The Ethanol Promotion and Information Council (EPIC) has responded to last week’s Time Magazine cover story “The Clean Energy Scam.” Executive director Toni Nuernberg sent the following letter to the editor of Time in response to the article:
In Michael Grunwald’s March 27 article “The Clean Energy Scam,” corn-based ethanol is the scapegoat of the week. Though Grunwald draws attention to the vitally important need for evaluation of global land-use changes, the environmental finger pointing at corn-based ethanol by his sources has come to the point of ridiculous.
The fuel behind this latest fiery round of environmental blame game is two studies posted mid-February in Science Express. The papers, authored by Timothy Searchinger and Joseph Fargione, reach conclusions regarding the greenhouse gas emissions associated with potential global land-use changes caused by increasing biofuels demand — specifically for corn-based ethanol. Their conclusions are considered debatable by others in the scientific community.
Unfortunately, the topic of global climate change and the impact of possible sources of carbon emissions are complicated and multi-factorial issues which require continued and thorough research. Information from the United States EPA found at http://epa.gov/climatechange/index.html illustrates the complexity of the issue.
The existence of life on Earth, and certainly human life, has been impacting Earth’s environment for million’s of years. On the EPA site, you will read, consumption of fossil fuels is the greatest contributor of carbon emissions. In fact, the amount of carbon dioxide dumped into the atmosphere annually by burning fossil fuels is projected to rise worldwide from about 24 billion metric tons in 2002 to 33 billion metric tons in 2015.
Grunwald fails to report this. He also fails to consult experts in the field of biofuels lifecycle analysis, such as Dr. Bruce Dale of Michigan State and Dr. Michael Wang of the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory. Both experts agree that the studies by Searchinger and Fargione raise important issues. However, they question many of the assumptions made by Searchinger and Fargione, and term them “highly speculative and uncertain scenarios for what might happen as a result of increased demand for corn grain.”
Most notably, they point out the assumptions by Searchinger double the level of corn ethanol that is actually required under the new Renewable Fuels Standards by 2015, an assumption that’s not realistic to U.S. corn ethanol production in the next seven years. Congress established a production cap of 15 billion gallons of corn ethanol by 2015 to help guard against dramatic land use changes. But Searchinger bases his projections on a model in which U.S. corn ethanol production increased from 15 billion gallons a year to 30 billion gallons a year by 2015. Thus, the findings are irrelevant.
Ultimately, environmentally sustainable solutions to our dependence on fossil-based fuels must be found and research must be conducted to identify possible unintentional consequences of these solutions.
We believe corn-based ethanol, while not a biofuels silver bullet, is a viable foundation upon which the next generation of “advanced biofuels” can be built.
The ethanol industry is fueling research into technologies that will improve production of cellulosic ethanol from feedstocks such as switchgrass, crop waste and other renewable biomass. These offer additional environmental benefits because they not only absorb CO2 as the feedstuffs are grown (corn and switchgrass are high users of CO2), the fuel produced is cleaner burning than fossil-based fuels.
In addition, today’s grain-based ethanol industry is providing the auto industry with incentive to manufacture flex-fuel and alternative-fuel vehicles and creating an infrastructure to distribute ethanol produced from any feedstock.
Unlike other alternatives that are years from reaching availability, state-of-the-art technology, ethanol-enriched fuel is available now, and can be used in our current infrastructure.
Perhaps the biofuels detractors should put a halt to the creation of studies to support the “agenda du jour” and more effort put into finding solutions.