Study finds RFS is a larger contributor to global warming than traditional gasoline

A recent study from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences finds that corn ethanol is a larger contributor to global warming than straight gasoline.

Tyler Lark, a scientist at the University of Wisconsin and lead author of the study, tells Brownfield the results show that biofuels are not a climate solution. “Corn ethanol, which was initially intended to reduce climate warming, greenhouse gas emissions, likely increases them relative to gasoline while also contributing to other increases in soil erosion, nutrient pollution and loss of habitat.”

The research studied the environmental impacts of the Renewable Fuels Standard after it was implemented in 2007. It found that ethanol is likely at least 24 percent more carbon-intensive than gasoline because of emissions from land use changes to grow corn along with processing and combustion.

Lark says the U.S.’s renewable fuel policy has unintended consequences on the environment. “What is really needed are policies that can drive and incentivize concurrent conservation and reward the farmers and agricultural practices that produce really valuable food production but also ecosystem services like clean water, healthy soils and wildlife habitat.”

Scott Richman, chief economist with the Renewable Fuels Association, tells Brownfield ethanol does not have higher greenhouse gas emissions than fossil fuels. “A lot of other studies come up with something similar in the range of 40 to 50 percent reduction in the carbon intensity for ethanol versus gasoline.”

He tells Brownfield outside parties like Argon National Lab and California Resources Board have had consistent results when determining environmental impacts of ethanol. “The paper came out this week is a complete outlier and is a function of the methodology and the way they went about it.”

A USDA study released in 2019 found that emissions from corn ethanol would be 21 percent lower than gasoline.

Tyler Lark, University of Wisconsin:

Scott Richman, chief economist, Renewable Fuels Association:

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