June 1, 2023

Using Corn For Fuel Seems Like A Dumb Idea In Light Of New Research

Hello everyone and welcome if you are an american and you’ve recently put gasoline inside of your car well chances are that gasoline had within it corn based ethanol and in this video we’re going to explain why corn-based ethanol is a dumb idea to use for fuel in your car now the premise of corn based ethanol is that it’s a renewable fuel meaning the carbon

Footprint of that fuel is much smaller than say gasoline itself where does this logic come from well it’s pretty straightforward so for gasoline we’re pulling oil from underneath the ground we’re extracting that oil refining it using it as gasoline within our cars and then burning that gasoline which puts co2 into the atmosphere so you have a direct path one-way

Direction of taking that carbon from beneath the ground and putting it in our air versus ethanol corn-based ethanol you’re growing this corn to grow that corn you take carbon from out of the air co2 from the air to grow that corn you then harvest it you drain know that you’re fermented it goes through a process you turn that into ethanol that ethanol is eventually

Burned in your car that puts co2 into the atmosphere well that co2 then goes back into growing more corn and you have this endless cycle where you’re not taking a one-way path of carbon and putting in the atmosphere instead you’re just recycling and it’s going through this cycle over and over well a study out of the university of wisconsin-madison by tyler lark the

Lead author of that paper who i spoke with in preparation for this video says that the full life cycle carbon intensity of corn based ethanol versus gas is actually 24 percent greater than gasoline this is pretty wild so here’s the direct quote from the study the carbon intensity of corn ethanol is no less than gasoline and likely at least 24 percent higher now

Ethanol does serve another purpose aside from being a renewable fuel when added to gasoline and that it acts as an octane booster and it is better than the alternatives that we have previously used as an octane booster so we used to use lead from about 1926 till the 1990s we knew that lead was bad back in 1926 but we continue to use it for quite some time in cars

Then we switched to mtbe we stopped using that around 2005 and we have been using ethanol since from you know about the 1990s we started playing around with it and then now it is about 10 percent of the volume of gasoline that you purchase at the pump today and the benefits of that give you higher octane rating so you don’t have knock within your engine so your

Engine doesn’t destroy itself it allows you to use higher compression ratios and make more efficient engines so it’s a great thing it also oxygenates the fuel which means that it has oxygen within the additive itself so mtbe was also an oxygenated fuel had oxygen in it as is ethanol looking at the chemical formula and the reason for doing that for using something

Like that as an additive is it lowers the carbon monoxide emissions of a fuel which again is a good thing to do so these are good reasons to use ethanol within fuel however they don’t mean that you have to create that ethanol from corn so why are we using corn based ethanol well this dates back to the 2005 renewable fuel standard so if you look at the website for

The renewable fuel standard it says congress created the renewable fuel standard to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and expand the nation’s renewable fuel sector while reducing reliance on imported oil that all sounds great so let’s keep in mind this goal of reducing emissions so the epa created an impact analysis which they completed in 2010 to look at all the

Different fuels out there you know there’s plenty of different renewable fuels that you can use of all these fuels out there you know what option should we go with and select and part of their criteria increase creating this impact analysis which by the way is like an 1100 page document it’s massive i’ll include a link to it if you want to look uh through it it’s

It’s huge but part of the requirements for this impact analysis stated that if we’re going to select a fuel it needs to have a 20 greenhouse gas emissions reductions okay so then they looked into corn based ethanol and they found that corn based ethanol had a versus gasoline 21 reduction so we made tons of ethanol so i’ll give a quote here from that document it

Says the results for this corn ethanol scenario is a 21 reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to the gasoline 2005 baseline okay so this is important because intuitively to me when i look at oil that has a direct path from the ground to the atmosphere i think high emissions and when i look at something that operates as a cycle i think okay it’s virtually no

Additional emissions right because that carbon is coming from the air and then being put back into the air so no net change right and in fact what the epa found is ethanol actually is at you know 79 of the emissions is just extracting it from the ground so even the epa study that looked into this found hey it’s actually you know only 21 percent better than gasoline

This study out of the university of madison saying it’s 24 percent worse but keep that in mind right like because of that 21 better we decided hey let’s make tons of corn based ethanol and put it in our fuel now where do the emissions come from if this is just a constant cycle right well you’ve got the farming equipment you’ve got the production of the corn you’ve

Got fuel production uh you know distilling all of that uh corn into you know alcohol that you can then use as ethanol distributing it and then land use changes and this is one of the really big factors changing land in order to grow corn on it so here’s how that big ticket item of land use change works essentially because we decided hey we’re going to make all of this

Ethanol out of corn farmers said okay well we need more land to make all this corn so it is estimated by this study that from 2008 to 2016 the amount of land increased to create corn increased by 26 percent that is land that otherwise eyes would not have been used for farming according to this study so you either clear that land and you let that vegetation decay

Which of course means you have the carbon emissions from it or you burn down everything on that land so that you can then use it for farmland of course burning that all down you’re going to have emissions but the real emissions from here are from tilling that land once you’ve cut everything down so once you till that land that churns up carbon from within the soil

And it releases into the atmosphere so remember you know all these plants and things they have these root systems they’re constantly putting carbon down into the soil and when you till that you take all that carbon from the soil and you put it into the atmosphere in a document compiled by cynthia giles of harvard law school’s environmental and energy law program

She notes carbon is emitted when the forests or grasslands are cut down and the vegetation either decays or is burned but the largest source of carbon from converting land to crops in the united states is the soil itself plowing under you us grasslands released a significant amount of carbon 90 percent of which originates in the soil carbon in biomass accumulates

Over years to decades but soil carbon accumulates slowly over decades to centuries releasing the carbon in soils is thus effectively irreversible over human time scales she goes on to say and this is a very powerful single sentence the carbon released from land use changes alone can wipe out any climate benefit from biofuels now it’s important to note that if you

Take a section of land and you clear it and then till it and use that for farming and you release all of this carbon this is a one-time event right so you’re going to have a huge negative impact initially and then you’re going to start growing that corn and then that cycle starts and that’s where you start to gain that benefit back but you have that initial huge

Offset so if you look at a timeline of your net emissions versus gasoline you know initially on year one you’re going to have a huge amount of net negative emissions and then each year after that as you’re growing that corn you’re taking carbon from the atmosphere to grow that corn and so you have a net benefit versus gasoline so eventually you are going to have

A point where you break even and then a point where you start to run into a benefit so based on this 2010 impact analysis what was that timeline well in order to break even for ethanol made of corn takes 14 years and in order to have a 20 reduction in greenhouse gases that’s going to take 28 years now this university of wisconsin study is saying in reality what’s

More likely is that you’re going to have a net increase of 24 emissions over the next 30 years so they use 30 years as the baseline for hey what will the net emissions be over that duration all right so let’s start to form a conclusion here so if you look at all of the literature out there on corn based ethanol you’ll find some studies that say it’s a good idea

Like the epa’s impact analysis and then you’ll find other studies that say hey maybe this isn’t the greatest idea like tyler’s study out of the university of wisconsin and so just as a thought experiment let’s say that tyler’s study was incorrect and that the epa was right so part of what has resulted from this impact analysis is that in the united states today

Over 98 of our gasoline has up to 10 percent ethanol in it so let’s say i’m doing my part i’m driving my gasoline car i go to the gas station and i fill up with gasoline that gasoline is 90 gasoline and it is 10 ethanol which means if the epa was correct and we had a 20 reduction in the emissions of that 10 ethanol well then i had a two percent reduction in my

Emissions over the course of 28 years and if that’s what the result of all of this is who cares who cares about two percent over nearly 30 years what is the point and the reality is it’s probably actually worse than that based on the latest research i’m going to go back to a quote from cynthia giles because to me it seems obvious we need to think a little bigger

She says encouraging biofuels that only seek to achieve a 20 improvement over fossil fuels is not sufficient the band of uncertainty is so wide that what regulators think is a 20 benefit could in reality be causing harm okay so what happens next and we’re actually at a very critical moment in time because the renewable fuel standard set the plan through the year

2022 and at this point the epa must now set the requirements moving forward for how much corn based ethanol we need to produce and it seems like based on the latest research that producing more of that corn-based ethanol are increasing the demand of it might not be a great idea and one of the interesting things to me is that if you go back to this renewable fuel

Standard impact analysis from 2010 you see that the break-even point of ethanol is 14 years and you end up with a 20 reduction in 28 years we already discussed this but they looked at another fuel in this impact analysis switch grass and they found that the break-even point was zero years and it resulted in a 60 reduction in emissions in just three years and so

It’s like okay we have seen that other solutions exist and yet we went with this one that probably doesn’t even help us so to talk about what should we do i’m going to quote tyler lark of the original study we use a lot of land for corn and ethanol right now you could envision replacing the existing 15 billion gallons of corn ethanol with next generation biofuels

As that production comes online that would give an opportunity to restore millions of acres of cornfields into perennial native grasslands and other landscapes that could potentially be utilized for bioenergy still be economically productive and also help reduce nitrate leaching erosion and runoff now those last few things i mentioned because there’s a lot of

Other problems that are related to corn based ethanol but in this video i was just focusing on the emissions related but there are again if you look at that study which i’ll link to in the video description many other problems and then if you look at ethanol as a fuel source and if you’re curious you know how compatible is this with gasoline engines i also have a

Separate video covering that in great detail if you’d like to check that out thank you all so much for watching and if you have any questions or comments feel free to leave them below

Transcribed from video
America Was Wrong About Ethanol – Study Shows By Engineering Explained