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Study finds E85 corn ethanol worse for the environment than gasoline

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A new study has discovered that E85 corn ethanol, despite having less effect on global warming, fossil energy use and potential toxicity, is actually harder on the environment than traditional gasoline.

Published in Environmental Science & Technology, the study was the work of research teams from the Technical University of Troyes, France, University of Minnesota and the University of California in Santa Barbara, according to a report by Hybrid Cars.

Considering 12 different impacts over 19 corn-producing American states, the study found that E85 (the 85 percent ethanol, 15 percent gasoline blend used to power flex fuel vehicles) has a 23 percent greater negative environmental impact than gasoline. When also factoring indirect land use (such as fossil-fueled equipment to harvest the corn and shipping the fuel), that number increases to an average of 33 percent.

The biggest contributors to these numbers are the high amounts of water used to irrigate the cornfield and eutrophication, which the U.S. Geology Survey defines as “an increase in the rate of supply of organic matter in an ecosystem.” It also depletes the oxygen in an affected body of water, which can lead to death of other organisms living in the water, such as fish.