Study: Ethanol Just as Harmful to the Environment as Gasoline
In a new study conducted by researchers from the University of Minnesota, the findings reveal that corn ethanol may be just as harmful to the environment as gasoline, and that ethanol may have an even worse effect on human health.
The study, which was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, concludes that corn ethanol is “likely a wash” when it came to reducing greenhouse gases associated with global warming.
“Today, from an environmental and health perspective, we’re not getting the benefit from corn ethanol that we initially anticipated,” said Jason Hill, a research associate with the University of Minnesota’s Department of Applied Economics and the study’s chief author.
Roughly 20 percent of the nation’s corn supply, some 2 billion bushels, was used to produce ethanol in 2007.
The analysis included emissions of particulates, ammonia and greenhouse gases caused by changes in land use, production of fertilizer, and ploughing. Between them, these chemicals have been blamed for health problems including heart disease, asthma and chronic bronchitis.
“To understand the environmental and health consequences of biofuels, we must look well beyond the tailpipe to how and where biofuels are produced. Clearly, upstream emissions matter,” said Mr. Hill.
The University of Minnesota study contradicts one released by the University of Nebraska which claimed that corn ethanol “greenhouse gas emissions were estimated to be equivalent to a 48% to 59% reduction compared to gasoline, a twofold to threefold greater reduction than reported in previous studies.”
Mr Hill told the New York Times that his research team considered many more factors than that of the Nebraska study and is therefore more on target.
In 2008, ethanol was replacing 330,000 barrels of petroleum per day, according to ethanolfacts.com.
The best alternative, the study concluded, was cellulosic ethanol made from nonfood plants like corn stover, switchgrass or prairie grasses. However, cellulosic ethanol is years away from mass production because of its high costs.
The National Corn Growers Association calls the report criticized the report and called it “faulty”.
A spokesman for the Minnesota Corn Growers Association also criticized the study and told the Minneapolis Tribune that he isn’t surprised by the results of the University of Minnesota study. In his words, “It would be news if the university has anything positive to say about corn ethanol. It’s how they make a living over there.”
The comment seemed to be a reference to a controversial study published by the university last year which said that the exploding demand for biofuels will worsen global warming if farmers around the world clear forests and grasslands to grow more corn, soybeans and sugar cane.