Soapbox: Ethanol reduces emissions, reduces costs
February 18, 2014
A recent letter about ethanol included a variety of factual errors. In an effort to present readers with factual information, I offer the following:
First and foremost, ethanol does not receive federal subsidies. The oil and gas industry receives nearly $17 billion per year in subsidies, which flow from direct and indirect tax preferences embedded in the federal tax code.
Second, the ethanol production process is energy efficient. Each year, the technology used to process ethanol and the various feed stocks from which it is produced becomes more efficient through ongoing investment in technology. Innovative processes continue to yield ethanol and other biofuels that are increasingly lower in terms of greenhouse gas production and energy efficiency. Peer-reviewed studies by Argonne National Laboratories and the U.S. Department of Agriculture document that 1 unit of fossil energy invested in ethanol production yields 1.67 units or more of energy. Oil refining and the use of components from refined oil continue to have an adverse impact on human health and the environment including greenhouse gas impacts.
One area, not mentioned by the author of the letter, but should be of high interest and great concern to citizens living at the base of the Front Range is the impacts on air pollution of gasoline vs. gasoline blended with ethanol. In 1990, many areas of the Front Range were among the most polluted area of the U.S. in terms of carbon monoxide pollution. Emissions from vehicles fueled with petroleum were the primary source of this pollution, which caused enormous ill health among children and others suffering from respiratory ailments, according to local medical professionals. Ethanol was the oxygenated fuel additive that efficiently and effectively helped reduce CO levels throughout the Front Range.
Using ethanol as a component of gasoline helps to reduce direct CO2 emissions by 34 percent to 59 percent, given today’s technology. Peer-reviewed, published research shows corn ethanol reduces GHG emissions by 48 percent to 59 percent when compared directly to gasoline. Ethanol continues to play an important role in assisting Front Range cities in pollution abatement efforts.
Ethanol is one of the most efficient and cost-effective blend stocks used in gasoline. Ethanol helps to reduce the greenhouse gas impact of gasoline. Ethanol is the additive of choice in areas of the world where low carbon fuel standards dictate gasoline composition. Ethanol does more than lower GHG emissions. Ethanol provides consumers with more fuel choices and reduces the cost of fuels into which it is blended.
Jim Hendrix is a professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.