Renewable Fuel and the Earth
Posted 22 April 2013 in
Our world is getting hotter. Our lands are being destroyed. Our water is being polluted. On Earth Day, it’s time to reflect on what the problems are and what solutions exist.
From climate change to oil sands development to MTBE in the groundwater, oil is contributing to just about all of these critical issues. How do we deal with this? Use less oil, replacing it with a cleaner, more environmentally-friendly fuel.
Renewable fuel is homegrown and will help mitigate these environmental threats. Here are some of its environmental benefits.
Greenhouse Gas Emissions
There is a mounting body of evidence regarding greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) and renewable fuel—academics (to name just two, Purdue University and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln have put out reports recently) and government researchers (for example, Argonne National Laboratory and the Department of Agriculture) agree that using corn ethanol can reduce life-cycle GHGs relative to gasoline. Estimates range from 17%-59% savings.
Furthermore, a study released last month looked at soil samples over the past decade to better understand how much carbon corn sequesters (takes out of the air and deposits in the ground) while it grows. The results? A much larger amount of carbon is being sequestered by corn plants than previously estimated. So you can expect future lifecycle assessments of corn ethanol GHGs to show even stronger gains versus gasoline, with this data in hand.
Advanced renewable fuel offers even greater GHG savings when compared to a gallon of gasoline, with DOE estimating savings of 86% and other sources estimating savings of over 90%.
The amount of agricultural land required to produce 15 billion gallons of grain ethanol in the U.S. by 2015, the target set forth by the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), is likely to be less than 1% of total world cropland. And the land that is being used is being used better each year. A recent report on the topic demonstrated we are moving in the right direction in major categories: land use is down, production is up, water use is down, energy efficiency is up, and soil erosion is down.
This process of more efficient production with fewer resources is a necessity, as feedstocks used to make fuel for the RFS can only be sourced from land that was actively engaged in agricultural production in 2007, when the RFS was most recently updated. Without good stewardship of the land, and increasing efficiency, renewable fuel would not be able succeed in the way that it has in recent years.
This sustainable approach stands in stark contrast to the destruction that the oil industry is bringing to our land through their methods of drilling and oil sands extraction, part of which has resulted in 13 oil spills in the past 30 days.
Because ethanol is made of naturally occurring materials, it is biodegradable. This is critical when considering ground water safety. The Governors’ Ethanol Coalition released this report, detailing the process and impact, writing that “products of ethanol biodegradation likely pose little to no health threat.”
If gasoline containing ethanol spills, the ethanol will biodegrade, while other components will not. Some gasoline contains an additive, MTBE, which ethanol replaces. This additive was the root of a recent lawsuit, where one oil company was ordered to pay $237 million because MTBE contaminated the groundwater, making the water from over 5,500 wells in New Hampshire unfit to drink.
Big oil is polluting our air, destroying our land, and messing with our ground water. Renewable fuel is reducing emissions, improving land stewardship and protecting fresh water. This Earth Day, as we take a moment to reflect on threats to our planet and the solutions at hand, we cannot avoid the simple fact that oil is an enemy to our environment, and renewable fuel can help us protect it.
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