Corn-based ethanol is environmentally damaging in the short run

BY Ariel Min  April 21, 2014 at 3:40 PM EDT

A cornfield in Minas Gerais, Brazil. Photo by Flickr user BongoInc

A cornfield in Minas Gerais, Brazil. Photo by Flickr user BongoInc


It turns out production of corn-based ethanol has a tremendous environmental cost, according to a new $500,000 government-funded study released on Sunday.

While corn-based ethanol proves better in the long-run, the study, published in peer-reviewed journal Nature Climate Change, says the biofuel initially produces seven percent more greenhouse gases at first than conventional gasoline. This conclusion challenges the Obama administration’s stance for corn-ethanol policies — which calls cellulosic ethanol a better, low-polluting alternative to petroleum.

The Environmental Protection Agency passed the Energy Independence and Security Act in 2007 to include specific volume standards for renewable fuel as well as renewable fuel categories. It also specifies criteria for both renewable fuels and for the feed stocks used to produce them. The recent study basically argues that biofuels won’t meet the standards in this law to qualify as renewable fuel.

Administration officials and the EPA, however, criticized the study as flawed. In a statement, EPA spokeswoman Liz Purchia argued that the study “does not provide enough information relevant to the life cycle greenhouse gas emissions from corn stover ethanol.”

An EPA spokeswoman, Liz Purchia, said in a statement that the study “does not provide useful information relevant to the life cycle greenhouse gas emissions from corn stover ethanol”