Despite its original intentions, the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) in practice is not helping the environment and corn ethanol is not a green fuel.
The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Environmental Working Group, the Associated Press, Congressmen from both sides of the aisle and countless others have revealed corn ethanol actually produces more GHGs than gasoline, is immensely water-intensive, zaps the land of essential nutrients and demolishes animal habitats.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and its administrator, Gina McCarthy, have acknowledged the shortcomings of corn ethanol, stating that the RFS’s true goal is to foster cellulosic — or advanced — biofuels. Unfortunately, advanced biofuels also pose environmental challenges.
According to a study by Texas A&M, cellulosic ethanol could be produced from sources that don’t require land-use, but currently none exist. If American corn fields of average yield were converted to switchgrass, replacing that corn would still trigger emissions from land-use change that would take 52 years to pay back and increase emissions by 50% over 30 years.
Additionally, today’s production of cellulosic ethanol still takes 146 gallons of water for one gallon of cellulosic ethanol, lower than corn ethanol but still a staggering amount more than gasoline production.
Ethanol has a place in our gasoline supply; but as we have seen, a policy mandating that higher and higher amounts be blended is not producing the intended environmental benefits. The reality is record profits for corn ethanol and little promise of viable advanced biofuels technologies.