From: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Published June 20, 2017 02:06 PM

Corn better used as food than biofuel, study finds

Corn is grown not only for food, it is also an important renewable energy source. Renewable biofuels can come with hidden economic and environmental issues, and the question of whether corn is better utilized as food or as a biofuel has persisted since ethanol came into use. For the first time, researchers at the University of Illinois have quantified and compared these issues in terms of economics of the entire production system to determine if the benefits of biofuel corn outweigh the costs.

Civil and environmental engineering professor Praveen Kumar and graduate student Meredith Richardson published their findings in the journal Earth’s Future.

As part of a National Science Foundation project that is studying the environmental impact of agriculture in the U.S., the Illinois group introduced a comprehensive view of the agricultural system, called critical zone services, to analyze crops’ impacts on the environment in monetary terms.  

“The critical zone is the permeable layer of the landscape near the surface that stretches from the top of the vegetation down to the groundwater,” Kumar said. “The human energy and resource input involved in agriculture production alters the composition of the critical zone, which we are able to convert into a social cost.”

Read more at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Image: In a new study, Professor Kumar and graduate student Meredith Richardson find that using corn for biofuel comes with greater environmental costs and fewer benefits than using corn for food. (Credit: L. Brian Stauffer)

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