March 2, 2009

Hauling ethanol nixes benefits

Ethanol's slogan should be keep it local, or at least regional, if the biofuel is to serve as a truly green alternative to gasoline.

A study of the economic and environmental costs of transporting ethanol found that hauling the fuel long distances raises its cost and increases greenhouse gas emissions associated with producing and distributing the fuel. These increases wipe out the benefits of using ethanol in place of gasoline.

The lifecycle study, which looked at E85 produced from a mix of corn and cellulosic ethanol, found that ethanol costs range from $1.30 to $2.80 per gallon depending on how far the fuel travels and how it's transported. The study's estimates of emissions from transporting ethanol are twice as high as estimates from previous lifecycle studies.

The study recommends that E85 be produced regionally to minimize the effects of transporting the fuel.

Research paper:
Economic and Environmental Transportation Effects of Large-Scale Ethanol Production and Distribution in the United States
Environmental Science & Technology, published online February 25, 2009

Researchers' homepages:
Chris T. Hendrickson
W. Michael Griffin
H. Scott Matthews

Related stories and briefs:
Wind powered electric vehicles top study -- related research
Net energy under fire -- related research

Back to ERN March 9, 2009



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