Cleaner Air and Water through Renewable Fuels

Press Contact: Monte Shaw


IRFA Releases Survey Results of On-Farm Environmental Improvements

JOHNSTON, IA – Just in time for Earth Day, the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association (IRFA) today unveiled a list of ten ways the renewable fuels industry is helping to better our environment. While the renewable fuels industry’s ability to create jobs, displace foreign oil and boost rural economies is well documented, it is also important to remember the positive impacts renewable fuels have on the environment compared to their petroleum-based counterparts.

“Renewable fuels make our planet a better place to live with healthier air and water, and that’s exactly what Earth Day is all about,” stated IRFA Executive Director Monte Shaw. “Smart energy policies like the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) encourage the production and use of cleaner, more environmentally friendly fuels like E15 and B20 that significantly reduce the environmental harm that is caused by petroleum-based fuels.”

The following Top 10 list highlights ways in which ethanol and biodiesel have benefited the environment over the past decade through improvements at the plant, on the farm, and out of the tailpipe.

At the Plant

1.   According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), for every unit of fossil energy needed to produce biodiesel, 5.5 units of energy are gained (1), while ethanol generates 2.3 units of energy for every unit of fossil energy input (2). By comparison, gasoline and diesel fuel have negative energy balances.

2.   The adoption of regenerative thermal oxidizers (RTO) has significantly reduced volatile organic compound emissions from ethanol plants.

3.   On a per gallon basis, today’s ethanol plants require 28% less thermal energy and 32% less electricity than a decade ago, according to the University of Illinois at Chicago (3).

4.   According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), biodiesel reduces greenhouse gases (GHG) by up to 86% compared to petroleum diesel (4), while Yale University found that ethanol reduces GHG by up to 59% compared to gasoline (5).

5.   Water used to produce a gallon of ethanol has dropped 40% over the last decade (6), while biodiesel production reduces wastewater by 79% and hazardous waste by 96% when compared to petroleum diesel (7).

On the Farm

6.   Increased income from ethanol demand for corn has allowed farmers to invest in precision farming equipment and stronger conservation and environmental protections (8). (Click here for details)

7.   The environmental footprint of U.S. corn production has improved greatly since the advent of the ethanol industry, including significant reductions in soil loss, irrigation, energy use and the amount of land required to produce a bushel of corn (9).

Out of the Tailpipe

8.   Ethanol and biodiesel are both biodegradable and non-toxic.

9.   Biodiesel and ethanol significantly reduce tailpipe carbon monoxide emissions, air toxics, fine particulate matter and smog pollution compared to petroleum diesel and gasoline, making our air healthier to breathe (10).

10.  Since the beginning of the RFS, biodiesel use alone has reduced lifecycle GHG emissions by nearly 74 billion pounds, the equivalent of removing 5.4 million vehicles from U.S. roads(11).


  1. Energy Life-Cycle Assessment of Soybean Biodiesel Revisited. 2011. U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) & University of Idaho.
  2. Energy Balance for the Corn Ethanol Industry. 2008. U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
  3. Detailed Report: 2008 National Dry Mill Corn Ethanol Survey. 2010. Dr. Stephen Mueller, University of Illinois at Chicago.
  4. A Comprehensive Analysis of Biodiesel Impacts on Exhaust Emissions. 2002. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
  5. Journal of Industrial Ecology. 2009. A. Liska et al., Yale University.
  6. Detailed Report: 2008 National Dry Mill Corn Ethanol Survey. 2010. Dr. Stephen Mueller, University of Illinois at Chicago.
  7. Biodiesel: Fueling Sustainability. 2011. National Biodiesel Board (NBB).
  8. IRFA Poll: Increase in Corn Prices Means Better Environmental Practices by Iowa’s Famers. 2012. Iowa Renewable Fuels Association.
  9. Sustainability is Meeting the Needs of the Present while Improving the Ability of Future Generations to Meet Their Own Needs. National Corn Growers Association (NCGA).
  10. Benefits and Concerns. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
  11. Stay the Course on the RFS. 2013. A. Steckel. National Biodiesel Board (NBB).

For more information, please visit:

Iowa is the leader in renewable fuels production.  Iowa has 41 ethanol refineries capable of producing over 3.7 billion gallons annually, with one wet mill and two cellulosic ethanol facilities currently under construction. In addition, Iowa has 12 biodiesel facilities with the capacity to produce 315 million gallons annually.

The Iowa Renewable Fuels Association was formed in 2002 to represent the state’s liquid renewable fuels industry. The trade group fosters the development and growth of the renewable fuels industry in Iowa through education, promotion, legislation and infrastructure development.