US Watchdog Questions Ethanol’s Future as a Fuel

U.S. government financial analysts say ethanol production may have no long-term CO2 benefits.

The rise of ethanol as a fossil-fuel alternative in the US has been responsible for around 10 to 15 per cent of the recent increases in food prices and could adversely impact habitats, according to a financial watchdog.

A report released last week by the US Congressional Budget Office (CBO), entitled The Impact of Ethanol Use on Food Prices and Greenhouse-Gas Emissions, warns that rising food prices and other environmental side-effects raise questions about the viability of ethanol as an alternative to fossil fuels.

In a blog posting to coincide with the release of the report, CBO director Douglas Elmendorf said that questions need to be asked about whether the environmental impact of ethanol production makes sense compared to the reduction in carbon emissions created by using it as a fossil fuel alternative.

“Research suggests that in the short run, the production, distribution, and consumption of ethanol will create about 20 per cent fewer greenhouse gas emissions than the equivalent processes for gasoline,” wrote Elmendorf. “In the long run, if increases in the production of ethanol led to a large amount of forests or grasslands being converted into new cropland, those changes in land use could more than offset any reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions – because forests and grasslands naturally absorb more carbon from the atmosphere than cropland absorbs.”

The CBO report also concludes that cellulosic ethanol production may be more sustainable than using food crops to produce the fuel.

“In the future, the use of cellulosic ethanol, which is made from wood, grasses, and agricultural plant wastes rather than corn, might reduce greenhouse-gas emissions more substantially, but current technologies for producing cellulosic ethanol are not yet commercially viable,” wrote Elmendorf.

News Source: Business Green

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