The Biden administration is to announce regulatory guidance on subsidies for corn-based “sustainable aviation fuel” that could end up raising food prices and incentivizing environmentally damaging practices.
The guidance, which is expected to be released later this year, would allow SAFs made from corn-based ethanol to more easily qualify for tax credits under the Inflation reduction law (IRA) if terminated, seconds to Reuters. Provided the switch happens, corn-based ethanol would be poised to play a major role in the administration's goal of SAFs meeting 100 percent of demand by 2050 to counter climate change .
However, corn-based ethanol aviation fuel could have hidden environmental and economic costs that may cause more problems than it solves, experts say.
Reliance on corn-based ethanol aviation fuel “won't do much for global warming, but it will do a lot to benefit the renewable fuel industry and also indirectly benefit corn prices,” he said professor C. Ford Runge, distinguished. McKnight University Professor of Applied Economics and Law at the University of Minnesota, told the Daily Caller News Foundation.
The costs of corn ethanol aviation fuel will be “borne by consumers, taxpayers and the environment,” just as it has in the past when government policies have mandated its use in gasoline for automobiles, Runge told the DCNF. “These policy efforts, largely bipartisan and well-funded by the renewable fuel lobby, have been quite successful, and they are stumbling despite evidence that ethanol is neither particularly efficient nor environmentally friendly.”
If the Biden administration's goals are met, 35 billion gallons of SAF will be used each year to boost air travel and commerce. seconds at the Department of Energy (DOE). The goal is to reduce carbon emissions, but corn ethanol jet fuel may not reduce emissions enough to offset the other environmental and economic costs associated with its production.
“SAFs are definitely not a climate solution at all, let alone an effective solution,” Mark Jacobson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University, told the DCNF. “Ethanol production from corn increases CO2 equivalent emissions by 0-24% relative to gasoline and increases the price of corn (making it more expensive to eat).”
Currently, about 40% of the country's corn crop is used to create ethanol, up from 10% in the mid-2000s. seconds in the New York Times. About 100 million acres of American land, almost all of it in the Midwest, is used to grow corn. Meanwhile, major airlines are beginning to invest in long-term SAF plans and facilities.
More ethanol production means less corn is available for animal feed, forcing farmers to pay higher prices to feed their animals; this increase in costs is invariably passed on to consumers, seconds to Farm Aid, a farmer advocacy organization. In addition, production tends to decline as farmers deal with rising feed costs, which also puts upward pressure on the prices consumers pay for chicken, beef, pork, eggs and dairy products.
Corn products are also used in a wide range of processed foods, so those products would be subject to the same dynamics, according to Farm Aid. Also, rising corn yields could force farmers to grow less wheat and soybeans; this result also makes cereals and grains more expensive.
Beyond the economic impacts that a boost in corn ethanol production could have, a substantial increase in corn production is likely to have considerable environmental impacts as well.
Future reliance on SAF corn-based ethanol to meet the nation's flight needs would add stress to the nation's groundwater aquifers, according to the NYT. Corn is a water-intensive crop to produce, and it can take hundreds of gallons of water to produce just one gallon of ethanol; America's aquifers, especially in places like Kansas and Nebraska, already face high levels of stress, largely due to agricultural irrigation, seconds to a separate NYT data analysis.
Finally, the corn is transformed into ethanol and then transported to be used to power airplanes.
“Fuel combustion (in this case, in the airplane) is always the hardest on the environment in terms of air pollutants and carbon dioxide (and wakes in the case of aircraft),” Jacobson told the DCNF . “Fuel production is important, though. Emissions occur from fertilizing, irrigating, cultivating, mining the corn, transporting the corn to a refinery, refining the corn into ethanol, transporting the ethanol (in train, truck or barge, as ethanol cannot be transported by pipeline).
The White House, the Department of Agriculture and the DOE did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
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