(by Dina Cappiello, Associated Press) WASHINGTON – Biofuels made from the leftovers of harvested corn plants are worse than gasoline for global warming in the short term, a study shows, challenging the Obama administration’s conclusions that they are a much cleaner oil alternative and will help combat climate change.
A $500,000 study paid for by the federal government and released Sunday in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Climate Change concludes that biofuels made with corn residue release 7 percent more greenhouse gases in the early years compared with conventional gasoline.
While biofuels are better in the long run, the study says they won’t meet a standard set in a 2007 energy law to qualify as renewable fuel.
The conclusions deal a blow to what are known as cellulosic biofuels, which have received more than a billion dollars in federal support but have struggled to meet volume targets mandated by law. About half of the initial market in cellulosics is expected to be derived from corn residue.
The biofuel industry and administration officials immediately criticized the research as flawed. They said it was too simplistic in its analysis of carbon loss from soil, which can vary over a single field, and vastly overestimated how much residue farmers actually would remove once the market gets underway.
“The core analysis depicts an extreme scenario that no responsible farmer or business would ever employ because it would ruin both the land and the long-term supply of feedstock. It makes no agronomic or business sense,” said Jan Koninckx, global business director for biorefineries at DuPont.
Later this year the company is scheduled to finish a $200 million-plus facility in Nevada, Iowa, that will produce 30 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol using corn residue from nearby farms. An assessment paid for by DuPont said that the ethanol it will produce there could be more than 100 percent better than gasoline in terms of greenhouse gas emissions.
The research is among the first to attempt to quantify, over 12 Corn Belt states, how much carbon is lost to the atmosphere when the stalks, leaves and cobs that make up residue are removed and used to make biofuel, instead of left to naturally replenish the soil with carbon. The study found that regardless of how much corn residue is taken off the field, the process contributes to global warming.
“I knew this research would be contentious,” said Adam Liska, the lead author and an assistant professor of biological systems engineering at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. “I’m amazed it has not come out more solidly until now.”
The Environmental Protection Agency’s analysis…found that fuel made from corn residue, also known as stover, would meet the standard in the energy law. That standard requires cellulosic biofuels to release 60 percent less carbon pollution than gasoline. …
EPA spokeswoman Liz Purchia said in a statement that the study “does not provide useful information relevant to the life cycle greenhouse gas emissions from corn stover ethanol.”
But an AP investigation last year found that the EPA’s analysis of corn-based ethanol failed to predict the environmental consequences accurately.
“The [recently released] study says it will be very hard to make a biofuel that has a better greenhouse gas impact than gasoline using corn residue,” which puts it in the same boat as corn-based ethanol, said David Tilman, a professor at the University of Minnesota who has done research on biofuels’ emissions from the farm to the tailpipe.
Tilman said it was the best study on the issue he has seen so far.
Reprinted here for educational purposes only. May not be reproduced on other websites without permission from the Associated Press. Visit the website at ap .com.
1. Define the following as used in the article:
- corn residue (stover)
- renewable fuel
- cellulosic ethanol
2. a) Who funded this new study?
b) How does this newly released study contradict the Obama administration’s view of the use of biofuels made from corn?
3. How much taxpayer money has the federal government given to fund the production of cellulosic biofuels?
4. a) What is the biofuel industry and Obama administration reaction to this recently released study?
b) Why do you think these groups say the study is flawed?
5. How does the lead author of the study respond to criticism of the report?
6. What did an Associated Press (AP) investigation from last year conclude about the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) analysis of corn-based ethanol?
7. Ask a parent whether he/she supports the government mandate that a certain amount of ethanol be used in gasoline and to explain why or why not.
ETHANOL AND OTHER BIOFUELS:
Biofuels consist of a wide range of fuels derived from biomass. The most widely used biofuel is ethanol (another name for alcohol) made from corn. Besides corn, biofuels are made from fermenting sugar-rich crops such as sugar cane and sugar beets.
Just a few years ago, ethanol was hailed by some as a savior. Allegedly, ethanol production would reduce the carbon dioxide emissions from transportation fuels and reduce dependence on imported oil. As Democratic Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi put it, “Our plan will send our energy dollars to the Midwest, not the Middle East.” In 2007, at the behest of Republican President George W. Bush, Congress passed the Energy Independence and Security Act which included a renewable fuels mandate [order; requirement]. The mandate required the production of 20.5 billion gallons of renewable fuel in 2015 increasing to 36 billion gallons in 2022. The mandate also required 16 billion gallons of cellulosic biofuel to be produced by 2022.
CHALLENGES FOR ETHANOL
Ethanol is not as energy dense as gasoline. A gallon of ethanol contains about 34 percent less energy than a gallon of gasoline, which means that cars get fewer miles per gallon with ethanol than with gasoline.
The creation of ethanol also turns corn, a vital food stock, into motor fuel. This increases the price of a staple food and disproportionately affects the global poor. Because of this detrimental effect on the poor, Jean Zieglier, the former United Nations special rapporteur on the right to food, described ethanol as a “crime against humanity.”
Even though ethanol can be used as a motor fuel, it cannot be transported in the same pipelines as petroleum products. Instead, ethanol must be transported in specially-designed trucks or trains and mixed with gasoline at the distribution center. This increases the cost of using ethanol over petroleum-based fuel and contributes to the argument that ethanol actually increases, not decreases, greenhouse gas emissions.
Biomass is a broad renewable energy category encompassing energy derived from a variety of biological materials, such as wood and corn (made into ethanol), as well as energy derived from such waste sources as municipal solid waste, manufacturing waste, and landfill gas.
- Biomass, including ethanol, produces 4.5 percent of the total energy consumed in the United States.
- Replacing U.S. gasoline consumption with corn ethanol would require planting 500 million acres with only corn – more than the current total U.S. cropland.
- Biomass represents 1.4 percent of U.S. electricity generation.
- Congress mandated the production of 100 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol in 2010, but not a drop of cellulosic ethanol was commercially blended with gasoline in 2010.
Biomass, especially wood, was the world’s primary energy source until the widespread use of coal during the latter part of the Industrial Revolution. In fact, in many poorer countries, biomass remains the most important source of heat. Biomass provides 80 percent of the energy in about 20 of the world’s poorest countries.
In the United States, biomass accounts for 1.4 percent of the nation’s electricity. In 2011, 65 percent of biomass-generated electricity was derived from wood and wood-derived fuels. All told, biomass produced 4.5 percent of energy in the United States in 2011. This is about 50 percent of the total renewable energy consumed across the country.
Even solar, hydro, and wind power produce ten times the amount of energy per acre than biomass can produce from the world’s most productive ecosystems. And solar, hydro, and wind power take much more land to produce the same amount of energy as oil, coal, or natural gas.
Consider that for biomass to replace the amount of energy produced by the use of coal in the year 2000 it would take cultivating the total forested land area of both the United States (including Alaska) and the European Union. But even this would not be enough land today as global coal use has increased by 50 percent since 2000. Replacing U.S. gasoline consumption with ethanol would require cultivating corn on all of the cropland in the United States, plus an additional 20 percent. In 2002, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that U.S. cropland totaled 442 million acres. This means that replacing U.S. gasoline consumption with corn ethanol would require growing corn on more than 500 million acres.
The information ABOVE is from The Institute for Energy Research report “Hard Facts: An Energy Primer” PDF document, pages 49-51 (instituteforenergyresearch.org/hardfacts.pdf), or visit the website and scroll down for link to PDF: instituteforenergyresearch.org/hardfacts
NOTE: The Energy Policy Act of 2005 mandates [requires] that increasing amounts of ethanol be used in the United States to dilute gasoline. The law called for 4 billion gallons of ethanol to be used in 2006, 6.1 billion gallons in 2009, and 7.5 billion gallons by 2012.
- Read a StudentNewsDaily article on how the ethanol mandate has caused food prices to skyrocket: Nestle Blames Biofuels for High Prices
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