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Environ Manage. 2013 Feb;51(2):307-38. doi: 10.1007/s00267-012-9983-6. Epub 2012 Dec 2.

Comparing scales of environmental effects from gasoline and ethanol production.

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  • 1Environmental Sciences Division, Center for BioEnergy Sustainability, Climate Change Science Institute, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, One Bethel Valley Road, Oak Ridge, TN 37831-6036, USA.


Understanding the environmental effects of alternative fuel production is critical to characterizing the sustainability of energy resources to inform policy and regulatory decisions. The magnitudes of these environmental effects vary according to the intensity and scale of fuel production along each step of the supply chain. We compare the spatial extent and temporal duration of ethanol and gasoline production processes and environmental effects based on a literature review and then synthesize the scale differences on space-time diagrams. Comprehensive assessment of any fuel-production system is a moving target, and our analysis shows that decisions regarding the selection of spatial and temporal boundaries of analysis have tremendous influences on the comparisons. Effects that strongly differentiate gasoline and ethanol-supply chains in terms of scale are associated with when and where energy resources are formed and how they are extracted. Although both gasoline and ethanol production may result in negative environmental effects, this study indicates that ethanol production traced through a supply chain may impact less area and result in more easily reversed effects of a shorter duration than gasoline production.

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