Story at a glance:
- Carbon neutrality refers to a product that has net zero carbon emissions. The manufacture and use of corn-based ethanol has expanded based on the assumption that it’s carbon neutral and therefore far better for the environment than gasoline. However, several studies have shown that such assumptions are categorically false.
- A 2016 study found corn grown for ethanol only offset 37% of carbon dioxide emissions produced by burning biofuels, resulting in net-positive carbon dioxide emissions that are greater than gasoline.
- One of the primary reasons why growing corn for ethanol has a net-positive (carbon dioxide) CO2 impact is because farmers are plowing up native grasslands to make more room for corn; 60 tons of carbon dioxide are released into the environment per acre of grassland plowed.
- Ignoring water consumption further underestimates CO2 emissions from land-use change by 28%. When corn plants’ water needs are considered, corn ethanol is worse for the environment than gasoline.
- A five-year study published in 2022 concluded the CO2 emissions from corn-based ethanol are at least 24% greater than that of gasoline. On top of that, it has led to increased fertilizer use, resulting in greater water pollution and a growing dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico.
Carbon neutrality is the holy grail of the biofuel industry. It refers to a product that has net zero carbon emissions.
In the case of ethanol, the corn or soybeans grown to produce it would have to remove as much carbon dioxide from the environment as is given off when the ethanol is burned.
The manufacture and use of ethanol in the U.S. has been allowed to expand based on the assumption that it’s carbon neutral and therefore far better for the environment than gasoline. However, a 2016 study by professor John DeCicco, Ph.D., at the University of Michigan, showed that such assumptions were categorically false.
Ethanol is far from carbon neutral
What DeCicco and his team discovered was that biofuels such as corn ethanol are associated with a net increase in carbon dioxide emissions — even more so than gasoline. It turns out that the crops only offset 37% of carbon dioxide emissions produced by burning biofuels….