Agronomy and Horticulture Department


Date of this Version



Published in Journal of Environmental Quality 39:472–482 (2010). doi:10.2134/jeq2009.0283 Copyright © 2010 by the American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, and Soil Science Society of America.


Environmental regulations on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from corn (Zea mays L.)-ethanol production require accurate assessment methods to determine emissions savings from coproducts that are fed to livestock. We investigated current use of coproducts in livestock diets and estimated the magnitude and variability in the GHG emissions credit for coproducts in the corn-ethanol life cycle. The coproduct GHG emissions credit varied by more than twofold, from 11.5 to 28.3 g CO2e per MJ of ethanol produced, depending on the fraction of coproducts used without drying, the proportion of coproduct used to feed beef cattle (Bos taurus) vs. dairy or swine (Sus scrofa), and the location of corn production. Regional variability in the GHG intensity of crop production and future livestock feeding trends will determine the magnitude of the coproduct GHG offset against GHG emissions elsewhere in the corn-ethanol life cycle. Expansion of annual U.S. corn-ethanol production to 57 billion liters by 2015, as mandated in current federal law, will require feeding of coproduct at inclusion levels near the biological limit to the entire U.S. feedlot cattle, dairy, and swine herds. Under this future scenario, the coproduct GHG offset will decrease by 8% from current levels due to expanded use by dairy and swine, which are less efficient in use of coproduct than beef feedlot cattle. Because the coproduct GHG credit represents 19 to 38% of total life cycle GHG emissions, accurate estimation of the coproduct credit is important for determining the net impact of corn-ethanol production on atmospheric warming and whether corn-ethanol producers meet state- and national-level GHG emissions regulations.