Photo via: Silfverduk
Currently in the news, the producers of ethanol are pressing their thumbs to the government, asking them to overturn the 25-year rule limiting the mix of ethanol which can be added to gasoline from its current 10 percent to as much as 15 percent. In the meantime, the Agricultural Department is in discussions with the EPA on raising the current ethanol blend percentage in order to help protect the ethanol industry, which has been deemed a key contributor to the "new energy future".
Okay, that sounds just great. But a recent study is warning that the corn-based ethanol produced in the US, may in fact be more harmful and costly than helpful and clean... (read on)The Good and the Bad of Ethanol
The question of whether or not ethanol is better than gasoline has been around for a long time now. The two main rejections for its use have been one, there is not nearly as much energy in ethanol as there is in gasoline. Two, creating this energy source from food crops will only deplete land currently devoted to harvesting crops for consumption.
These criticisms of ethanol are often outweighed by its positive attributes of having a rather clean burning nature (decrease greenhouse-gas emissions) and being a rather helpful contributor in reducing the amount of gasoline consumed in the typical vehicle. But what if there are other notable factors against its use w have not yet been made aware of...
Now the Ugly
A recent ethanol study by the University of Minnesota suggests that corn-based ethanol maybe more harmful (climate change, greenhouse gases, health effects) and costly to the environment than gasoline itself. With this said, it is important to note that quite a bit of the US production of ethanol is currently reliant on first generation biofuels, such as corn.
"To understand the environmental and health consequences of biofuels," says Jason Hill, one of the lead author's of the report. "We must look well beyond the tailpipe to how and where biofuels are produced."
According to the findings in this study, for each billion gallons of fuel produced and expelled into the air through a vehicles exhaust, the combined health and greenhouse costs are $469 million for gasoline and somewhere between $472 million to $952 million for corn ethanol, the variance being dependent on whether the biorefinery heat source is coming from natural gas, coal, or corn stover.
A Silver Lining in the Cloud
The silver lining in the research, was that beyond corn-based ethanol, only a $123 million to $208 million cost was associated with the use of cellulosic ethanol, variance depending on whether the feedstock consisted of prairie biomass, Miscanthus, corn stover, or switchgrass. This news comes only 7 months after the first cellulosic ethanol plant in the US opened its doors, which is both hopeful and depressing all at the same time.
Right now there are only a number of possibilities to ween the US off corn fed biofuels, such as converting the corn ethanol biorefineries into second generation biofuel plants, but farm subsidies are a huge hindering factor to this ever coming to fruition.
What stance do you think that the "new energy" programs in the US should take, as far as ethanol production and the current blend percentage of corn-based ethanol gasoline goes?
More on biofuels
Ethanol: How the Fuel is Produced, Growing Corn and Other Feedstocks, and More
Cellulosic Ethanol in Japan: BioEthanol & Celunol
New Genetically Engineered Bacteria Could Make Cellulosic Ethanol Cheaper
20,000 Gallon Per Year Cellulosic Ethanol Pilot Project Opens in South Dakota