February 3, 2010

Ethanol moves forward, but concerns remain about land use theories

With the publication today of its Renewable Fuels Standard, the Environmental Protection Agency recognized that corn-based ethanol provides a significant advantage over conventional gasoline when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions, with a reduction of more than 21 percent in some cases.

Despite this, EPA continued to include the often criticized "international indirect land use change" (ILUC) theory in its calculations. Toss those out - as they should be - and corn ethanol's GHG reduction jumps past 50 percent and it would qualify as an "advanced" biofuel. (Advanced biofuels have a separate requirement line in the RFS. In 2010, for example, advanced biofuels need to make up 0.95 billion gallons of the RFS.)

Interestingly, that figure is close to this research from the University of Nebraska.

Back in September, the Nebraska Corn Board's Kelly Brunkhorst noted that ILUC doesn't seem to match real world experience because U.S. farmers today are growing more corn on fewer acres, plus for each bushel of corn used to make ethanol nearly 18 pounds of distillers grains, a great animal feed, is produced by the ethanol plant.

It is also frustrating that the idea of ILUC is applied only to ethanol and that indirect impacts of petroleum-based fuels (like this) are ignored.

The big change in EPA's calculations appears that it used more current corn production numbers. This is something the industry pointed out to EPA - and to the California Air Resources Board (ARB) as ARB developed its low carbon fuel standards (LCFS). ARB didn't listen, though, even though it makes sense to look at current corn production methods, efficiencies and more. Looking backward just doesn't cut it when it comes to corn and ethanol production.

Here's some additional background:

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