More maize ethanol may boost greenhouse gas emissions

Mar 11, 2010

In the March issue of BioScience, researchers present a sophisticated new analysis of the effects of boosting use of maize-derived ethanol on greenhouse gas emissions. The study, conducted by Thomas W. Hertel of Purdue University and five co-authors, focuses on how mandated increases in production of the biofuel in the United States will trigger land-use changes domestically and elsewhere. In response to the increased demand for maize, farmers convert additional land to crops, and this conversion can boost carbon dioxide emissions.

The analysis combines ecological data with a global economic commodity and trade model to project the effects of US maize on resulting from land-use changes in 18 regions across the globe. The researchers' main conclusion is stark: these indirect, market-mediated effects on "are enough to cancel out the benefits the has on global warming."

The indirect effects of increasing production of maize ethanol were first addressed in 2008 by Timothy Searchinger and his coauthors, who presented a simpler calculation in Science. Searchinger concluded that burning maize ethanol led to greenhouse gas emissions twice as large as if gasoline had been burned instead. The question assumed global importance because the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act mandates a steep increase in US production of biofuels over the next dozen years, and certifications about life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions are needed for some of this increase. In addition, the California Air Resources Board's Low Carbon Fuel Standard requires including estimates of the effects of indirect land-use change on greenhouse gas emissions. The board's approach is based on the work reported in BioScience.

Hertel and colleagues' analysis incorporates some effects that could lessen the impact of land-use conversion, but their bottom line, though only one-quarter as large as the earlier estimate of Searchinger and his coauthors, still indicates that the maize ethanol now being produced in the United States will not significantly reduce total greenhouse gas emissions, compared with burning gasoline. The authors acknowledge that some game-changing technical or economic development could render their estimates moot, but sensitivity analyses undertaken in their study suggest that the findings are quite robust.

Explore further: Mexico investigates mass fish death in lagoon

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Ethanol production said increasing erosion

Jul 06, 2005

Large-scale farming of sugar cane and corn for ethanol fuel is increasing erosion and reducing biodiversity, Washington State University researchers say.

Study critiques corn-for-ethanol's carbon footprint

Mar 02, 2009

To avoid creating greenhouse gases, it makes more sense using today's technology to leave land unfarmed in conservation reserves than to plow it up for corn to make biofuel, according to a comprehensive Duke University-led ...

Biofuels: More than just ethanol

Apr 05, 2007

As the United States looks to alternate fuel sources, ethanol has become one of the front runners. Farmers have begun planting corn in the hopes that its potential new use for corn will be a new income source. What many ...

Recommended for you

The underestimated risk of ethanol fireplaces

6 hours ago

Ethanol fireplaces are becoming more and more popular. However, they are not only highly combustible – in the past, severe accents have occurred repeatedly with decorative fireplaces. The devices also pollute ...

New research shows temperatures vary block by block

7 hours ago

This summer has seen the temperature rise above the severe heat mark of 90 degrees just five times, with the latest happening Wednesday afternoon. That's far fewer times than in an average New York summer.

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

JerryPark
5 / 5 (2) Mar 11, 2010
Yes, but of course, the push for ethanol production has nothing to do with greenhouse gasses or global warming.

We will see continued efforts to increase maize based ethanol production including increased funding from the U.S. government.
dachpyarvile
5 / 5 (1) Mar 12, 2010
Glad to see that people are finally coming to see how 'damaging' to the environment use of Ethanol can be.

While ethanol could be better for reducing overall CO2 levels, the production process and land use changes add to the mix enough CO2 to equal roughly twice that produced by burning fossil fuels alone.

So much for 'greener' vehicles that burn ethanol. Until we modify the process and processing simply burning fossil fuels is less 'harmful' to the environment than using ethanol.