Hype that ethanol results in deforestation appears to be debunked in a study supported by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and performed at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. In a presentation to the California Air Resources Board (CARB) earlier this month (www.arb.ca.gov/fuels/lcfs/workgroups/ewg/101410decomposition), the DOE reported that corn exports grew from 2002 to 2007 (by 50%) even as corn ethanol production in the U.S. increased at an average rate of 25% per year.
The DOE added that feedstock (primarily corn) for this growth in ethanol came mainly from domestic (and not international) reallocations and increased yields (up 6%). “Empirical evidence does not support significant effects on U.S. commodity exports or other crops or cropland expansion in the U.S.,” the DOE reported.
The DOE also told CARB that “the results of this study provide little support for estimates that assume large land use conversion or diversion of corn exports due to ethanol production in the U.S. over the past decade.”
While bioenergy specialists have expressed doubts about Indirect Land Use Change (ILUC), the EPA still considered it when establishing the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS2). “By retaining ILUC as a factor, crop-based biofuels are penalized for greenhouse gas emissions that may or may not actually occur as a result of predicted land use changes,” reported the 25x25 Initiative.
When the debate over extending ethanol tax credits is taken up after the mid-term elections, policy makers should carefully review previous ILUC assumptions. If unfairly implemented, the ILUC concept could place an unnecessary burden on producers, the 25x25 Initiative stated.