Another View Of Corn Ethanol As An Automobile Source – Very bad idea

Study: Ethanol use could worsen global warming



WASHINGTON — The wide­spread use of ethanol from corn could result in nearly twice the greenhouse gas emissions as the gasoline it would replace be­cause of expected land-use changes, researchers concluded Thursday. The study challenges the rush to biofuels as a response to global warming.

The researchers said that past studies showing the benefits of ethanol in combating climate change have not taken into ac­count almost certain changes in land use worldwide if ethanol from corn — and in the future from other feedstocks such as switchgrass — become a prized commodity.

“Using good cropland to ex­pand biofuels will probably exac­erbate global wanning,” con­cludes the study published in Sci­ence magazine.

The researchers said that farmers under economic pres­sure to produce biofuels will in­creasingly “plow up more forest or grasslands,” releasing much of the carbon formerly stored in plants and soils through decom­position or fires. Globally, more grasslands and forests will be converted to growing the crops to replace the loss of grains when U.S. farmers convert land to bio­fuels, the study said.

The Renewable Fuels Associa­tion, which represents ethanol producers, called the re­searchers’ view of land-use changes “simplistic” and said the study “fails to put the issue in context.”

“Assigning the blame for rain­forest deforestation and grass­land conversion to agriculture solely on the renewable fuels in­dustry ignores key factors that play a greater role,” said Bob Dinneen, the association’s presi­dent.

There has been a rush to de­veloping biofuels, especially ethanol from corn and cellulosic feedstock such as switchgrass and wood chips, as a substitute for gasoline. President Bush signed energy legislation in De­cember that mandates a six-fold increase in ethanol use as a fuel to 36 billion gallons a year by 2022, calling the requirement key to weaning the nation from imported oil.

The new “green” fuel, whether made from corn or other feed­stocks, has been widely promot­ed — both in Congress and by the White House — as a key to combating global warming. Burning it produces less carbon dioxide, the leading greenhouse gas, than the fossil fuels it will re­place.

During the recent congres­sional debate over energy legis­lation, lawmakers frequently cited estimates that corn-based ethanol produces 20 percent less greenhouse gases in production, transportation and use than gasoline, and that cellulosic ethanol has an even greater ben­efit of 70 percent less emissions.

The study released Thursday by researchers affiliated with Princeton University and a num­ber of other institutions main­tains that these analyses “were one-sided” and counted the car­bon benefits of using land for biofuels but not the carbon costs of diverting land from its existing uses.

“The other studies missed a key factor that everyone agrees should have been included, the land use changes that actually are going to increase greenhouse gas emissions,” said Tim Searchinger, a research scholar at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Pub­lic and International Affairs and lead author of the study.

The study said that after taking into account expected worldwide land-use changes, corn-based ethanol, instead of reducing greenhouse gases by 20 percent, will increases it by 93 percent compared to using gasoline over a 30-year period. Biofuels from switchgrass, if they replace crop­lands and other carbon-absorb­ing lands, would result in 50 per­cent more greenhouse gas emis­sions, the researchers concluded.

Not all ethanol would be af­fected by the land-use changes, the study said.

“We should be focusing on our use of biofuels from waste prod­ucts” such as garbage, which would not result in changes in agricultural land use, Searchinger said in an interview. “And you have to be careful how much you require. Use the right biofuels, but don’t require too much too fast. Right now we’re making almost exclusively the wrong biofuels.”


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