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New research shows ethanol's growing gains for Mother Earth

Agriculture.com Staff 04/22/2008 @ 7:11am

It's Earth Day, a day to bring attention to the actions every man, woman and child can take -- from recycling to renewable energy -- to help protect our planet.

The latter sector holds a great deal of promise in helping reduce harm to the environment, and that promise is growing, according to recent reports. For example, if each car in the U.S. used 10% ethanol-blended fuel for a single week, the amount of greenhouse gases produced in the U.S. would be reduced by 1.3 billion pounds, according to research by Nathan Danielson, president of life sciences research firm BioCognito.

Assuming a car with a 20 gallon gasoline tank, Danielson found that filling up with E10 can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 9.5 pounds per tank.

"Ethanol is just a very good fuel for reducing overall carbon foot print," Danielson says in a report from the Ethanol Promotion and Information Council. "The story gets better if we go to E85. If we get to E85, all the sudden you are sitting at about 90 pounds of carbon dioxide that you've removed from the atmosphere by using ethanol instead of gasoline."

Everyone filling their tanks with E85, he says, would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 12.4 billion pounds in one week.

While it's not yet commercially viable on a nationwide scale (plants are under construction and beginning production at a few points around the country), cellulosic ethanol production holds the key to further environment-friendliness in the fuels sector. It's a step in the trend recently noted by a study by the Argonne National Laboratory, where researchers found rapid evolution underway in the ethanol production industry.

The Argonne analysis, according to the Illinois Corn Growers Association, compares ethanol data from 2001 to 2006, a span during which U.S. ethanol refining ballooned by 276%. At the same time, energy use in the process declined: Water consumption was down 27%; electricity use was down 16%; and total energy use was down 22%.

"America's ethanol industry has come a long way in a few short years, as has the efficiency and productivity of the corn farmers that provide the raw materials for this dynamic industry," says Illinois Corn Growers Association president Art Bunting. "Combined with the increased productivity on the farm, and advances that are making cellulosic ethanol more attractive, ethanol production provides an important component in our efforts to reduce global warming emissions."

It's Earth Day, a day to bring attention to the actions every man, woman and child can take -- from recycling to renewable energy -- to help protect our planet.

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