seem to recall certain pledges made to support ethanol way back in the now-prehistoric primaries).

I suspect it'll be a while yet before we see any dent in the massive government subsidies for corn—with ethanol looking worse and worse as a viable alternative fuel, hopefully California's ruling will at least bring attention to the issue.

More on Corn Ethanol
40 Corn Ethanol Plants Could File For Bankruptcy by Early 2009
Corn Ethanol ’s Greenhouse Gas Emission Reduction Better Than Thought
Corn Ethanol Is Stupid: 13 Year Old Weighs In On Renewable Energy

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