The Illinois Corn Growers Association today unveiled two landmark studies on ethanol that conclude production of the biofuel leaves a smaller carbon footprint than gasoline and has substantial room for growth without affecting corn supply to the food and feed sectors.
Dr. Steffen Mueller, principal research economist at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Energy Resources Center, studied the carbon footprint of the Illinois River Energy facility near Rochelle, Illinois which produces 55 million gallons of ethanol annually.
“We looked at the global warming and land use impact of corn ethanol produced at the Illinois River Energy ethanol plant — which is a modern, natural gas fueled facility — on a full life-cycle basis,” said Mueller. “We found conclusively that the global warming impact of the modern ethanol plant is 40 percent lower than gasoline. This is a sizable reduction from numbers currently being used by public agencies and in the public debate. The study also documents the significant net energy benefits of ethanol when compared to gasoline. And, additional opportunities exist to expand that margin even more through technological improvements and on farm changes in corn production that reduce green house gas emissions. Furthermore, corn supply for the ethanol plant was primarily met through yield increases in the surrounding area and, as documented with satellite imagery, without conversion of non agricultural land to corn.”
The study by Ross Korves, economic policy analyst at ProExporter Network, analyzed the consequences of a technology-driven revolution that is occurring throughout America agriculture which would see average corn production increase from 155 bushels an acre today to 289 bushels over the next two decades. The study suggests that sufficient amounts of corn will be available to increase ethanol production from the current level of 7.1 billion gallons last year to 33 billion gallons by 2030 with current technology. The study also factors in increased future demand for corn from both export and livestock (feed) sectors. Korves also looked at the environmental impact of ethanol production, predicting that the global warming impact (GWI) of the average ethanol plant would decline dramatically through increased efficiencies in coming years.
“The GWI of the average ethanol plant is expected to decline 27 percent by 2030,” said Korves. “By that year, the GWI of corn ethanol processed in a plant using a biomass combined heat and power system will be less than one-third of the GWI of gasoline.”
The Illinois Corn Growers Association also announced that the state has become a technological and commercial leader in corn-based ethanol.