Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota – Cellulosic ethanol may be better for human and environmental health than previously recognized when compared to corn ethanol or gasoline, according to new research from the University of Minnesota.
The study, which will be published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, finds that cellulosic ethanol emits smaller amounts of fine particulate matter, an especially harmful component of air pollution. Earlier work showed that cellulosic ethanol and other next-generation biofuels also emit lower levels of greenhouse gas emissions.
“Our work highlights the need to expand the biofuels debate beyond its current focus on climate change to include a wider range of effects, such as their impacts on air quality,” said lead author Jason Hill.
The study is the first to estimate the economic costs to human health and well-being from gasoline, corn-based ethanol, and cellulosic ethanol made from biomass. The authors found that total environmental and health costs of gasoline are about US71 cents per gallon, while an equivalent amount of corn-ethanol fuel costs from 72 cents to about $1.45, depending on the technology used to produce it. Using the same parameters, an equivalent amount of cellulosic ethanol costs from 19 to 32 cents.
The authors looked at pollutants emitted at all stages of the life cycles of the three types of fuel, including when they are produced and used. They studied three methods of producing corn-based ethanol, and four methods for producing cellulosic ethanol.