The Green Energy Collective Is Ethanol a Cost Effective Solution to Climate Change?
Ethanol vs. Natural Gas Motor Fuels – Another viable alternative to petroleum gasoline and reduced carbon emissions is natural gas. Domestic natural gas production is increasing fairly rapidly, has become relatively inexpensive and generates significantly less carbon emissions then petroleum gasoline. These factors make natural gas an attractive alternative motor fuel. The overall WTW lifecycle fossil fuels consumption for natural gas is also much lower than petroleum gasoline. Comparing the natural gas WTW lifecycle to corn ethanol finds that natural gas has a WTT NEV 8-times greater than ethanol, and generates about 25% less WTW carbon emissions than conventional ethanol. In addition, the average natural gas cost is less than half of ethanol (Re. page 3, Table 2; gasoline equivalent gallons). These factors make natural gas possibly a much more superior alternative to displacing petroleum gasoline than corn ethanol.
In Conclusion – The majority of the energy available in conventional corn ethanol comes from fossil fuels consumed during the overall cultivation-production of this biofuel. Even if the RFA successfully persuades the EPA to adjust corn ethanol’s WTW lifecycle carbon emission balances, the generated carbon credits would still have a relatively high cost of about $500/MT. This carbon credit value is extremely expensive compared to natural gas, further efficiency upgrades, or other more cost effective Power and Transportation sectors carbon reduction strategies.
The primary incentive to continue producing and blending large volumes of conventional corn ethanol is the Federal RFS2 ‘renewable fuel standard’ mandate. Without the RFS2 requirement the probability of ethanol competing in a free market based on economically displacing equivalent fossil fuels or generating reasonably priced carbon credits appears to be relatively small.