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Ethanol in gasoline: environmental impacts and sustainability review article


  • Niven, Robert K.


This study concerns the use of ethanol as a gasoline (petrol) additive, at levels around 10% by volume ('E10') as well as an 85% blend ('E85'). By detailed reviews of the peer-reviewed and technical literature, five environmental aspects of ethanol enrichment are examined: (1) its purported reduction in air pollutant emissions; (2) its potential impact on subsurface soils and groundwater; (3) its purported reduction in greenhouse gas emissions; (4) the energy efficiency of ethanol; and (5) the overall sustainability of ethanol production. The study indicates that E10 is of debatable air pollution merit (and may in fact increase the production of photochemical smog); offers little advantage in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, energy efficiency or environmental sustainability; and will significantly increase both the risk and severity of soil and groundwater contamination. In contrast, E85 offers significant greenhouse gas benefits, however it will produce significant air pollution impacts, involves substantial risks to biodiversity, and its groundwater contamination impacts and overall sustainability are largely unknown.

Suggested Citation

  • Niven, Robert K., 2005. "Ethanol in gasoline: environmental impacts and sustainability review article," Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, Elsevier, vol. 9(6), pages 535-555, December.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:rensus:v:9:y:2005:i:6:p:535-555

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Goldemberg, Jose & Coelho, Suani Teixeira & Lucon, Oswaldo, 2004. "How adequate policies can push renewables," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 32(9), pages 1141-1146, June.
    2. Moreira, Jose R. & Goldemberg, Jose, 1999. "The alcohol program," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 27(4), pages 229-245, April.
    3. Thomas, Valerie & Kwong, Andrew, 2001. "Ethanol as a lead replacement: phasing out leaded gasoline in Africa," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 29(13), pages 1133-1143, November.
    4. Rask, Kevin N., 1998. "Clean air and renewable fuels: the market for fuel ethanol in the US from 1984 to 1993," Energy Economics, Elsevier, vol. 20(3), pages 325-345, June.
    5. Shapouri, Hosein & Duffield, James A. & Wang, Michael Q., 2002. "The Energy Balance of Corn Ethanol: An Update," Agricultural Economics Reports 34075, United States Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service.
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