Bioelectricity More Efficient than Ethanol for Transportation, Study Shows

Vehicles fueled by biomass-fired electricity would travel 81% farther on a given crop and produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions than vehicles powered by ethanol, a new study finds.

In a new study published online yesterday in the journal Science, researchers led by Elliott Campbell of the University of California, Merced modeled entire fuel systems all the way from crop cultivation to vehicle propulsion, comparing cumulative greenhouse-gas emissions for both biofuels and bioelectricity. They found that the bioelectric pathway came out ahead of both corn ethanol and advanced cellulosic ethanol made from switchgrass.

“We expected that electricity would look better than corn ethanol, but it was surprising to see that this was also the case for the more advanced second-generation ethanols,” Campbell says. “In all cases, the electricity pathway uses a lot less land to achieve the same amount of transportation.”

The study suggests than electric vehicle powered by biomass will travel an average of 81% farther than an internal-combustion vehicle powered by cellulosic ethanol if both are produced from the same area of cropland.

The results also suggest that alternative bioenergy pathways have large differences in how efficiently they use the available land to achieve transportation and climate goals.

>>Listen to an interview with lead author Elliott Campbell from Science Podcast

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Image: Argonne National Laboratory


Timothy B. Hurst

is the founder of ecopolitology and the executive editor at LiveOAK Media, a media network about the politics of energy and the environment, green business, cleantech, and green living. When not reading, writing, thinking or talking about environmental politics with anyone who will listen, Tim spends his time skiing in Colorado's high country, hiking with his dog, and getting dirty in his vegetable garden.