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Life Cycle Water Consumption and Withdrawal Requirements of Ethanol from Corn Grain and Residues

UCD-ITS-RP-11-08

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Sustainable Transportation Energy Pathways (STEPS)

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Suggested Citation:
Mishra, Gouri Shankar and Sonia Yeh (2011) Life Cycle Water Consumption and Withdrawal Requirements of Ethanol from Corn Grain and Residues. Environmental Science & Technology ASAP (doi: 10.1021/es104145m)

We assessed the water requirements of ethanol from corn grain and crop residue. Estimates are explicit in terms of sources—green (GW) and blue (BW) water, consumptive and nonconsumptive requirements across the lifecycle, including evapotranspiration, application and conveyance losses, biorefinery uses, and water use of energy inputs, and displaced requirements or credits due to coproducts. Ethanol consumes 50−146 L/vehicle kilometer traveled (VKT) of BW and 1−60 L/VKT of GW for irrigated corn and 0.6 L/VKT of BW and 70−137 L/VKT of GW for rain-fed corn after coproduct credits. Extending the system boundary to consider application and conveyance losses and the water requirements of embodied energy increases the total BW withdrawal from 23% to 38% and BW + GW consumption from 5% to 16%. We estimate that, in 2009, 15−19% of irrigation water is used to produce the corn required for ethanol in Kansas and Nebraska without coproduct credits and 8−10% after credits. Harvesting and converting the cob to ethanol reduces both the BW and GW intensities by 13%. It is worth noting that the use of GW is not without impacts, and the water quantity and water quality impacts at the local/seasonal scale can be significant for both fossil fuel and biofuel.
Available online at doi: 10.1021/es104145m