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2015, DOI:10.1021/es5052588

Cost of abating greenhouse gas emissions with cellulosic ethanol

Environmental Science & Technology

Puneet Dwivedi, Weiwei Wang, Tara Hudiburg, Deepak Jaiswal, William Parton, Stephen Long, Evan DeLucia, and Madhu Khanna


We develop an integrated framework to determine and compare greenhouse gas (GHG) intensities and production costs of cellulosic ethanol derived from corn stover, switchgrass, and miscanthus grown on high and low quality soils for three representative counties in the Eastern United States. This information is critical for assessing the cost-effectiveness of utilizing cellulosic ethanol for mitigating GHG emissions and designing appropriate policy incentives to support cellulosic ethanol production nationwide. We find considerable variations in the GHG intensities and production costs of ethanol across feedstocks and locations mostly due to differences in yields and soil characteristics. As compared to gasoline, the GHG savings from miscanthus-based ethanol ranged between 130% and 156% whereas that from switchgrass ranged between 97% and 135%. The corresponding range for GHG savings with corn stover was 57% to 95% and marginally below the threshold of at least 60% for biofuels classified as cellulosic biofuels under the Renewable Fuels Standard. Estimates of the costs of producing ethanol relative to gasoline imply an abatement cost of at least $48 Mg–1 of GHG emissions (carbon dioxide equivalent) abated and can be used to infer the minimum carbon tax rate needed to induce consumption of cellulosic ethanol.

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The LongLab is supported by many public and private partnerships, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, the UK Government's Department for International Development, the U.S. Department of Energy, and the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy.

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