New studies support ICGA claims that ethanol fears are unfounded

According to recent studies, ethanol’s carbon footprint may beat that of gas.

The Illinois Corn Growers Association (ICGA) unveiled two landmark studies that concluded that production of the biofuel leaves a smaller carbon footprint than gasoline and has substantial room for growth without affecting corn supply to the food and feed sectors.

Said Rob Elliott, vice president of the ICGA, “Amid the long and sometimes heated debate between ethanol proponents and detractors, these studies indicate that modern ethanol plants have a superior carbon footprint and net energy benefit when compared to gasoline refineries.”

The ICGA said that the state’s total ethanol output has surpassed 1.5 billion gallons annually which is about one third of total gasoline use in Illinois. The growing ethanol industry is creating new jobs in rural communities.

“A single 50 MGY ethanol plant produces 32 new fulltime jobs, spends $47 million annually on local goods and services and produces $1.2 million in new taxes,” said Elliott.

ICGA was joined at the press conference by the studies’ authors, Ross Korves, economic policy analyst at ProExporter Network, and Dr. Steffen Mueller, principal research economist at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Energy Resources Center.

Mueller’s study centered on a single ethanol plant, the Illinois River Energy facility near Rochelle, Illinois which produces 55 million gallons of ethanol annually.

“We looked at the global warming and land use impact of corn ethanol produced at the Illinois River Energy ethanol plant – which is a modern, natural gas fueled facility – on a full life-cycle basis,” said Mueller. “We found conclusively that the global warming impact of the modern ethanol plant is 40 percent lower than gasoline. This is a sizable reduction from numbers currently being used by public agencies and in the public debate. The study also documents the significant net energy benefits of ethanol when compared to gasoline. And, additional opportunities exist to expand that margin even more through technological improvements and on farm changes in corn production that reduce green house gas emissions. Furthermore, corn supply for the ethanol plant was primarily met through yield increases in the surrounding area and, as documented with satellite imagery, without conversion of non agricultural land to corn.”

The Korves study, broader in scope, analyzed the consequences of a technology-driven revolution that is occurring throughout America agriculture which would see average corn production increase from 155 bushels an acre today to 289 bushels over the next two decades. The study suggests that sufficient amounts of corn will be available to increase ethanol production from the current level of 7.1 billion gallons last year to 33 billion gallons by 2030 with current technology. The study also factors in increased future demand for corn from both export and livestock (feed) sectors. Korves also looked at the environmental impact of ethanol production, predicting that the global warming impact (GWI) of the average ethanol plant would decline dramatically through increased efficiencies in coming years.

“The GWI of the average ethanol plant is expected to decline 27 percent by 2030,” said Korves. “By that year, the GWI of corn ethanol processed in a plant using a biomass combined heat and power system will be less than one-third of the GWI of gasoline.”

The ICGA reported that at this level of reduction, corn to ethanol could be categorized as an advanced biofuel based on the performance requirements in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.