A new Stanford University study predicts that if every vehicle in the United States ran on fuel made primarily from ethanol the number of respiratory-related deaths and hospitalizations would increase. “Ethanol is being promoted as a clean and renewable fuel that will reduce global warming and air pollution,” says atmospheric scientist Mark Z Jacobson, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering. “But our results show that a high blend of ethanol poses an equal or greater risk to public health than gasoline, which already causes significant health damage.” Jacobson used a computer model to simulate air quality in 2020, when ethanol-fueled vehicles are expected to be widely available.
While E85 vehicles (those running on 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline) reduced two carcinogens, benzene and butadiene, they increased two others, formaldehyde and acetaldehyde. In some parts of the country, E85 also significantly increased ozone, a prime ingredient of smog. The World Health Organization estimates that 800,000 people die each year from smog. Furthermore, the deleterious health effects of E85 will be the same, whether the ethanol is made from corn, switchgrass or other plant products.
“There are alternatives, such as battery-electric, plug-in-hybrid and hydrogen-fuel cell vehicles, whose energy can be derived from wind or solar power,” Jacobson says. These vehicles produce virtually no toxic emissions or greenhouse gases and cause very little disruption to the land–unlike ethanol made from corn or switchgrass, which require millions of acres of farmland to mass-produce. “It would seem prudent, therefore, to address climate, health and energy with technologies that have known benefits.”
Foresight. Wow. What a notion.–Julia Whitty