Study suggests corn-based ethanol “is not a climate-friendly fuel”

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A study from the US suggests mixing corn-based ethanol into petrol to make biofuel may not be as environmentally friendly as previously thought.

The familiar practice of mixing corn-based ethanol biofuel into petrol may not be as environmentally friendly as using straight petrol, a new study in the US has suggested.

Research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences says that corn-based ethanol “is not a climate-friendly fuel”. In fact, the study suggests it’s 24 per cent more carbon-intensive than petrol as a result of the change in land use required to grow corn to make the ethanol, in addition to the processing and combustion involved.

The study contradicts previous research from the US Department of Agriculture. Geoff Cooper, president and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association in the US, branded the research “completely fictional and erroneous”, claiming it cited “worst-case assumptions” and “cherry-picked data”, Autoblog reported.

American oil refiners have been required by law since 2005 to mix 15 billion gallons (68 billion litres) of corn-based ethanol into US petrol each year.

While the US produced its ethanol mostly from corn, in Australia ethanol is produced from waste products, such as waste starch from wheat which is fermented to create ethanol. This is distilled and blended with local unleaded petrol to produce E10. The government introduced national standards for regular unleaded petrol and ethanol-blended petrol in the early 2000s, which capped the amount of ethanol that could be added to petrol at 10 (E10).

Tristan Shale-Hester

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