Boots & Sabers

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1224, 15 Nov 17

Study: Ethanol Policies Drove Massive Release of Carbon

It’s almost as if the ethanol policies weren’t about the environment and were more about driving money into the pockets of special interests. Hmmmm…..

Federal ethanol subsidies aimed at slowing climate change have triggered the release to the atmosphere of about 30 million tons of carbon a year as farmers have cleared land to plant more crops for production of the renewable fuel, UW-Madison researchers said Wednesday.

The first comprehensive measurement of climate damage associated with ethanol was being presented at a conference in Texas by its lead author, graduate student Tyler Lark, and graduate research assistant Shawn Seth. The study will be submitted to a journal for peer review within weeks, said geography professor Holly Gibbs, who is also an author.

The researchers spent years examining satellite imagery and high-resolution maps showing the vegetation and soil types on land before it was cleared for new crop acreage.


The researchers determined the amounts of grasslands, prairie, wetlands and wooded parcels that were gobbled up from 2008 to 2012 during a period of high crop prices after federal policies began pushing ethanol as an environmentally-friendly fuel that could constrain burning of fossil fuels in cars.

A portion of the carbon was released when grasslands were burned, but plowing up soil exposed organic matter and began the process of decomposition began the slower release of about 75 percent of the carbon, Gibbs said. Most of that carbon would be released from soil over a period of decades, but some could take a century or more, she said.


1224, 15 November 2017


  1. dad29

    Nah, not special interests.  It’s the Russians.

    And Grassley, the Whore of Iowa.

  2. jjf

    I thought you weren’t allowed to use science to prove things.

  3. Le Roi du Nord

    Ethanol was sold as a way to become energy independent.  Environmental benefits were secondary, especially when dealing with the inputs required for increased corn production. Lots of corn farmers and early ethanol producers made a bunch of money, but at the cost to the environment and natural habitat.   Cellulosic/biomass ethanol production would have been a better choice.  But the leadership both in WI and now in the US have defunded most of the research in that area.

    Full disclosure:  I was never in favor of any ethanol subsidies, nor the fuel mandate.

  4. billphoto

    As starch and sugar based ethanol has the same fundamental input/yield problem as biochemical and thermochemical ethanol, that is, it takes more energy to produce the product than is generated when it is used – I have heard numbers as high as 70% – and, without the government subsidies and fuel mandate, this product would never be used.

    Considering the hidden footprint of pollution generated in the production of batteries for hybrids and electric vehicles, my F-150 running ‘real’ gasoline (I am lucky enough to have a station nearby) certainly appears to be in the environmentally friendly category.

    I never knew I was a ‘greenie.’

  5. Kevin Scheunemann

    I am warming to ethanol now.

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