Replacing gasoline with corn ethanol results in significant environmental problem-shifting
Environ. Sci. Technol.
Previous studies on the life-cycle environmental impacts of corn ethanol and gasoline focused almost exclusively on energy balance and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and largely overlooked the influence of regional differences in agricultural practices. This study compares the environmental impact of gasoline and E85 taking into consideration 12 different environmental impacts and regional differences among 19 corngrowing states. Results show that E85 does not outperform gasoline when a wide spectrum of impacts is considered. If the impacts are aggregated using weights developed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), overall, E85 generates approximately 6% to 108% (23% on average) greater impact compared with gasoline, depending on where corn is produced, primarily because corn production induces significant eutrophication impacts and requires intensive irrigation. If GHG emissions from the indirect land use changes are considered, the differences increase to between 16% and 118% (33% on average). Our study indicates that replacing gasoline with corn ethanol may only result in shifting the net environmental impacts primarily toward increased eutrophication and greater water scarcity. These results suggest that the environmental criteria used in the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) be re-evaluated to include additional categories of environmental impact beyond GHG emissions.