White paper urges regulators to rethink ethanol's carbon value

By American Coalition for Ethanol | January 19, 2015

A new white paper written by Ron Alverson, the president of the American Coalition for Ethanol board of directors, reveals how scientists are applying technology innovations by farmers and ethanol facilities to improve the accuracy of carbon intensity modeling for biofuels.  The result: a dramatic improvement in the low carbon value of corn-based ethanol. 

Alverson, a farmer and founding board member of Lake Area Corn Processors LLC (owners of a 60 MMgy ethanol facility near Wentworth, South Dakota), holds a Bachelor of Science degree in agronomy and soil science from South Dakota State University. His white paper cites new research and improved modeling by the Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory, which indicate corn ethanol’s carbon intensity (CI) is trending lower.

“ANL scientists have documented significant reductions in corn ethanol’s CI since 2008. Through updates to the Greenhouse gases Regulated Emissions and Energy use in Transportation (GREET version 2.0, 2013) model, ANL recently determined that average ethanol manufacturing energy use has decreased 25 percent, corn farming energy use decreased 24 percent, corn fertilizer and chemical use decreased by 3 percent, and that ethanol facilities are extracting 3 percent more ethanol from each bushel of corn.  ANL has also updated their land use change (LUC) calculations with recent data and now estimate LUC of just 7.6 grams of CI, a 75 percent reduction from the widely used and outdated estimate of 30 grams CI.  A significant portion of this reduction resulted from soil carbon modeling which predicts soil carbon sequestration from corn,” Alverson notes in the white paper.

“Unfortunately, low carbon fuel market regulators, such as the U.S. EPA and the California Air Resources Board, have yet to acknowledge these improvements and update their models with this new science,” continues Alverson. “Because fossil fuel CI is getting worse and corn ethanol CI is improving, failure to account for these trends unfairly penalizes biofuels in low carbon markets.”

“Corn farmers have responded to market signals and rapidly adopted precision application technology to reduced fertilizer application rates,” concludes Alverson. “The future is bright for corn ethanol to provide meaningful contributions to reducing greenhouse gas emissions from transportation fuel.  Recognizing these new realities would provide us with a homegrown advanced biofuel that meets a range of health and public policy objectives.”