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Retrospective Analysis of U.S. Corn Ethanol Industry for 20052019: Implication for Greenhouse Gas Emission Reductions


Lee, Uisung; Kwon, Hoyoung; Wu, May; Wang, Michael


Since 2000, corn ethanol production in the USA has increased significantly from 1.6 to 15 billion gallons (6.1 to 57 billion liters) due to supportive biofuel policies. In this study, we conduct a retrospective analysis of the changes in US corn ethanol greenhouse gas emission intensity, sometimes known as carbon intensity (CI), over the 15years from 2005 to 2019. Our analysis shows a significant decrease in CI: from 58 to 45 gCO2e/MJ of corn ethanol (a 23% reduction). This is due to several factors. Corn grain yield has increased continuously, reaching 168 bushels/acre (10.5 metric tons/ha, a 15% increase) while fertilizer inputs per acre have remained constant, resulting in decreased intensities of fertilizer inputs (e.g., 7% and 18% reduction in nitrogen and potash use per bushel of corn grain harvested, respectively). A 6.5% increase in ethanol yield, from 2.70 to 2.86gal/bushel corn (0.402 to 0.427Lkg1 corn), and a 24% reduction in ethanol plant energy use, from 32 000 to 25 000 Btu/gal ethanol (9.0 to 6.9 MJL1 ethanol) also helped reduce the CI. The total GHG emission reduction benefits through the reduction in the CI and increased ethanol production volume are estimated at 140 million metric tons (MMT) from 2005 to 2019 in the ethanol industry. Displacement of petroleum gasoline by corn ethanol in the transportation fuel market resulted in a total GHG emission reduction benefit of 544MMT CO2e during the period 2005 to 2019. 2021 Argonne National Laboratory. Biofuels, Bioproducts and Biorefining published by Society of Industrial Chemistry and John Wiley & Sons Ltd