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Checkbiotech: Green ethanol provides environmental advantages
Posted by: Prof. Dr. M. Raupp (IP Logged)
Date: August 30, 2005 06:53AM ; ;

Ethanol made from biotech corn yields more environmentally friendly
alternative to gasoline, August 2005.

Biotechnology is enhancing the important environmental benefits that
ethanol, a plant-derived biofuel, already is delivering.

Two of the greatest environmental benefits from ethanol are cleaner air and
water. Ethanol has been shown to reduce the emission of harmful air
pollutants, including greenhouse gases linked to global warming. Ethanol
also is replacing methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE), a substance that's
harmful to drinking water, as an additive in gasoline.

Ethanol increasingly is being derived from biotech corn varieties, which
yield other environmental benefits. Besides making ethanol more
energy-efficient to produce, biotechnology enables farmers to adopt
environmentally friendly growing techniques known as conservation tillage.

The environmental benefits of "green" ethanol may be further enhanced if
biotechnology research is successful in a promising new area: unlocking the
energy potential that's contained not just in the corn kernel but in all
types of organic material, from plant waste to lawn clippings to leaves.

Cleaner air and water

Multiple studies have shown that ethanol contributes to cleaner air and
water. Gary Whitten, Ph.D., principal of Smog Reyes, a California-based firm
that provides air-quality consulting and research, recently found that
gasoline containing 10 percent ethanol:

Reduces carbon monoxide emissions by up to 30 percent.

Reduces fine particulate matter emissions by 50 percent. Such emissions pose
a health threat to children, senior citizens and those with respiratory

Reduces emissions of smog-forming volatile organic compounds by 12 percent.1

In addition, Argonne National Laboratory, a U.S. Department of Energy
laboratory operated by the University of Chicago, found that gas with 10
percent ethanol produced a 12 percent to 19 percent reduction in greenhouse
gas emissions linked to global warming. The first scientific study to make
the connection between greenhouse gases and global warming was published in
1957,2 although some question the link.

The Pew Center on Global Climate Change voiced an increasingly common
opinion when it stated that increased use of renewable fuels, such as
ethanol, provides the best option for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from
transportation over the next 15 years. With an eye toward greenhouse gas
emissions limits mandated by the Kyoto Protocol, more and more countries
require gasoline to contain anywhere from 2 percent to 25 percent ethanol.3

In addition, ethanol is the preferred oxygenate (an oxygen-boosting additive
that helps fuel burn more completely and, therefore, more cleanly) in the
federal winter oxygenated fuels program and the reformulated gasoline
program in cities that exceed public health standards for carbon monoxide
and ozone pollution.4

Along with clean-air standards, concerns about water contamination also are
driving the adoption of ethanol as a fuel source. Because it's
water-soluble, nontoxic and biodegradable, ethanol has emerged as a
preferred alternative to the gas additive MTBE. In 2004, many states,
including California, New York and Connecticut, banned the use of MTBE in
reformulated gasoline to protect drinking-water supplies.5

Partly as a result of this switch, ethanol-blended gas has surpassed
MTBE-blended gas as the second most common fuel in the United States, behind
only conventional gasoline.

Biotech corn and ethanol's environmental benefits

The biotech corn varieties harvested for ethanol production leave a soft
environmental "footprint" that further contributes to air and water quality,
benefits wildlife and helps to conserve fuel.

Because many biotech crops have built-in protection against either weeds or
insects ? and sometimes both ? farmers can make fewer passes with tractors
over fields to control unwanted pests and weeds, and leave more crop residue
on the soil. The benefits of this conservation-tillage farming include:

Energy savings. Farmers who use conservation tillage ? including those who
plant biotech crops ? tend to use fewer fossil fuels to produce them.
According to the Conservation Technology Information Center (CTIC), in 2002,
conservation tillage reduced enough tractor passes in U.S. fields to save
306 million gallons of fuel.6

Improved animal habitat. A study by the CTIC showed that conservation
tillage, which has increased 35 percent since biotech crops were first
introduced in 1996, creates better habitat for wildlife ? especially birds
and small mammals that thrive in the protective cover of no-till fields.7

Cleaner water through reduced erosion. Conservation tillage, which reduces
soil erosion and runoff into streams and lakes, saved an estimated $3.5
billion in 2002 by lowering maintenance costs for dredging rivers, cleaning
road ditches and treating drinking water, according to the CTIC. Leaving
stalks, chaff and other crop residue on fields can reduce erosion by 90
percent or more, and those practices save nearly 1 billion tons of soil per
year.8 Lower levels of phosphorous and nitrogen in lakes, streams and the
Gulf of Mexico also were attributed to reduced tillage.9

By helping protect and provide better cover for topsoil, conservation
tillage also helps limit the release of greenhouse gases into the
atmosphere. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that soil contains about
three-quarters of the world's carbon stored on land.10 When cultivated soil
is exposed to air, organic matter is oxidized, and carbon is released into
the atmosphere as harmful carbon dioxide.

Finally, biotechnology is making the production of ethanol much more
efficient ? refuting a frequent past criticism that it requires more energy
to create ethanol than it yields.

Partly due to production gains made possible by Bt corn ? which helped boost
the average U.S. corn yield by 28 percent between the mid-1990s and 2004 ?
and partly because of biotech-derived enzymes that enhance the production
process, ethanol now produces 67 percent more energy than the cost to grow
and produce it, according to the National Corn Grower's Association's "2005
World of Corn" publication.11 Over the past 15 years, the cost to produce
ethanol has been cut by more than half, and gains in efficiency continue to
be made.12

New developments

Ethanol is derived from the cellulose in corn kernels. The key to reducing
the cost, increasing the availability and enhancing the environmental
benefits of ethanol will be to unlock the energy potential in the cellulose
found in all plant matter ? from perennial grasses and fast-growing willow
or poplar trees to plant waste, such as corn stalks, sawdust and grass

Cellulose and hemicellulose, the main components of plants, consist of
sugars tied together in long chains. New technology can break those chains
into their component sugars and ferment them to make ethanol.13 New
biocatalysts ? genetically enhanced enzymes, yeasts and bacteria ? make it
possible to produce biomass ethanol from any plant or plant product,
including paper.

The ability to process cellulose could make the environment the biggest
winner. For example, perennial grasses and fast-growing trees require few
chemical inputs and further hold down fuel consumption on the farm by
sprouting again after each harvest. Their extensive root systems can
decrease soil erosion and improve water quality by reducing runoff and
removing nitrates from soil before they reach surface or ground water.14 And
they provide habitat for wildlife.

Expected advances in biotechnology could eventually make clean-burning fuel
from all sorts of organic refuse ? including the 280 million tons of lawn
clippings, leaves, sawdust, wood pulp and other waste generated every year
in the United States.15 The commercialization of cellulosic ethanol plants
already involves major projects intended to create "biorefineries" that use
renewable raw materials to produce ethanol and, much like the petroleum
industry, a variety of other chemicals and products such as packaging and
packing material.

These biotechnology research efforts could further strengthen the case for
ethanol as a sustainable, home-grown source for renewable green energy, and
enhance the benefits that it already provides for the air, soil, water and

For more information:

Canadian Renewable Fuels Association

Biotech Biofuels FAQ ? Council for Biotechnology Information

Green Biofuels Could Boost Canadian Agriculture, Economy and Environment ?
Council for Biotechnology Information

New Study Shows Biotech Crops Boost Farm Income, Reduce Spraying ? Council
for Biotechnology Information

Conservation Tillage and Plant Biotechnology: How New Technologies Can
Improve the Environment by Reducing the Need to Plow ? Conservation
Technology Information Center press release and study

Conservation Tillage: Biotech Crops Help Promote Soil and Fuel
Conservation ? Council for Biotechnology Information

Alternative Fuels Data Center ? U.S. Department of Energy

Biomass Program ? U.S. Department of Energy


1. Smog Reyes, February 2004

2. Sheehan, John J. Feedstock Availability and the Role of Bioethanol in
Climate Change. A paper presented at the 13th International Symposium on
Alcohol Fuels in Stockholm, Sweden. July 2000, p. 2.

3. "Homegrown for the Homeland: Ethanol Industry Outlook 2005," Renewable
Fuels Association, [].

4. "Ethanol and the Environment Q & A," Renewable Fuels Association,

5. "Homegrown for the Homeland: Ethanol Industry Outlook 2005," Renewable
Fuels Association, [].

6. "Plant Biotechnology Improves Wildlife Habitat, Water Quality," Council
for Biotechnology Information.

7. "Plant Biotechnology Improves Wildlife Habitat, Water Quality," Council
for Biotechnology Information.

8. "Plant Biotechnology Improves Wildlife Habitat, Water Quality," Council
for Biotechnology Information.

9. "Plant Biotechnology Improves Wildlife Habitat, Water Quality," Council
for Biotechnology Information.

10. The DOE Center for Research on Enhancing Carbon Sequestration in
Terrestrial Ecosystems, FAQs, page 5,

11. "2005 World of Corn," National Corn Growers Association,

12. Lugar, Richard G. and Woolsey, James. The New Petroleum. Foreign
Affairs, Vol. 78, No. 1, January/February 1999, p. 100.

13. "Ethanol," Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, U.S. Department of
Energy, [].

14. "Energy Crops and the Environment," Oak Ridge National Laboratory,

15. "Briefing Summary, Elements of a BioBased Economy: BioBased Energy,
Fuels and Products," Environmental and Energy Study Institute, May 20, 2003,
[] Biomass/5.20.03


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