February 03, 2009

Upcoming University Of Minnesota Study Critical Of Corn Ethanol

University Of Minnesota researcher Jason Hill is set to release a study comparing the human health effects of corn ethanol, cellulosic ethanol, and gasoline.

The study is the first to estimate the economic costs to human health and well-being from gasoline, corn-based ethanol and cellulosic ethanol made from biomass. The authors found that depending on the materials and technology used in production, cellulosic ethanol's environmental and health costs are less than half the costs of gasoline, while corn-based ethanol's costs range from roughly equal to about double that of gasoline.

The study will be published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in February and will be posted online next week. At the moment the only information is from a press release.

The one thing that doesn't make sense from the information provided is this.

The study finds that cellulosic ethanol has fewer negative effects on human health because it emits smaller amounts of fine particulate matter, an especially harmful component of air pollution.

Since the chemical makeup of ethanol is the same regardless of the feedstock used to produce it, corn based ethanol should produce the same amounts of fine particulate matter as cellulosic ethanol. So the evidence against corn ethanol must be it's environmental costs.

David Tilman is credited in the release as being a contributer to the paper. Tilman and Hill were both authors on the Science Magazine study last year that concluded that depending on how biofuels are produced they could emit 17 to 420 times the amount of green house gases as gasoline. But Tilman clarified the results of that study in a later interview.

Tilman, who is currently on sabbatical from the University, said he feels the study is misunderstood by others in the industry.

"The goal of our paper was to point out if we do certain things, that those things would give us fuels that didn't have very much environmental benefit," he said.

Tilman said the paper didn't say the problems were happening now, but instead that they could happen in the future.

So unless I am mistaken they are taking results that could happen in the future and presenting them as if they were occurring now as evidence against corn ethanol.

Source : University of Minnesota Press Release

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