Water, energy, and carbon footprints of bio-ethanol from the U.S. and Brazil

M.M. Mekonnen (Corresponding Author), T.L. Romanelli, C. Ray, Arjen Y. Hoekstra, A.J. Liska, Christopher M.U. Neale

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Abstract

Driven by biofuel policies, which aim to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and increase domestic energy supply, global production and consumption of bioethanol have doubled between 2007 and 2016, with rapid growth in corn-based bioethanol in the U.S. and sugar cane-based bioethanol in Brazil. Advances in crop yields, energy use efficiency in fertilizer production, biomass-to-ethanol conversion rates, and energy efficiency in ethanol production have improved the energy balance and GHG emission reduction potential of bioethanol. In the current study, the water, energy, and carbon footprints of bioethanol from corn in the U.S. and sugar cane in Brazil were assessed. The results show that U.S. corn bioethanol has a smaller water footprint (541 L water/L bioethanol) than Brazilian sugar cane bioethanol (1115 L water/L bioethanol). Brazilian sugar cane bioethanol has, however, a better energy balance (17.7 MJ/L bioethanol) and smaller carbon footprint (38.5 g CO2e/MJ) than U.S. bioethanol, which has an energy balance of 11.2 MJ/L bioethanol and carbon footprint of 44.9 g CO2e/MJ. The results show regional differences in the three footprints and highlight the need to take these differences into consideration to understand the implications of biofuel production for local water resources, net energy production, and climate change mitigation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)14508-14518
JournalEnvironmental science & technology
Volume52
Issue number24
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2018

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Carbon footprint
Bioethanol
carbon footprint
sugar cane
ethanol
Ethanol
energy balance
Water
maize
biofuel
energy
Sugar cane
greenhouse gas
water footprint
water
energy use
energy efficiency
footprint
crop yield
Energy balance

Keywords

  • UT-Hybrid-D

Cite this

Mekonnen, M.M. ; Romanelli, T.L. ; Ray, C. ; Hoekstra, Arjen Y. ; Liska, A.J. ; Neale, Christopher M.U. / Water, energy, and carbon footprints of bio-ethanol from the U.S. and Brazil. In: Environmental science & technology. 2018 ; Vol. 52, No. 24. pp. 14508-14518.
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Water, energy, and carbon footprints of bio-ethanol from the U.S. and Brazil. / Mekonnen, M.M. (Corresponding Author); Romanelli, T.L.; Ray, C.; Hoekstra, Arjen Y.; Liska, A.J.; Neale, Christopher M.U.

In: Environmental science & technology, Vol. 52, No. 24, 2018, p. 14508-14518.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

TY - JOUR

T1 - Water, energy, and carbon footprints of bio-ethanol from the U.S. and Brazil

AU - Mekonnen, M.M.

AU - Romanelli, T.L.

AU - Ray, C.

AU - Hoekstra, Arjen Y.

AU - Liska, A.J.

AU - Neale, Christopher M.U.

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AB - Driven by biofuel policies, which aim to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and increase domestic energy supply, global production and consumption of bioethanol have doubled between 2007 and 2016, with rapid growth in corn-based bioethanol in the U.S. and sugar cane-based bioethanol in Brazil. Advances in crop yields, energy use efficiency in fertilizer production, biomass-to-ethanol conversion rates, and energy efficiency in ethanol production have improved the energy balance and GHG emission reduction potential of bioethanol. In the current study, the water, energy, and carbon footprints of bioethanol from corn in the U.S. and sugar cane in Brazil were assessed. The results show that U.S. corn bioethanol has a smaller water footprint (541 L water/L bioethanol) than Brazilian sugar cane bioethanol (1115 L water/L bioethanol). Brazilian sugar cane bioethanol has, however, a better energy balance (17.7 MJ/L bioethanol) and smaller carbon footprint (38.5 g CO2e/MJ) than U.S. bioethanol, which has an energy balance of 11.2 MJ/L bioethanol and carbon footprint of 44.9 g CO2e/MJ. The results show regional differences in the three footprints and highlight the need to take these differences into consideration to understand the implications of biofuel production for local water resources, net energy production, and climate change mitigation.

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