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New study finds corn ethanol champions lower GHG emissions


A new analysis from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory concludes greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from corn ethanol are now 44 percent to 52 percent lower than gasoline, thanks to improvements in the efficiency of both corn and ethanol production.

The retrospective study analyzed data from U.S. corn and ethanol production between 2005 and 2019, finding a 23 percent decrease in corn ethanol’s carbon intensity. This reduction is due to improvements in corn yield, decreases in fertilizer intensity inputs, increases in ethanol yields, and reductions in ethanol plant energy use. From the 15 years studied, an additional 140 million metric tons (MMT) GHG emission reductions were made possible by the reduction in corn ethanol’s carbon intensity.

“Relying on updated data and the best science show ethanol is truly a low carbon fuel, with the potential to become even more low carbon, thanks to how farmers continue to improve corn production practices and increased yields that produce more corn from less land and fewer inputs,” said NCGA President and Ohio corn farmer, John Linder.

The study finds that, “The ethanol produced in our 15 years has been introduced to the transportation sector to displace petroleum gasoline. With the displacement, on the LCA basis, corn ethanol has helped the U.S. transportation sector reduce GHG emissions by 544 MMT over the period.” The research also notes that corn ethanol GHG emissions can be reduced further with additional sustainable farming practices such as no‐till and cover crops that can help reduce fertilizer inputs and increase soil organic carbon content. Finally, the analysis concludes, “Biofuels, including corn ethanol, can play a critical role in the U.S. desire for deep decarbonization of its economy.”

This new data comes at an advantageous time, as members of the biofuels industry convene this week for the annual Growth Energy Executive Leadership Conference in Scottsdale, Arizona.

You can read the full study here.

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