Study: Ethanol cuts carbon more than EPA expected

Source: Marc Heller, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, February 7, 2019

An ethanol trade group is touting a study showing that the alternative fuel is reducing greenhouse gases more than predicted by EPA.

The Renewable Fuels Association said a study it commissioned showed aggregate reductions of nearly 600 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions, well beyond the 422 million tons EPA estimated from the federal renewable fuel standard in 2010.

Conventional ethanol, made mainly from corn, reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 43 percent compared with petroleum, according to the study. The group also found that initial estimates of the carbon intensity of petroleum were too low, given the recent advent of new extraction technology, for instance.

“As this study demonstrates, renewable fuels like ethanol are an incredibly effective tool for reducing GHG emissions,” said RFA President and CEO Geoff Cooper in a news release.

The study by Life Cycle Associates updates a 2015 report by the group. The RFA released the report amid congressional hearings on climate change, led by Democrats.

Environmental groups question the climate change benefits the ethanol industry asserts, pointing to the fossil fuels needed for farm equipment to grow corn for ethanol and for trucks to transport it, among other factors. They also blame land-use changes for converting land from carbon-absorbing forest to crop production, although the ethanol industry says most conversion is between various crops.

The RFS was enacted in 2005 and updated in 2007. EPA issued a final rule on it in 2010, including projections of greenhouse gas savings.

Not every finding was a boost to renewable fuels. The study also found that cellulosic ethanol, which has fallen short of the RFS goals, hasn’t reduced greenhouse gas emissions as much as EPA envisioned.