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Reducing Life-Cycle Greenhouse Gas Emissions of Corn Ethanol

Published by the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers, St. Joseph, Michigan

Citation:  2010 Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, June 20 - June 23, 2010  1008902.(doi:10.13031/2013.32038)
Authors:   Nalladurai Kaliyan, R Vance Morey, Douglas G Tiffany
Keywords:   Corn Ethanol, Corn Stover, Combined Heat and Power, Combined Cycle, Life Cycle Assessment

A life-cycle assessment (LCA) of corn ethanol was conducted to determine the reduction in the life-cycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of corn ethanol compared to gasoline by integrating biomass fuels in a 190 million liter (50 million gallon) per year dry-grind corn ethanol plant to replace fossil fuels (natural gas and grid electricity). The biomass fuels studied are corn stover and ethanol co-products [dried distillers grains with solubles (DDGS), and syrup (solubles portion of DDGS)]. The biomass conversion technologies/systems considered are process heat (PH) only systems, combined heat and power (CHP) systems, and biomass integrated gasification combined cycle (BIGCC) systems. The key inventory components of the LCA are corn production, stover production, ethanol production, fertilizer inputs, truck transport, co-product credits, ethanol transport to blending, biomass fuel conversion systems, and combustion of anhydrous ethanol (E100). The life-cycle GHG emission reduction for corn ethanol compared to gasoline (97.7 g CO2e/MJ gasoline) is 42.5% for PH with natural gas, 61.3% for PH with corn stover, 82.2% for CHP with corn stover, 81.6% for IGCC with natural gas, 127.7% for BIGCC with corn stover, and 119.1% for BIGCC with syrup and stover. These GHG emission estimates do not include indirect land use change effects. GHG emission reductions for CHP, IGCC, and BIGCC include power sent to the grid which replaces electricity from coal. BIGCC results in greater reductions in GHG emissions than IGCC with natural gas because biomass is substituted for fossil fuels. In addition, underground sequestration of CO2 gas from the ethanol plants fermentation tank could further reduce the life-cycle GHG emission of corn ethanol by 31.5% compared to gasoline.

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