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By Staff | May 9, 2014

When the use of corn stover is discussed as a feedstock for ethanol for some reason many jump to the conclusion that they are going to rake the ground bare of stalks generating concern and criticism from environmental activists.

Then add to that a new study funded by USDA that claims cellulosic ethanol made from corn stalks scores more poorly than gasoline for GHG reduction. Here we go again.

POET and DuPont both plan to remove approximately one ton of corn stover per acre for their new cellulosic ethanol start-up plants.

That would leave three to five tons of corn stover behind for ground cover, erosion control, and carbon sequestration.

They are leaving far more corn stover behind than they will harvest. What they leave behind is twice what corn stover was produced 30 or more years ago as stover yields correlate with rising corn yields.

Ironically, GMO corn, specifically Bt corn, has increased the amount of corn stover produced as a result of healthier plants due to the insect resistance.

Bt hybrids increased production of corn stover per acre more than they will harvest to make ethanol.

Farmers frankly have more corn stover left after their corn grain harvest than they know what to do with, interfering with minimum tillage, or even no-till operations.

The Renewable Fuels Standard requires that cellulosic biofuels release 60 percent or less in greenhouse gas, considered to be carbon, pollution than gasoline.

The Energy Department’s Argonne Lab 2012 study put cellulosic ethanol at 95 percent better than gasoline for GHG.

The EPA’s study, which assumed half of corn stover would be removed, met the RFS requirement.

DuPont’s own study put GHG reduction from stover-based ethanol at 100 percent better than gasoline.

The DuPont study was the only one that used the proper amount of stover removal per acre as it intend to physically do it.

All other studies used higher levels of stover removal to reach their conclusions.

The Environmental Protection Agency actually got it right saying the new study, “Does not provide useful information relative to lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions from corn stover ethanol.”

In other words, the EPA said the assumptions baked into the study are wrong, which they are. The study’s conclusions are correct, based on the inputs used, but the inputs do not reflect real life fundamentals.

Farmers and ethanol producers don’t get credit for the good sense they typically display. They weren’t going to sweep up all the corn stover off every acre to make ethanol. There is a sound agronomic way to harvest corn stover and it has been incorporated into POET and DuPont business plans, but ethanol critics ignore that.

The bottom line is that corn stover can be harvested in an appropriate amount to maintain environmental integrity of farm operations and still provide the feedstock for cellulosic ethanol.

Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack said, “The study started with an assumption about the way corn stover would be removed from the land.

“The problem with the assumption is no farmer in the country would actually take that much crop residue.

“When you start with a faulty assumption you end up with a faulty conclusion.”

No kidding.

Then why did the USDA pay for this study and release the results as if they were credible, that even Secretary Vilsack said was flawed?

This is why so many hate government. What the ethanol industry has noted with these studies is that even though they are based on false assumptions they get treated as real by the media helped along by ethanol critics.

That has been a frustration, but the corn ethanol industry has overcome it with performance. The industry has done what it said it would do or better.

The EPA’s acceptance of the 10 percent blend wall for the RFS volumetric production target was the first strike against cellulosic ethanol.

If the fuel market is limited to 10 percent ethanol, there is no room left in the market after corn based ethanol for cellulosic ethanol to fill.

I have no idea what the EPA thinks the 36 billion gallons by 2022 was all about if it actually meant to limit the ethanol standard to 10 percent of fuel consumption.

They are employing great means to limit the expansion of E-15 and E-85 distribution infrastructure which would otherwise crush the E-10 blend wall.

They will try to use this bogus USDA financed study as a second strike.

That means that the cellulosic industry has to have a hit – preferably a home run – when commercial cellulosic plants come online this year, or it will strike out, which is what Big Oil is fighting so hard to see happen in order to defend its gasoline market share against biofuel.

David Kruse is president of CommStock Investments Inc., author and producer of The CommStock Report, an ag commentary and market analysis available daily by radio and by subscription on DTN/FarmDayta and the Internet.

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