New Study on Corn Waste Biofuel’s Emissions: Worthy Topic, Flawed Conclusion

Posted by Jeremy Martin
Apr 25, 2014 2:10 PM ET

A recent study in Nature Climate Change is attracting a lot of attention because of its headline grabbing claim that cellulosic ethanol made from crop residues produces higher carbon emissions than gasoline. (See related blog post: “Corn Waste for Biofuel Could Boost Emissions, Study Says.”)

Professor Adam Liska of the University of Nebraska Lincoln, who led the study, is absolutely right to focus on soil carbon in the lifecycle of corn based biofuels (taking crop residues off the ground, Liska concluded, keeps them from trapping carbon in the soil and allows that carbon to escape into the atmosphere).  (Take the quiz: “What You Don’t Know About Biofuel.”)
Regrettably, the narrow framing of his analysis set the debate up as a choice between pursuing cellulosic biofuels or calling off the whole project and driving home in our gasoline-powered cars.  The real solution is biofuels that reduce carbon in the atmosphere while protecting the carbon in soils.