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Industry experts say new ethanol study not worth their time

“I don't plan to read it," Iowa Renewable Fuels leader says.

A new report published Tuesday claiming corn-based ethanol causes more damage to the environment than regular gasoline is being ferociously discredited by industry experts.

The study released by Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences, and funded in part by the National Wildlife Federation and U.S. Department of Energy, found that corn-based ethanol is 24% more carbon-intensive than gasoline due to emissions resulting from how farmers grow corn and how the ethanol plants produce the gasoline alternative.

Industry experts are having none of it. 

Monte Shaw, Iowa Renewable Fuels Association executive director, says this study isn’t worth his or anybody else’s time to consider.

“Thanks for the opportunity (to respond), but not interested in spending time on silly stuff like this,” Shaw told Successful Farming via email reply.  

“The track record of studies funded by the National Wildlife Federation regarding ethanol and the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) is that of 100% failure. They never hold up to even cursory review,” Shaw stated.

Shaw added, “As they supplied the majority of funding for this study, and given their pathetic track record and absolute hostility to modern agriculture and products made from those crops (like ethanol), I don’t plan to read the report and wouldn’t think the so-called study’s findings would be any more impactful than past NWF work.

“This week’s announcement of the study is considered a rerun from a study released two years ago that was thoroughly “debunked,” according to Shaw.

“EPA, CARB, UN, etc. all recognize that corn ethanol reduces GHG emissions,” Shaw stated.
 
In 2021, the USDA released a study that found that the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from corn ethanol are about 39% lower than gasoline on energy equivalent basis. The study, titled “The greenhouse gas benefits of corn ethanol — assessing recent evidence,” also found that when ethanol is produced at natural gas-powered refineries, the GHG emissions are even lower — around 43% below gasoline. 

“This study confirms work that we released in 2018 and adds to the mounting evidence of ethanol’s GHG benefits, which have been often overlooked,” USDA economists stated in a July 2021 report.

In keeping with their previous research on biofuels and the RFS, the authors of this new paper continue to attract the ire of ethanol industry experts.

Geoff Cooper, Renewable Fuels Association CEO, says the report is not based in reality.

“The claims in this report simply don’t align with reality and the facts on the ground, and the paper reads more like a fantasy novel than a genuine piece of academic literature. It should not be taken seriously,” Cooper stated in a press release. 

The RFS requires oil refineries to blend over 15.0 billion gallons of ethanol into the U.S. gasoline supply.

The study claims the RFS increased corn acreage, causing more tillage on land that would have been enrolled into the conservation reserve program ultimately raising emission levels.

In his setting the record statement, Cooper was quick to point out that RFA representatives made an effort to meet with some of the same authors of this week’s study nearly two years ago regarding a similar study making the same claims.

“In fact, when related research from some of the same authors was released several years ago, representatives from RFA and corn grower organizations met with this study’s lead author, Tyler Lark, at the University of Wisconsin, in an attempt to begin a constructive conversation about today’s ethanol industry and the real impacts of biofuels policy,” Cooper stated in the release.

Cooper added, “At that time, we shared data and information with Lark and his colleagues and asked how we could collaborate on research. We asked how we could work together to ensure their error-ridden satellite analysis of land-use changes was grounded in reality. We never heard back from them.”

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