Well-to-Wheels Energy and Greenhouse Gas Emission Results and Issues of Fuel Ethanol

The use of fuel ethanol in the United States has increased from fewer than 200 million gallons (gal) at the beginning of the US fuel ethanol program in 1980 to 6.5 billion gal in 2007. The recent federally adopted Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 established the goal of 36 billion gal of biofuel use in the United States by 2022, of which 15 billion gal will be corn-based ethanol. In addition, the promotion of low-carbon fuel standards (LCFS) by California and several other states could help increased use of ethanol, especially cellulosic ethanol. In the United States, corn ethanol is produced through the fermentation of corn in dry and wet milling plants, most of which are located in the Midwest. In 2006, about 82% of the total US fuel ethanol was produced from dry milling plants, and the remaining 18% from wet milling plants (Renewable Fuels Association, 2007). Ethanol can be produced from cellulosic biomass through fermentation of cellulose and semicellulose. The US Department of Energy (DOE) has been undertaking extensive research and development (R&D) efforts for cellulosic ethanol technologies. Since 1997, Argonne National Laboratory has been evaluating the energy and emission effects of fuel ethanol relative to those of petroleum gasoline. In 1997, Argonne National Laboratory published its findings from an ethanol analysis conducted for the State of Illinois (Wang et al., 1997). With DOE support, Argonne National Laboratory has continued its efforts to analyze the effects of fuel ethanol (Wang et al., 1999a,b; Wang et al., 2003; Wu et al., 2005; and Wu et al., 2006). As fuel ethanol production and usage in the United States have rapidly expanded in the past several years, corn ethanol plant technologies have been evolving. In addition, while corn yield per acre continues to increase, concerns have been raised that increased corn farming could result in switches in crop farming in the United States and potential land use changes in other countries. These factors together could cause different energy and greenhouse gas (GHG) emission results for corn ethanol. This chapter presents Argonne National Laboratory’s updated energy and GHG emission results for fuel ethanol.

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 Record created 2017-04-01, last modified 2018-01-22

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