Ethanol, the Low Carbon Solution

The last five years have been some of the earth’s warmest years on record. Moreover, unprecedented fires in Australia and the western United States, record ice melt in the Arctic, and increasingly volatile weather patterns have sparked a global dialogue about the growing imperative to reduce carbon.

From RFA’s perspective, the ethanol industry should be helping to lead the conversation because we have a great story to tell. The U.S. Department of Energy, California Air Resources Board (CARB), Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and others already recognize that grain-based ethanol reduces greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 35 to 50 percent compared to gasoline. Emerging ethanol technologies promise to boost that reduction to around 70 percent in just the next few years, according to USDA. Further, CARB data show that ethanol is responsible for 22 million metric tons of GHG reduction from California’s transportation sector since 2011—more than any other low carbon fuel.

Thankfully, the United States already has a framework in place to drive future policy. The Renewable Fuel Standard has been an important and effective policy reducing greenhouse gas emissions from fuels for 15 years and has reduced CO2-equivalent GHGs by an astounding 600 million metric tons since its implementation. That is the equivalent of removing roughly half of the cars on the road in America for an entire year or eliminating the annual emissions from 13 coal-fired power plants. With ethanol, we don’t have to wait and hope for major technological or economic breakthroughs; the fuel is available now at a low cost to drive decarbonization of our liquid fuels.

Clearing the Air with Ethanol

In addition to reducing GHG emissions, ethanol is the best tool available to reduce tailpipe emissions of other harmful pollutants. Adding ethanol to gasoline reduces tailpipe emissions of the following pollutants, among others: 

  • Carbon monoxide, which can cause harmful health effects by reducing oxygen delivery to the body’s organs. 
  • Exhaust hydrocarbons, which contribute to ozone, irritate the eyes, damage the lungs, and aggravate respiratory problems. 
  • Air toxics like benzene, which can cause cancer and reproductive effects or birth defects. 
  • Fine particulate matter, which can pass through the throat and nose and enter the lungs, causing serious health effects. 

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