Ethanol industry gets welcome news

USDA study shows it’s more environmentally friendly than gasoline

During the month when Americans concerned about maintaining a healthy and green environment will celebrate Earth Day, there is an especially welcome development. The United States Department of Agriculture has just released the findings of a USDA study about the environmental impact of the corn-ethanol industry. The conclusions are superb news — ethanol has significant greenhouse gas benefits when compared to gasoline.

The most important conclusion of an extensive research project, which was headed by Dr. Jan Lewandrowski of USDA’s office of the chief economist, is that greenhouse-gas emissions from corn-based ethanol are about 39 percent lower than from gasoline. There’s even better news when those ethanol refineries that are natural-gas powered are used for comparison. In those situations, ethanol is 43 percent better than gasoline in terms of the overall greenhouse-gas impact.

“These new findings provide further evidence that biofuels from America’s heartland reduce greenhouse gases even more than we thought, and that our farmers and ethanol plants continue to become more efficient and effective,” said U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue in a statement about the research released on April 2.

The latest research differs importantly from expectations widely circulated by the Environmental Protection Agency in 2010. Estimates developed nearly a decade ago concluded that ethanol was only slightly better than gasoline in terms of greenhouse-gas emissions. According to the USDA, its new study shows that earlier EPA projections of the amount of land to be used for corn destined for ethanol production and the environmental efficiency of ethanol manufacturing processes both proved significantly wrong.

“(W)e find U.S. corn ethanol is developing along an emissions pathway significantly lower than what EPA projected in 2010,” the new study titled “The Greenhouse Gas Benefits of Corn Ethanol — Assessing Recent Evidence” states in its concluding section. “Finally, current trends in the ethanol industry and actions refineries could take to reduce emissions offer opportunities to lower the GHG (greenhouse gas) profile of corn ethanol to between 47.0 and 70.0 percent relative to gasoline.”

The study is available online at the website (www.biofuelsjournal.com/) of the Biofuels Journal, which published it.

The potential importance for the Hawkeye State of this research study is huge.

Iowa is the nation’s No. 1 ethanol producer. According to information released earlier this year by the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, the renewable fuels industries contribute more than $4.6 billion each year to Iowa’s economy. These industries already support about 43,000 jobs.

This USDA research points to very real environmental benefits if the ethanol industry grows larger and becomes stronger. That would also strengthen Iowa’s already robust economy.

The Messenger applauds the USDA for supporting this ethanol research. The encouraging findings should help dispel outdated thinking about the impact on the environment of ethanol production.

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