Can Ethanol Fuel Ever Live Up to Its Hype?

"The biofuel's bipartisan support isn't about science, but politics."

"Two decades ago, when the world was wising up to the threat of climate change, the Bush administration touted ethanol — a fuel usually made from corn — for its threefold promise: It would wean the country off foreign oil, line farmers’ pockets, and reduce carbon pollution. In 2007, Congress mandated that refiners nearly quintuple the amount of biofuels mixed into the nation’s gasoline supply over 15 years. The Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, projected that ethanol would emit at least 20 percent fewer greenhouse gasses than conventional gasoline.  

Scientists say the EPA was too optimistic, and some research shows that the congressional mandate did more climatic harm than good. A 2022 study found that producing and burning corn-based fuel is at least 24 percent more carbon-intensive than refining and combusting gasoline. The biofuel industry and the Department of Energy, or DOE, vehemently criticized those findings, which nevertheless challenge the widespread claim that ethanol is something of a magic elixir.

“There’s an intuition people have that burning plants is better than burning fossil fuels,” said Timothy Searchinger. He is a senior researcher at the Center for Policy Research on Energy and the Environment at Princeton University and an early skeptic of ethanol. “Growing plants is good. Burning plants isn’t.”"

Max Graham reports for Grist May 5, 2023.

Source: Grist, 05/09/2023