Study: Corn ethanol is nature’s enemy

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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Corn-based ethanol causes more global warming than gasoline in the short term, according to a new federal government study comparing the effects of biofuels to conventional gasoline.

A $500,000 taxpayer-backed study found that making biofuels from the leftovers of corn plants releases seven percent more greenhouse gas emissions in the short term compared to gasoline. The study challenges the federal government’s policy mandating that an ever-increasing amount of corn ethanol be blended into the country’s fuel supply to fight global warming.

Corn ethanol has come under fire in the past few months due to increased evidence that it’s more harmful to environment than previously thought. An Associated Press report from last year detailed how growing corn for ethanol imperiled drinking water supplies and forced millions of acres of conservation lands to be put into service growing corn for biofuels.

The ethanol industry has been battling efforts by the oil and gas industry, environmentalists, restaurants and a coalition of groups to protect its government-granted market share from being cut by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Critics of the federal ethanol mandate, called the Renewable Fuel Standard, said that gasoline refineries last year reached the limits of what can safely be blended into the fuel supply, sending the price of renewable fuel credits through the roof. This further drove up costs for other industries and allowed the ethanol industry to push for the allowance of higher blends of ethanol into the fuel supply — above a 10 percent blend — which could harm vehicle engines.

The new federal study’s findings also echo an Associated Press report from last year which found that while biofuels are better for the planet in the long run, they won’t federal production standards. For example, cellulosic biofuel has struggled to meet production goals despite billions of dollars in federal support, according to the AP.

The study found that carbon dioxide is emitted into the atmosphere when corn stalks, leaves and cobs are removed to make biofuels instead of being left to naturally replenish carbon levels in the soil. The study found that taking corn left-overs from the field contributes to global warming.

“I knew this research would be contentious,” said Adam Liska, the study’s lead author who is an assistant professor of biological systems engineering at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, told the AP. “I’m amazed it has not come out more solidly until now.”

The Environmental Protection Agency, however, says that Liska’s study “does not provide useful information relevant to the life cycle greenhouse gas emissions from corn stover ethanol.”

The ethanol industry also fired back at the study, saying it was inaccurate and full of poor assumptions.

“The study’s methodology is fundamentally flawed and its conclusions are highly suspect,” said Bob Dinneen, president of the Renewable Fuels Association. “The results are based on sweeping generalizations, questionable assumptions, and an opaque methodology.”

“Ultimately, this paper should be seen for what it truly is — a modeling exercise of a hypothetical scenario that bears no resemblance to the real world,” Dinneen added.

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