Rice University, alongside the University of California at Davis, recently published a study analyzing the future of biofuel production and how the changing climate will affect current regulations. The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 has set a requirement that over the next ten years, the production of ethanol from corn be increased drastically to cut emissions from vehicles while also lessening our dependence on foreign oil sources. This mandate requires the United States to produce 15 billion gallons of ethanol from corn by the year 2022. By blending this ethanol with conventional gasoline, we could drastically change our environment by decreasing emissions and make the country more self-sufficient in producing fuels.
The study performed by Rice University and UC at Davis suggests that it may be difficult, if not impossible, to meet the mandate. According to the study, as our planet continues to get hotter the production of corn will be decreased overall and the cost of production will increase. As the study shows, 40 years from now the water needs to irrigate corn will increase by 9%, and the production of corn will decrease by 7% at the same time. This will result in an increase in cost of ethanol production due to the increased irrigation costs and a lessened supply of the vegetable. As the study suggests, if the mandates stay in place as they are now, producing the required ethanol is likely not the best idea for consumers or for the planet. Not only will it be more expensive, but it could also further enhance a lack of water that is likely to happen within the next 40 years.
Pedro Alvarez, the George R. Brown Professor and chair of Rice’s Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, spoke of the analysis in Ag Professional:
“Whereas biofuels offer a means to use more renewable energy while decreasing reliance on imported oil, it is important to recognize the tradeoffs. One important unintended consequence may be the aggravation of water scarcity by increased irrigation in some regions.”
The conclusion of the article, which can be seen at Environmental Science Technology, states that the corn ethanol elements of the Renewable Fuel Standard should be reevaluated given projected future climate change.