Ethanol Production May Increase Greenhouse Gases

Frank Williams
by Frank Williams

A new report in Science magazine [reported by Yahoo! News] claims that "using good cropland to expand biofuels will probably exacerbate global warming." The researchers worry that farmers looking to cash in on ethanol will continue to plow up more forests and/or grasslands. Biofuels boosters have cited studies stating corn-based ethanol produces 20 percent less greenhouse gases than gas, while celluosic ethanol results in a 70 percent reduction. The Science study says the analysis was "one-sided;" it didn't include the carbon costs of land use change. Factor in that variable, and corn-based ethanol production would increase greenhouse gases by 93 percent (compared to gasoline over a 30-year period). The Renewable Fuels Association dismissed the researchers' conclusions as simplistic. "Assigning the blame for rainforest deforestation and grassland conversion to agriculture solely on the renewable fuels industry ignores key factors that play a greater role." The ethanol industry cheerleaders didn't speciify those "key factors."

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  • Shaker Shaker on Feb 09, 2008

    Yes, most cars in Brazil are "flex-fuel" by necessity, as the supply of ethanol falls prior to the next harvest, driving up the price higher than gasoline. The price then falls after the harvest to considerably lower than gasoline, and drivers switch over to it.

  • Landcrusher Landcrusher on Feb 09, 2008

    NBK, I think the ethanol lobby would make exactly that point. Digging up the rainforest is BAD, planting another acre of rolling mid west weeded hills is GOOD. The public would likely NOT get the counter arguments about carbon sinks, people in Brazil needing food, etc. As soon as you say someone is killing the rainforest, you win the argument.

  • David C. Holzman David C. Holzman on Feb 09, 2008

    These are very interesting arguments. I suspect that one might be able to argue that for other reasons, its' more important to preserve the rain forest than the midwestern wildlands. There are probably also differences between the two ecosystems in terms of carbon sequestration which could break either way.

  • CarShark CarShark on Feb 10, 2008

    red60r: Yeah, I've also been paying attention to this chain reaction. Trucking companies that carry the food have to pay more for fuel, so they so they raise the price of their service, passing the costs on to the stores, who then raise the price of the goods, passing the costs on to you. It's that simple.