Ethanol’s Broken Promise: Using Less Corn Ethanol Reduces Greenhouse Gas Emissions

It is now clear that the federal corn ethanol mandate has driven up food prices, strained agricultural markets, increased competition for arable land and promoted conversion of uncultivated land to grow crops. In addition, previous estimates have dramatically  underestimated corn ethanol's greenhouse gas emissions by failing to account for changes in land use.

Natural gas fracking well in Louisiana

Another study (summary, full report) indicating that biofuel mandates (this time in the EU) will result in extra land conversion, and associated large emissions of greenhouse gases. The analysis, by the Institute for European Environmental Policy, found that

between 4.1 and 6.9 million hectares of additional land will need to be cropped due to the increasing conventional biofuel demand, set out in national plans. This is equivalent to an area of somewhere between the size of Belgium and the Republic of Ireland. The report estimates that this would lead to additional annual emissions of between 27 and 56 million tonnes of carbon dioxide between 2011 and 2020, associated with land conversion[6]. This would be equivalent to having 12 to 26 million additional cars on Europe’s roads in 2020.

The political response to the entire land use issue in the US has been to try to exclude it from calculations and regulations.  Hopefully the same won't be true for Europe.

Another interesting finding was that exact assumptions on land use impacts didn't affect the policy recommendation very much:

Sensitivity analysis completed during the work demonstrates that the overarching message of failure to deliver GHG savings from conventional biofuel use remains the same even when far lower estimates of ILUC [indirect land use change] and GHG emissions from land use change are applied. This underlines the need to address the question of ILUC associated with biofuel use as a priority. The current evidence clearly points to ILUC emissions undermining the arguments for the use of conventional biofuels as an environmentally sustainable, renewable technology.


BIOFUELS - AT WHAT COST? Government support for ethanol and biodiesel in China

According to government data commissioned by the GSI, China provided a total of RMB 780 million (US$ 115 million, roughly US$ 0.40 a litre) in biofuel subsidies in 2006. These comprised support for ethanol in the form of direct output-linked subsidies paid to the five licensed producers, as well as tax exemptions and low-interest loans for capital investment. Further support is provided through mandatory consumption of ethanol-blended fuel in ten provinces (a ten per cent blend with gasoline, E10).

Biofuels – At What Cost? Government support for ethanol and biodiesel in Canada

This study aims to reduce this complex debate to two simple questions: how much money are Canadian federal and provincial governments spending to support liquid biofuels—fuel-grade ethanol and biodiesel—and does it represent good value-for-money to Canadian taxpayers?

It is one of a series of reports undertaken by the Global Subsidies Initiative (GSI) of the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) examining government support for biofuels in selected countries.

Biofuels in the Transport Sector: Promoting Policy Neutrality.

Presentation to the World Bank Transport Forum outlines a number of principles for good alternative fuel policy that focuses on displacing petroleum consumption in transport rather than trying to select the winning technology.  (March 2007).  A more detailed policy description, for comment, can be found in Remaking Biofuels Policy:  Neutrality and Competition. (April 2007).