Ethanol makes global warming worse

A new study funded by the federal government reached the conclusion that ethanol made from residue after corn harvesting releases 7% more greenhouse gases that straight gasoline.

The reason for the surprise is that the study considers the ancillary effects of biofuels. For example, when the residual is left on the ground, it improves the soil’s ability to absorb CO2. When the increased CO2 from non-absorption into the ground is considered, biofuels make the environment worse.

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Doubling greenhouse gas

While looking for articles on this study, I found an older article making a similar point of considering the side effects of ethanol:

2/7/08 – NPR – Study: Ethanol Worse for Climate Than Gasoline – People don’t eat less corn just because we like to burn food in our cars. The corn production simply goes elsewhere.

The analysis discussed in this report looked at where the new production is found. The analysts learned the production goes two places.

First, land not previously harvested in the US is torn up, which releases carbon. It reportedly takes 48 years of carbon savings to offset the damage from plowing up fields.

Second, production goes overseas, where virgin forests are cleared to create farmland. Forests are superb absorbers of CO2.

When the side effects of clearing grassland or forests are considered, the greenhouse gas emissions from ethanol may be twice what gasoline would produce when looking at a 30 year time horizon. I wonder if whether it would take a 50 or 100 year time horizon for ethanol not to cause more damage to the environment that gasoline.

Steps you can take to increase greenhouse gas

So the tentative conclusion would be that if you want to increase the amount of greenhouse gas in the air, you should be pushing for more ethanol.

Call your congressional representative. Drop a letter to your senator. Write an op-ed advocating ethanol. You can do your part to increase CO2.

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