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Thursday, December 01, 2022

Biden’s biofuels: Cheap at the pump, but high environmental costs

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WASHINGTON (AFP) – In an effort to ease Americans’ pain at the gas pump, President Joe Biden has announced that his administration will ease restrictions on the sale of E15 — gasoline that contains 15 percent ethanol — and new investments in biofuels overall.

But the decision did not please scientists who study ethanol’s environmental impact.

– What is ethanol? ,

The fuel is based on the same type of alcohol used in ethanol beverages, but with “denaturant” additives that make it unfit for drinking.

Combining ethanol with gasoline reduces the dependence on crude oil.

Most of the gas now sold in the United States is E10. American ethanol is typically produced by fermenting sugar from corn starch. Other countries like Brazil depend on sugar derived from sugarcane.

In 2011, the US Environmental Protection Agency approved the use of E15 after research into its pollution effects.

But according to officials, it is currently available at only 2,300 gas stations in the country.

What has Biden announced?

Speaking at a bioethanol production plant in the Midwestern state of Iowa, Biden said Tuesday that the EPA would lift a ban on the sale of E15 between June 1 and September 15 — a barrier that was put in place to limit air pollution.

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This is because ethanol evaporates more easily and more easily turns into smog, which is especially problematic in the hot summer and summer sun.

In 2018, then President Donald Trump also wanted to remove this ban as a concession to farmers amid the trade war with China.

But a court decision ultimately overturned Trump’s decision.

According to the White House, at today’s prices, the E15 can save an average of 10 cents per gallon of gasoline (4.5 liters).

environmental consequences

Although biofuels are touted for their ability to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, there is a need to assess the environmental impact of bioethanol, including greenhouse gas emissions related to the crops needed to produce it.

And “the carbon balance of ethanol relative to gasoline is not as good as originally predicted,” Tyler Lark, a scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, told AFP.

In 2005, Congress passed the “Renewable Fuel Standard,” which required transportation fuels to include the amount of biofuels that increased over time.

The law was further expanded in 2007. As a result, 2.8 million additional hectares of corn were grown between 2008 and 2016, according to a study published in February in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Lark. The first author of the PNAS study said the consequences of converting land to corn cultivation at the time had been underestimated.

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“When you do that, you plow other types of land that can sequester carbon and you apply additional nitrogen fertilizer to grow that corn,” he said.

In addition, some fertilizers used to grow corn emit nitrous oxide (N2O), a very potent greenhouse gas.

Thus, greenhouse gas emissions related to gasoline or ethanol are ultimately comparable, the study concludes.

There are other harmful consequences as well – including the seepage of fertilizers into groundwater, and the destruction of wildlife habitats to make way for corn fields.

health hazard

Once in the tank, bioethanol emits less CO2 per liter than conventional fuels, but has less energy per volume and therefore requires more.

In addition, “it produces acetaldehyde which is a carcinogen, formaldehyde which is a carcinogen and both of them are two of the five most potent ozone producers in photochemical smog,” explained Mark Jacobson, a professor of environmental engineering at Stanford University.

Ground-level ozone represents a major health hazard, causing many respiratory problems, including asthma. To Jacobson, both gasoline and biofuels are “terrible.”

“It’s bad for both the climate and air pollution, and spending money on it is taking money away from real solutions” such as electric vehicles, he concluded.

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