Environmental Management

, Volume 51, Issue 2, pp 307–338 | Cite as

Comparing Scales of Environmental Effects from Gasoline and Ethanol Production

  • Esther S. ParishEmail author
  • Keith L. Kline
  • Virginia H. Dale
  • Rebecca A. Efroymson
  • Allen C. McBride
  • Timothy L. Johnson
  • Michael R. Hilliard
  • Jeffrey M. Bielicki


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.


Biofuel Transportation Supply chain Sustainability Time Space 



This article is a collaboration among researchers who attended the workshop “Sustainability of Bioenergy Systems: Cradle to Grave,” sponsored by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) Center for BioEnergy Sustainability and by the US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA). Researchers at ORNL were supported by the US Department of Energy (DOE) under the Office of the Biomass Program. Tim Johnson contributed to this work while he was with the USEPA’s Office of Research and Development. Jeffrey Bielicki’s contribution resulted from being a Weinberg Fellow at ORNL. We would like to thank Rebecca Dodder of USEPA and Henriette I. Jager of ORNL for their contributions to initial discussions; Fred O’Hara for his technical editing; Mark Downing, Tim Theiss and Paul Leiby for clarification of three points; Jennifer Smith for formatting tables; Melissa Allen and Beau Wesh for their internal reviews; and three anonymous reviewers for their comments and suggestions. ORNL is managed by UT-Battelle, LLC, for DOE under contract DE-AC05-00OR22725. The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the USEPA or DOE.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York (outside the USA) 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Esther S. Parish
    • 1
    Email author
  • Keith L. Kline
    • 1
  • Virginia H. Dale
    • 1
  • Rebecca A. Efroymson
    • 1
  • Allen C. McBride
    • 1
  • Timothy L. Johnson
    • 2
  • Michael R. Hilliard
    • 3
  • Jeffrey M. Bielicki
    • 4
  1. 1.Environmental Sciences Division, Center for BioEnergy Sustainability, Climate Change Science InstituteOak Ridge National LaboratoryOak RidgeUSA
  2. 2.Nicholas School of the EnvironmentDuke UniversityDurhamUSA
  3. 3.Energy & Transportation Science DivisionOak Ridge National LaboratoryOak RidgeUSA
  4. 4.Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public AffairsUniversity of MinnesotaMinneapolisUSA

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