The potential role for corn ethanol in meeting the energy needs of the United States in 2016-2030

Oct 2008

Ethanol produced from corn starch is the most widely produced renewable liquid fuel in the U.S. production for calendar year 2007 is projected at 7.1 billion gallons, up from 4.9 billion gallons in 2006 and 3.9 billion gallons in 2005. Conservative projections show production at 9.0 billion gallons in 2008 and 10.5 billion gallons in 2009. By 2015 production is expected to be at least 15 billion gallons if market demand and public policy support that level of production.
The purpose of this analysis is to explore the potential for corn ethanol production in 2016-2030. Corn production is expected to continue to increase after 2015 while reducing its impact on the environment on a per bushel produced basis. The same is true for corn starch ethanol on a per gallon basis.
All facets of corn ethanol production will change from now to 2030, but three factors standout above the rest.
First, corn yields will continue to increase. This will decrease the amount of fossil fuels used to produce each bushel of corn and gallon of ethanol.
Second, while corn yield per acre increases, the amount of nitrogen used per bushel of corn produced is expected to continue to decline. Nitrous oxide, N2O, is a greenhouse gas that is formed when nitrogen fertilizer is applied to the soil and the lower amount of nitrogen applied per bushel of corn produced will lower GHG emissions per bushel of corn.
Third, ethanol plants will continue to improve efficiencies and reduce the amount of fossil fuels used per gallon of ethanol produced.
This analysis assumes that the price of petroleum through 2030 will remain at historically high levels so that consumers seek out alternative fuel sources for automobiles and trucks and national government officials consider petroleum supplies and use as economic and strategic policy issues.

By: R. Korves (Illinois Corn Marketing Board)

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