A study from a conservation group outlines potential environmental pitfalls for the fast-growing ethanol industry. The report released by Environmental Defense says ethanol production presents particular problems in terms of water use and greenhouse gas emissions. Environmental Defense scientist Tim Male says in Iowa, the top ethanol-producing state, there’s an increasingly higher demand for water to run the plants.
Male says: "It’s sometimes easy, especially in a situation such as with ethanol, where increases in production are happening so fast, that some things get left out of the mix. Some considerations get left behind and largely what our report is calling for is just a more thoughtful process of thinking about these environmental concerns and local concerns as production moves forward."
Iowa has 29 plants running now and 18 more under construction or expanding. This year, they are expected to make almost two-billion gallons of the fuel. Male says the study shows disappointing trends, but he adds, there are steps the industry and government can follow to help.
He says as the U.S. develops bigger markets for ethanol and other renewable fuels, a standard should be set that helps the market figure out which fuels are better, or worse, and give consumers the information. Male says those rankings should be based on things like greenhouse gas emissions, carbon emissions, water use issues and other environmental criteria.
Male says another solution would be using milo, sorghum or switchgrass to produce ethanol as they require less water. Besides water, Male says there are other issues arising within the ethanol industry. He says: "If you’re using coal to produce (ethanol), you’re ending up emitting more carbon dioxide than you’d save at the end of the day from just using conventional gasoline. That’s a really unfortunate development. In contrast to that, there are plants that are going in, and some have already gone in, where the production process is fueled by using manure."
Male says some plants are utilizing waste water while others are finding ways of recycling the water they use by putting it back into production.