The True Environmental Impact of Ethanol

It is a fallacy that corn-based ethanol helps air quality. Farming, refining, and transporting corn-based ethanol creates more emissions than the production and use of regular gasoline.

Source: “Life Cycle Air Quality Impacts of Conventional and Alternative Light-Duty Transportation in the United States”, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, December 2014

Growing corn requires water – a lot of water. It also requires fertilizer – a lot of fertilizer. The impact of these requirements: fast depletion of important water sources like the Ogallala Aquifer and increased contamination of surface water sources like the Mississippi River and Gulf of Mexico. Now more than ever, the availability and quality of water is critical.

Source: “Ethanol’s Impacts on Our Water Resources”, Columbia Earth Institute’s State of the Planet, March 2011

The effects of corn-based ethanol go beyond air quality. Ninety million acres of corn are grown in the US annually, with more than 40 percent of that devoted to corn-based ethanol. Every acre of corn grown for ethanol affects biodiversity in ways we do not always realize.

Source: “Biofuels and Biodiversity”, Convention on Biodiversity Series No. 65, September 2012

The False Market Created by Ethanol’s Government Mandate

Corn-based ethanol has not delivered on its promises, and continuing to support the market for this fuel is detrimental. Incentives and mandates unduly raise the price of corn. This may help some farmers but leads to negative impacts on the agricultural industry overall.

Source: “The Effect of the US Ethanol Mandate on Corn Prices”, Our Energy Policy with research from University of California Davis and University of California Berkeley

The Failure of Ethanol in America’s Energy Independence

After decades of relying on foreign sources for much of our fuel needs, the US is now facing a new reality: exporting US oil for the first time in more than 2 decades. This was one of the expected benefits of corn-based ethanol, but new techniques in drilling for oil have done more for the US. If the resources and energy required to produce corn-based ethanol were not so costly, the answer might be different.

Source: “Attention Fractivists: Corn Ethanol Is the Real Environmental Culprit”, Forbes, November 2013.


The Effects of Corn Ethanol on our Food 

The corn used in ethanol production is considered feed corn for livestock, and its use for ethanol has caused two issues. Increased demand has raises the price of the corn for cattle, dairy, chicken and other farmers who rely on it. This in turn makes these products more expensive for consumers around the world.

Source: “The Cost to Developing Countries of US Corn Ethanol Expansion”, Global Development and Environment Institute, October 2012

The Damaging Effects of Ethanol on Small Engines

Not all engines are the same, and for small engines, this causes problems when they are fueled by ethanol. Ethanol is corrosive to metal engine parts, and small engines like motorcycles and law equipment are particularly affected. Shortening the life of these engines means more costs for consumers.

Source: “Gas with Ethanol Can Make Small Engines Fail”, Consumer Reports, March 2013.

The Safety Hazards of Transporting Ethanol

Ethanol cannot be transported by pipeline – it must ride on rails or on highways to get to fuel stations. When you consider that an ethanol fire cannot be put out with water, but must instead by smothered, this becomes a large concern. The transportation of ethanol is a threat to the public and a challenge for emergency responders.

Source: “Public Safety and Transporting Ethanol”, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, June 2008


Rethink Ethanol is a non-profit group dedicated to increasing awareness and initiating changes in ethanol usage in order to help the environment and people.

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