Use of ethanol as a transportation fuel in the United States has grown from 76 dam 3 in 1980 to over 40.1 hm 3 in 2009 — and virtually all of it has been produced from corn. It has been debated whether using corn ethanol results in any energy and greenhouse gas benefits. This issue has been especially critical in the past several years, when indirect effects, such as indirect land use changes, associated with U.S. corn ethanol production are considered in evaluation. In the past three years, modeling of direct and indirect land use changes related to the production of corn ethanol has advanced significantly. Meanwhile, technology improvements in key stages of the ethanol life cycle (such as corn farming and ethanol production) have been made. With updated simulation results of direct and indirect land use changes and observed technology improvements in the past several years, we conducted a life-cycle analysis of ethanol and show that at present and in the near future, using corn ethanol reduces greenhouse gas emission by more than 20%, relative to those of petroleum gasoline. On the other hand, second-generation ethanol could achieve much higher reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. In a broader sense, sound evaluation of U.S. biofuel policies should account for both unanticipated consequences and technology potentials. We maintain that the usefulness of such evaluations is to provide insight into how to prevent unanticipated consequences and how to promote efficient technologies with policy intervention.

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