Urban Air Initiative and Energy Future Coalition urge recognition of ethanol as a way to reduce carbon

(Washington, D.C., February 18, 2015)   The California Air Resources Board (CARB) was urged to enhance its efforts to require low carbon fuels by supporting the increased use of clean burning ethanol as a means of displacing aromatics in gasoline to reduce carbon and protect public health.

Comments submitted to the agency by The Energy Future Coalition (EFC) and the Urban Air Initiative (UAI) urged CARB to look at best available science which reflects significant improvements in the total life cycle of ethanol. The groups pointed out that according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), conventional automobiles operating on petroleum products will continue to be the dominant fuel for decades. The California goal of reducing the carbon intensity of transportation fuels in the state will need to focus on the liquid fuels that EIA predicts will be 95% of the market.

“Simply replacing gasoline, which is increasingly carbon intensive, with ethanol provides substantial carbon reductions. Using that ethanol to replace toxic compounds used for octane provides a dual benefit of protecting public health,” said David VanderGriend, President of UAI. “Our research has shown that there is a clear linkage to gasoline and a range of negative health effects. So reducing carbon isn’t just a matter of greenhouse gas and potential climate change but also saving lives by reducing toxic emissions.”

The comments cited numerous supporting documents and reports, including research by Argonne National Laboratory which has devoted 20 years of research and analysis to the life-cycle greenhouse gas impacts of transportation fuels. As a 2012 Argonne paper summarized, “advances in technology and the resulting improved productivity in corn and sugarcane farming and ethanol conversion … have increased the energy and greenhouse gas (GHG) benefits of using bioethanol.”

As positive as that is, said VanderGriend, the numbers should be even better. The Argonne studies give no credit for corn’s ability to fix carbon in soil permanently. But new research is showing that modern, high-yield continuous corn grown using conservation or no-till practices is in fact sequestering and rebuilding the carbon content of soil in the Midwest. Argonne is beginning a new look at soil carbon fixation, as well as NOx emissions related to fertilizer use, with regard to its GHG estimates for corn ethanol. The net result is a range in carbon reduction from corn ethanol of 30-44% and cellulosic ethanol of as much as 100%.

The comments argue that current EPA and CARB life-cycle analysis models both underestimate corn’s superior ability as a highly efficient C4 plant in sequestering carbon, and should be updated accordingly.

The groups also provided background on the trends in the auto industry that clearly indicate a new generation of small bore, high compression engines will be needed to meet ever increasing mileage standards. Automakers have stated they will need higher octane fuels for those vehicles. Mid-level ethanol blends such as E30 could meet octane needs while reducing toxic aromatics and a number of dangerous criteria pollutants.

“We will continue to make the case that high compression engines powered by high octane mid-level ethanol blends will not take decades to come to market and will be cost competitive and save consumers money,” said VanderGriend. “It will provide a healthier fuel and would have a lower carbon footprint than even electric vehicles and fuel cells when proper lifecycle analyses are applied.”

For more information on the Urban Air Initiative visit www.urbanairnitiative.com, and www.fixourfuel.com. For information on the Energy Future Coalition, including related Health Workshops at the National Academies of Science, visit www.energyfuturecoalition.org.