A recent study by DeCicco et al. (Climatic Change 138:667–680, 2016) claims that corn used for ethanol should not be considered to be inherently biogenically carbon-neutral because not all that corn was grown additional to the level otherwise. By assessing the extent of carbon neutrality of corn for ethanol using the reference point baseline approach and historical data that study concluded that the carbon intensity of US corn ethanol is 27% higher than that of gasoline. We develop a framework to determine the carbon neutrality of corn for ethanol by assessing the additional carbon uptake by crops using an anticipated baseline approach. We also apply this framework to determine the additional corn produced for ethanol and include the direct life cycle carbon emissions of only that portion of corn in the direct life cycle carbon intensity of corn ethanol. We implement this framework by integrating an economic model of the agricultural sector in the USA with a biogenic carbon model and life cycle analysis to quantify biogenic carbon uptake and direct life cycle emissions with and without corn ethanol expansion over the 2007–2027 period. We find that the combined biogenic carbon emissions and direct life cycle carbon emission intensity of corn ethanol (not including indirect land use related emissions) is 21% lower than gasoline. The lower value of this carbon intensity of corn ethanol compared with gasoline is robust to a wide range of parametric assumptions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1082-1094
Number of pages13
JournalBioenergy Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jun 14 2020


  • Anticipated baseline approach
  • Biogenic carbon intensity
  • Corn ethanol
  • Dynamic optimization
  • Economic model
  • Life cycle carbon intensity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • Agronomy and Crop Science
  • Energy (miscellaneous)


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