Ethanol industry organizations say a University of Minnesota study critical of corn ethanol is flawed.
The study, which claims corn ethanol is worse for health and the environment than gasoline, was analyzed in detail by the Renewable Fuels Association. RFA warns “because there is no consensus within the academic community on the best methods for analyzing highly uncertain potential land use changes, the results of this study must be viewed with extreme caution.”
According to RFA, the conclusion that corn ethanol “can be as harmful to the environment as gasoline, and that the combined costs to climate-change and health exceed that of gas” is predicated on “the baseless assumption that additional corn demand for increased ethanol production will cause conversion of large amounts of grassland enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP).”
RFA points out that if the authors’ assumed land use change emissions are removed from the analysis, the paper suggests average corn ethanol reduces greenhouse gases by 30% compared to gasoline and advanced corn ethanol reduces GHGs by 46%. The paper states, “Whether corn ethanol has lower life-cycle GHG emissions than gasoline depends on biorefinery heat source, assumptions about technology, and land-use change.”
Growth Energy released a statement on the report that said in part, “Despite initial negative interpretations by the press and some flawed assumptions by its authors, Growth Energy sees some positive potential from the University of Minnesota’s latest study on ethanol’s potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We were glad to see the authors agree that ethanol is part of the solution to the global climate crisis, recognizing that ‘corn-ethanol emissions will continue to improve’ with technological and agricultural advancements ‘including increased yields on the farm and improved conversion.’”
“Despite the positive aspects, the study does fail to take into account that corn farmers have dramatically increased per-acre yields, and ethanol producers continue to utilize new technologies to reduce the industry’s environmental impact. That trend is certain to continue in the years ahead.”
Another industry reaction to the report came from Dr. Martha Schlicher, vice president of Illinois River Energy and former head of the National Corn to Ethanol Research Center, who wrote that the study “over promises on the potential of cellulosics and under promises on what is yet possible with corn. Technology used to produce corn based ethanol today will not be the technology of tomorrow and, if given the opportunity, will be dramatically advanced from the modest advancements the Minnesota study cites.”
Schlicher notes several areas in which the study specifically falls short, such as assuming no increase over current corn-based ethanol production yields despite all of the well documented enzyme and corn composition advancements while simultaneously claiming a 10% increase in cellulosic ethanol yield over what today has been demonstrated only in the laboratory.