White paper calls for an updated carbon model for biofuels

Scientists are now successfully applying technologies utilised by farmers and ethanol facilities to maximise the quality and accuracy of carbon modelling for biofuels.

A newly-released white paper, entitled 'Re-thinking the Carbon Reduction Value of Carbon Ethanol Fuel, written by Ron Alverson, president of the American Coalition for Ethanol board of directors, explains that this has resulted in a significant improvement to the low carbon value of corn-based ethanol.

Alverson, a farmer and founding board member of Lake Area Corn Processors, has raised and sold soyabeans and corn for the last 40 years, and has been the president of the South Dakota Corn Grower's Association, and a past board member of the National Corn Grower's Association.

His white paper cites new research and improved modelling by the Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory, which suggests that corn ethanol's carbon intensity (CI) is trending lower.

'ANL scientists have documented significant reductions in corn ethanol's CI since 2008. Through updates to the Greenhouse gases Regulated Emissions and Energy use in Transportation (GREET) model, ANL recently determined that average ethanol manufacturing energy use has decreased 25%, corn farming energy use decreased 24%, corn fertiliser and chemical use decreased by 3%, and that ethanol facilities are extracting 3% more ethanol from each bushel of corn. ANL has also updated their land use change (LUC) calculations with recent data and now estimate LUC of just 7.6 grams of CI, a 75% reduction from the widely used and outdated estimate of 30 grams CI. A significant portion of this reduction resulted from soil carbon modelling which predicts soil carbon sequestration from corn,' says Alverson in the white paper.

'Unfortunately, low carbon fuel market regulators, such as the US EPA and the California Air Resources Board, have yet to acknowledge these improvements and update their models with this new science,' says Alverson. 'Because fossil fuel CI is getting worse and corn ethanol CI is improving, failure to account for these trends unfairly penalizes biofuels in low carbon markets.'

'Corn farmers have responded to market signals and rapidly adopted precision application technology to reduced fertiliser application rates. Innovation in energy use and conversion technology at ethanol production facilities, innovation in enhanced efficiency fertilIsers and in corn production management, and improved accuracy of GHG modelling assumptions have reduced current corn ethanol fuel CI by more than 50%,' says Alverson. 'The future is bright for corn ethanol to provide meaningful contributions to reducing greenhouse gas emissions from transportation fuel. Recognising these new realities would provide us with a homegrown advanced biofuel that meets a range of health and public policy objectives.'

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