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

    Fingerprint

    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

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    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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