RFA, Growth Energy slam inaccurate Reuters report on ethanol GHGs

By Erin Voegele | September 09, 2022

The Renewable Fuels Association and Growth Energy are slamming a Reuters article published on Sept. 8 that recycles highly misleading claims about the greenhouse gas (GHG) impact of U.S. ethanol plants.

The Reuters article, in part, cites the widely discredited study by Tyler Lark and others, which was published in February. Lark’s research has been specifically criticized by researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory, Perdue University, and the University of Illinois. A review of Lark’s work posted to the ANL website points out major flaws in his research and concludes “that the results and conclusions provided by [Lark, et al] are based on several questionable assumptions and a simple modeling approach that has resulted in overestimation of the GHG emissions of corn ethanol.” The ANL response also criticizes Lark’s study for doubling counting emissions and using outdated and inaccurate projections.  

The Reuters article also misrepresents the “grandfathering” provisions implemented by the U.S. EPA when the Renewable Fuel Standard was expanded under the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.

The RFA points out that just because an ethanol plant was “grandfathered” under the EPA’s rules to implement the RFS, that does not mean the facility isn’t meeting or surpassing the 20 percent GHG reduction requirement that non-grandfathered plants must meet to participate in the RFS. “The plants were grandfathered based on the date they commenced construction, not based on their actual GHG performance,” said the RFA in a statement. “In fact, dozens of ethanol plants have clearly demonstrated to EPA (via the efficient producer pathway process) that they are surpassing the 20 percent threshold. We do not see how one can argue that ‘grandfathered plants contribute 40 percent more emissions than non-grandfathered plants.’ There is no way of knowing that, as grandfathered plants that did not pursue an efficient producer pathway do not submit their full lifecycle carbon intensity scores to EPA.”

The RFA and Growth Energy are also criticizing the Reuters piece for focusing exclusively on stationary-source emissions, rather than the full lifecycle impacts of the fuel. “Compounding the distortion, by its own admission, the Reuters analysis cherry-picked one isolated part of the carbon lifecycle – where yeast ferments renewable starch into fuel and CO2 – while ignoring CO2 taken out of the atmosphere when growing crops, tailpipe reductions, or even the biogenic CO2 captured for reuse in beverages, refrigeration, and meatpacking,” said Emily Skor, CEO of Growth Energy. “By repeating false claims from Lark and others without any meaningful context, the report does little more than lend ammunition to misinformation campaigns aimed at halting climate progress."

The RFA provided an example to the Reuters author of why examining stationary-source emissions in isolation of the rest of the fuel’s lifecycle is misleading and problematic. “If one took the same analytical approach to electricity that the reporter is taking with ethanol and petroleum refining, the emissions related to electricity generation across most of the United States would be 14 to 35 times worse than the estimate for ethanol (per gasoline-gallon equivalent) and 27 to 66 times worse than the estimate for refined petroleum products (the low end is natural gas; high end is coal),” according to the RFA.

“To truly understand the climate impacts of transportation fuels, you have to look at the emissions associated with every step in the production process,” said Geoff Cooper, president and CEO of the RFA.” Narrowly focusing on just one piece of the carbon lifecycle is inappropriate, misleading, and misses the forest for the trees. When all of the energy inputs and emissions related to producing corn ethanol are properly considered from beginning to end, it is clear that the fuel has a lifecycle carbon intensity that is 40-50 percent lower than gasoline. The science is clear that ethanol offers a significant and immediate carbon savings compared to petroleum.”

“This isn’t the first hit piece orchestrated by those opposed to renewable energy, and it won’t be the last,” Skor said. “That’s why Growth Energy will never stop fighting to make sure the American public, and our elected officials, are armed with the truth.”