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Study: RFS Slashed GHG Emissions by 1.2 Billion Metric Tons Since 2008

March 2, 2023

Environment, Research


A new analysis from a renowned carbon accounting firm finds that the greenhouse gas emissions reductions achieved under the Renewable Fuel Standard far exceed the GHG savings originally projected by EPA. In the 15 years since the RFS was expanded, the use of biofuels under the program has resulted in cumulative savings of more than 1.2 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide-equivalent GHG emissions, with corn ethanol providing the largest share of GHG reductions.


“The RFS2 has resulted in significant GHG reductions, with cumulative CO2 savings of 1,212 million metric tonnes over the period of implementation to date,” according to the study, which was conducted by Life Cycle Associates. “The GHG reductions are due to the greater than expected savings from ethanol and other biofuels, including continuous technology investments reducing the carbon intensity (CI) for corn ethanol.”


In more recent years, increased use of renewable natural gas and renewable diesel has also led to significant GHG reductions. Notably, the study found, “these emissions savings occur even though cellulosic biofuels have not met the RFS2 production targets.”


“This report demonstrates that the RFS has been remarkably successful in driving down carbon emissions from the transportation sector,” said RFA President and CEO Geoff Cooper. “In fact, the RFS is the only federal program on the books today that requires the use of lower-carbon fuels in our vehicles. And we’re just getting started. Our producer members have unanimously committed to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 or sooner, and this report shows we are well on our way toward that goal thanks to new technology and efficiency improvements both on the farm and at the biorefinery.”  


The new report is an update to previously published studies in 2021 and 2019.  It was conducted for the Renewable Fuels Association by Stefan Unnasch, Debasish Parida and Brian Healy of Life Cycle Associates.


Cooper noted that the Life Cycle Associates study adds to the growing body of research on ethanol’s GHG benefits.


  • According to the Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory, typical corn ethanol provides a 44-52% GHG savings compared to gasoline.
  • Similarly, researchers from Harvard, MIT, and Tufts concluded that today’s corn ethanol offers an average GHG reduction of 46% versus gasoline.
  • Analysis by USDA found that some biorefineries could soon produce ethanol that offers a 70% GHG reduction versus gasoline.
  • Data from the California Air Resources Board shows that ethanol used in the state is reducing GHG emissions by nearly 40% compared to gasoline, on average, (even with an exaggerated GHG penalty for hypothetical land use change) with some U.S.-produced ethanol providing 65-80% GHG reductions.