Publication Details

Title : Varied farm-level carbon intensities of corn feedstock help reduce corn ethanol greenhouse gas emissions
Publication Date : June 02, 2021
Publication Journal :
Authors : X. Liu, H. Kwon, M. Wang
Abstract : A reduction in the overall carbon intensity (CI) of a crop-based biofuel can be achieved by cutting down the CI of the biofuel's feedstock, which in turn correlates significantly to agricultural management practices. Proposals are being made to incentivize low-carbon biofuel feedstocks under U.S. fuel regulatory programs to promote sustainable farming practices by individual farms. For such an incentive scheme to function properly, robust data collection and verification are needed at the farm level. This study presents our collaboration with U.S. private sector companies to collect and verify the corn production data necessary for feedstock-specific CI calculation at the farm level, through a carefully designed questionnaire, to demonstrate the practicality and feasibility of data collection at scale. We surveyed 71 farms that produced 0.2 million metric tons of corn grain in 2018 in a Midwestern U.S. state to obtain information on key parameters affecting corn ethanol feedstock CI, such as grain yields, fertilizer/chemical application rates, and agronomic practices. Feedstock-specific CI was calculated in the unit of grams (g) CO2 equivalent (CO2e) of greenhouse gases per kilogram (kg) of corn produced. Results showed large CI variations—from 119 to 407 g CO2e kg−1 of corn—due to the farm-level inventory, while the production-weighted average CI for all surveyed farms was 210 g CO2e kg−1, comparable to the national average CI of 204 g CO2e kg−1. The nitrogen fertilizer type applied and rate were identified as key factors contributing most to CI variations at the farm level. The estimated N2O emissions from fertilizer and biomass nitrogen inputs to soil accounted for 51% of the overall farm-level CI and therefore need to be better monitored at farm level with high resolution. We concluded that this feedstock-specific, farm-level CI evaluation has the potential to be used to incentivize low-carbon feedstock for biofuel production.