January 25, 2009

Ethanol reduces greenhouse gas emissions, oil use

The Nebraska Corn Board has distributed a news release about a study released by the University of Nebraska that shows advances in corn and ethanol production over the years have significantly improved the biofuel’s environmental performance and energy balance.

"It is just tremendous to have this peer-reviewed report back up what corn growers have been saying for some time. When examining ethanol production it is important to look at modern production practices for both growing corn and producing ethanol. You simply can’t look backwards," said Kelly Brunkhorst, ag program manager for the Nebraska Corn Board.

The report, available here for free and published in the Journal of Industrial Ecology, shows that corn ethanol directly emits an average of 51 percent less greenhouse gas than gasoline. That is as much as three times the reduction reported in earlier research. The publication is one of the top peer-reviewed journals for research on lifecycle analysis.

"Moreover, if the goal is to reduce dependence on imported oil, we estimate that the typical corn-ethanol system produces 13 gallons of ethanol for every gallon of petroleum-based fuel used in the production life cycle for corn ethanol," said Ken Cassman, director of the Nebraska Center for Energy Sciences Research and one of the report’s authors.

"Ethanol plants today don’t use near the amount of energy they did in the past. Many are also located in close proximity to livestock operations, which allows ethanol plants to reduce energy use even more by transporting wet distillers grains shorter distances than drying the corn co-product and shipping it further," Brunkhorst said.

As for corn production, crop genetics and agronomic management practices increase yields and the amount of corn produced versus the amount of fertilizer used. "Many more farmers today have also adopted conservation tillage practices that significantly reduce diesel fuel use by reducing the number of passes farmers make across the field each year," he said. "That too, is an important consideration when examining the efficiency of corn production and greenhouse gas reductions."

Some highlights of this study were initially highlighted by Cassman here.

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