Ethanol decent on efficiency but not on greenhouse gases, study finds

The heated debate over biofuels took another sharp turn this week: New research in the journal Science claims that replacing fossil fuels with corn-based ethanol is energy-efficient (contrary to some previous studies), but doesn’t do much to cut greenhouse-gas pollution. Researchers from UC-Berkeley determined that ethanol results in a net energy gain of about 20 percent, but that the pollution generated in processing the corn offsets most of ethanol’s gains in greenhouse-gas emissions. Cornell University scientist David Pimentel — author of several studies questioning ethanol’s energy efficiency — disagrees with the findings, saying they failed to factor in farm machinery and overestimated the value of corn byproducts. But all agree that the future of ethanol is not corn, but higher-cellulose plants like switchgrass and willow trees — news the powerful agribusiness and corn lobbies will no doubt try to play down.