Well-to-wheels energy use and greenhouse gas emissions of ethanol from corn, sugarcane and cellulosic biomass for US use

Michael Wang*, Jeongwoo Han, Jennifer B. Dunn, Hao Cai, Amgad Elgowainy

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

229 Scopus citations

Abstract

Globally, bioethanol is the largest volume biofuel used in the transportation sector, with corn-based ethanol production occurring mostly in the US and sugarcane-based ethanol production occurring mostly in Brazil. Advances in technology and the resulting improved productivity in corn and sugarcane farming and ethanol conversion, together with biofuel policies, have contributed to the significant expansion of ethanol production in the past 20 years. These improvements have increased the energy and greenhouse gas (GHG) benefits of using bioethanol as opposed to using petroleum gasoline. This article presents results from our most recently updated simulations of energy use and GHG emissions that result from using bioethanol made from several feedstocks. The results were generated with the GREET (Greenhouse gases, Regulated Emissions, and Energy use in Transportation) model. In particular, based on a consistent and systematic model platform, we estimate life-cycle energy consumption and GHG emissions from using ethanol produced from five feedstocks: corn, sugarcane, corn stover, switchgrass and miscanthus. We quantitatively address the impacts of a few critical factors that affect life-cycle GHG emissions from bioethanol. Even when the highly debated land use change GHG emissions are included, changing from corn to sugarcane and then to cellulosic biomass helps to significantly increase the reductions in energy use and GHG emissions from using bioethanol. Relative to petroleum gasoline, ethanol from corn, sugarcane, corn stover, switchgrass and miscanthus can reduce life-cycle GHG emissions by 19-48%, 40-62%, 90-103%, 77-97% and 101-115%, respectively. Similar trends have been found with regard to fossil energy benefits for the five bioethanol pathways.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number045905
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Volume7
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - Oct 2012

Keywords

  • biofuels
  • cellulosic ethanol
  • corn ethanol
  • energy balance
  • greenhouse gas emissions
  • life-cycle analysis
  • sugarcane ethanol

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health

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