Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Biofuels’ Indirect Land Use Change Are Uncertain but May Be Much Greater than Previously Estimated

TitleGreenhouse Gas Emissions from Biofuels’ Indirect Land Use Change Are Uncertain but May Be Much Greater than Previously Estimated
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2010
AuthorsPlevin RJ, Jones AD, Torn MS, Gibbs HK
JournalEnvironmental Science & Technology
Volume44
Issue21
Pagination8015 - 8021
Date Published11/2010
ISSN1520-5851
KeywordsBiofuel
Abstract

The life cycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions induced by increased biofuel consumption are highly uncertain: individual estimates vary from each other and each has a wide intrinsic error band. Using a reduced-form model, we estimated that the bounding range for emissions from indirect land-use change (ILUC) from US corn ethanol expansion was 10 to 340 g CO2 MJ−1. Considering various probability distributions to model parameters, the broadest 95% central interval, i.e., between the 2.5 and 97.5%ile values, ranged from 21 to 142 g CO2e MJ−1. ILUC emissions from US corn ethanol expansion thus range from small, but not negligible, to several times greater than the life cycle emissions of gasoline. The ILUC emissions estimates of 30 g CO2 MJ−1 for the California Air Resources Board and 34 g CO2e MJ−1 by USEPA (for 2022) are at the low end of the plausible range. The lack of data and understanding (epistemic uncertainty) prevents convergence of judgment on a central value for ILUC emissions. The complexity of the global system being modeled suggests that this range is unlikely to narrow substantially in the near future. Fuel policies that require narrow bounds around point estimates of life cycle GHG emissions are thus incompatible with current and anticipated modeling capabilities. Alternative policies that address the risks associated with uncertainty are more likely to achieve GHG reductions.

URLhttp://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es101946t
DOI10.1021/es101946t
Short TitleEnviron. Sci. Technol.
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