Study finds that corn ethanol reduces greenhouse gas emissions

Greenhouse gas emissions from corn ethanol are 44-52 percent lower than gasoline, according to a new study from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory.

National Corn Growers Association President John Linder says there have been improvements in the efficiency of corn and ethanol production.

“We have to give thanks to the farmers that have adopted practices that lend that credibility to carbon sequestration and lowering the carbon intensity of ethanol through their own production, and we also have to appreciate that the (ethanol) plants have made strides in efficiency which have also driven (carbon intensity) scores to a better place,” he says. “It’s a double lift in the right direction on the supply input side of ethanol production through corn as well as the processing and co-product value extraction.”

The retrospective study analyzed data from U.S. corn and ethanol production between 2005 and 2019 and found a 23 percent decrease in corn ethanol’s carbon intensity. The reduction is due to improvement in corn yield, decreases in fertilizer intensity inputs, increases in ethanol yields, and reduction in ethanol plant energy.

“This new study has really bolstered some of the previous studies,” he says. “When they found they really weren’t taking all the data and all the science and were a little too narrow in their scope, we’re really proud they took a wider look in this retrospective study at the overall picture and found great results for corn and ethanol.”

He tells Brownfield studies like this show that the ethanol industry is ready to help address climate challenges.

“We can make a difference today. We don’t have to wait 5-10 years out to make a difference,” he says. “We can do it with higher blends of ethanol and actually reduce greenhouse gas emissions through the transportation fleet.”

Linder says corn growers are pleased the Department of Energy is recognizing that biofuels, including corn ethanol, can play a critical role in carbon reduction efforts in the U.S.

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