The analysis is based on the carbon emissions of growing, harvesting and processing corn into ethanol versus oil production and the idea that the plant-based fuel makes a third as much carbon as gasoline. According to this research, the plan to reduce the ethanol level from 15 billion gallons to 13.4 billion under revisions to the Renewable Fuel Standard would add 4,520,000 metric tons of CO2 to the atmosphere. That amount is similar to what's produced by nearly a million vehicles in a year.
Ethanol's role in the Renewable Fuels Standard continues to be a major political discussion, especially among presidential hopefuls on the campaign trail. Proponents like to point to the lower emissions and reduced dependence on foreign oil while critics cite higher food prices and that some of the crop is potentially grown illegally.
Chicago, Illinois – August 10, 2015 – A proposal by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to change ethanol blending rules would significantly increase carbon emissions to the equivalent of adding nearly one million more passenger vehicles on the road, according to an analysis conducted by the Energy Resources Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago (ERC).
The findings come in the wake of proposed rules by the U.S. E.P.A. that call for a reduction of the volume of ethanol blended in gasoline as mandated by the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), a program of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 signed into law 10 years ago this month. If the rules are adopted as proposed, a total of 17.5 billion gallons of ethanol would be blended with gasoline by 2016, 3.75 billion fewer gallons than originally mandated by Congress.
"The RFS has been one of the most successful federal policies enacted in the United States because it achieved exactly what it was intended to do: spur research and investment, lower greenhouse gas emissions and reduce dependence on foreign oil. Our work has demonstrated that, over the last 10 years, steady reductions in greenhouse gas emissions have materialized as biofuels became a more efficient, high quality product," said Dr. Steffen Mueller, principal economist at the Energy Resources Center.
The peer-reviewed analysis was conducted using the GREET Model (Greenhouse gases, Regulated Emissions, and Energy use in Transportation) developed by Argonne National Laboratory which examines the full life cycle emissions impacts of energy sources. As part of the analysis, carbon emissions related to the planting, growing, harvesting, transportation and production of corn into ethanol were compared to that of oil recovery and production.
Under the EPA's proposed rules, conventional starch ethanol would likely be reduced to 13.4 billion gallons from 15 billion gallons in 2015. In this scenario, the analysis found that 4,520,000 tonnes of additional CO2 emissions would be incurred in 2015.
The single year of carbon emissions is the equivalent to the annual greenhouse gas emissions of 951,600 passenger vehicles, according to the EPA's equivalency calculator. Overall findings of the analysis are based on peer reviewed, published research that shows that greenhouse gas emissions from ethanol are close to one-third lower than those from gasoline.
"We are disappointed that the same federal agency charged to protect human health and the environment is proposing a rule change that would directly lead to greater greenhouse gas emissions," said Ken Hartman, president of the Illinois Corn Growers Association. "After 18 months of delay in proposing new rules, the EPA has chosen not only to shirk its legal obligation as set forth by Congress, but to lose sight of its own mission."
The EPA rulemaking proposal concerning the RFS was released on May 29. The EPA is expected to conclude the rulemaking process and issue a final rule in November. Testimony submitted to the EPA regarding the ERC's analysis can be found here.
About the Energy Resources Center
The Energy Resources Center (ERC) is an interdisciplinary public service, research, and special projects organization at the University of Illinois at Chicago that works to improve energy efficiency and the environment. The ERC provides expertise in the areas of energy efficiency, distributed generation, utilities billing management, and biofuels and bioenergy and also provides technical assistance, sophisticated modeling capabilities, educational outreach, and program implementation across the public and private sectors. The ERC is committed to providing the most comprehensive and up-to-date solutions to the energy and environmental problems affecting institutional, industrial, residential, and commercial sectors. For more information, visit www.erc.uic.edu.
About the Illinois Corn Growers Association
Illinois Corn Growers Association is a state based organization that represents the interests of corn farmers in Illinois. They aim to shape policy and ensure growth and stability to farmers and the industries they support both locally and nationwide. For further information regarding their work and involvement, visit their website www.ilcorn.org.