Ask riders about ethanol and you’ll probably get some audible hissing—and maybe even the reflexive, protective hugging of a fuel tank or two. While we’ve long understood that ethanol can have ill effects on bikes, a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that it may have other downsides, too. Ethanol was supposed to be environmentally advantageous as compared to gasoline—but if this study is correct, it seems that it may not be doing that, either. 

The study was first published online in PNAS on February 14, 2022, and will appear in print in the March 1, 2022 issue. In the study, researchers dove deeper into how the U.S. Renewable Fuel Standard’s outcomes were measuring up to the country’s goals. Instead of simply limiting its observations to any one part of the corn-based ethanol production and consumption processes, researchers gathered data on all parts of the ethanol production cycle.  

Upon taking important things like land use changes, fertilizer increases, and the like into account, researchers reported findings that corn-based ethanol is 24 percent more carbon-intensive than gasoline production. If its numbers are even in the ballpark of being accurate, that’s concerning. 

While this specific set of observations only apply to corn-based ethanol produced in the U.S., it still could have a major impact on global biofuel production and how it’s considered abroad. It should be noted here that this research was funded in part by both the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Wildlife Federation, among others. The full list of supporting organizations can be found in the Acknowledgements section at the end of the paper, which we’ll link in our Sources if you want to read it for yourself. 

“It basically reaffirms what many suspected, that corn ethanol is not a climate-friendly fuel and we need to accelerate the shift toward better renewable fuels, as well as make improvements in efficiency and electrification,” lead study author and scientist Tyler Lark said in a statement.  

This study’s release comes shortly before the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is expected to propose updated 2023 requirements to the country’s biofuel policies. According to Reuters, the current requirements run through the end of 2022, and any updated ones should be announced around May, 2022 to give ample time to prepare ahead of their enactment in 2023. 

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