Taxpayer-supported biofuels emit more carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions than gasoline, according to a new study, challenging the benefits of mixing ethanol into the U.S. fuel supply.
“When it comes to the emissions that cause global warming, it turns out that biofuels are worse than gasoline,” Dr. John DeCicco of the University of Michigan and lead author of the study, said in a press release. “So the underpinnings of policies used to promote biofuels for reasons of climate have now been proven to be scientifically incorrect.”
Researchers analyzed real-world crop data from the Department of Agriculture on crop and biofuel production and compared the amount of CO2 generated relative to fossil fuel production and vehicle emissions. Researchers found that rising biofuel use has resulted in increasing CO2 emissions, even though the programs were justified by claiming ethanol would reduce CO2 emissions.
“Policymakers should reconsider their support for biofuels. This issue has been debated for many years,” DeCicco said. “What’s new here is that hard data, straight from America’s croplands, now confirm the worst fears about the harm that biofuels do to the planet.”
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was heavily criticized last week by a government watchdog for not updating the environmental impacts of ethanol. The watchdog found that the Obama administration failed to do a legally necessary study examining the impact of mandating ethanol in gasoline, and that Obama’s regulations actually did far more environmental harm than good.
Roughly 45 percent of American corn is now used to produce biofuels like ethanol due to enormous levels of taxpayer support. America supports ethanol via billions in subsidies and federal programs like Renewable Fuel Standard, which requires gasoline sold in the U.S. to contain a certain amount of ethanol. These ethanol subsidies and mandates cost motorists $10 billion annually in additional fuel costs, according to a study published in March 2015 by the Manhattan Institute. As a result, the amount of ethanol and other biofuels used in America increased from 4.2 billion gallons in 2005 to 14.6 billion gallons in 2013.
“This is the first study to carefully examine the carbon on farmland when biofuels are grown, instead of just making assumptions about it,” DeCicco concluded. “When you look at what’s actually happening on the land, you find that not enough carbon is being removed from the atmosphere to balance what’s coming out of the tailpipe.”
Funding for the University of Michigan’s research was provided by the American Petroleum Institute and the University’s Energy Institute.
Originally, ethanol subsidies were justified by claims that they would reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil and to lower CO2 emissions, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Other research has shown that ethanol subsidies were not responsible for America’s declining dependence on foreign oil. America’s National Academy of Science has been extremely skeptical of the environmental benefits of American biofuel production and has found that the programs “may be an ineffective policy for reducing global [greenhouse gas] emissions.”
Research sponsored by the government of Finland found also that regulations intended to fight global warming with biofuels were almost certainly increasing CO2 emissions. Another study published in late April by an environmental group found that Europe’s biofuel regulations created 80 percent more CO2 emissions than the conventional oil they replaced. This was the emissions equivalent of putting an extra 12 million cars on the road. The environmental group estimated that the European Union’s biofuel regulations will increase the continent’s CO2 emissions from transportation by almost four percent compared to conventional sources of oil.
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