Exit up ahead: A University of Minnesota study has concluded that corn-based ethanol is no better than gasoline.
The Star Tribune says ethanol may even be a bigger polluter, when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions and particulate matter. Cellulosic ethanol made from switchgrass and other plant materials is far better for human health, the scientists say.
But the Renewable Fuels Association claims the study is flawed. Among other things, it assumes that grassland will be taken out of the federal Conservation Reserve Program to make more corn-based ethanol. The RFA says most of the increase in corn production in the U.S. has been through higher yields rather than conversion, and there’s no peer-reviewed evidence for the study’s methods. (see the pdf).
Who to believe? The study has been peer-reviewed and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Here’s the full text (also in pdf).
The scientists note that “Our results show that the proposed methods of producing cellulosic ethanol we consider have lower (greenhouse gas) emissions than corn ethanol or gasoline, consistent with published findings.”
As noted by Autobloggreen, “The study calculated the total environmental and health costs of making each type of fuel. A gallon of gasoline was about 71 cents, compared with between 72 cents and $1.45 for corn-based ethanol and 19 to 32 cents for cellulosic ethanol, depending, of course, on the technology and type of plants used.”
The study can take nothing away from corn ethanol. The alternative fuel has had a positive impact on the U.S., proving that foreign oil isn’t the only way to power our world.
But the findings suggest once again that the road to energy independence runs to the highway of cellulosic ethanol and other next-generation biofuels.