Corn Refining Industry Life Cycle Analysis


CRA’s latest life cycle analysis (LCA), published in the peer-reviewed journal Frontiers in Energy Research in July 2023, provides a snapshot of the corn refining industry’s environmental achievements, impacts, and goals, and creates a roadmap for our members to further drive both upstream and short-term sustainability solutions.

The LCA evaluates the environmental impacts of certain products derived from corn refining across their lifetime, from the beginning stages of agricultural production to the final stages of facility operations. This farm-to-manufacturer analysis delves into a variety of environmental impacts, including global warming potential (GWP), fossil fuel consumption, energy demand, and land use.

environmental impacts of certain products derived from corn refining across their lifetime

Key Findings & Insights

The report indicates corn refiners are poised to significantly reduce their environmental impact over the next decade as they deliver on their environmental impact reduction pledges and goals. Additionally, in the last 10 years, industry members have not only set ambitious sustainability goals, but many of these benchmarks were met ahead of schedule and exceeded expectations.

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Companies across the corn refining industry are engaging in sustainability initiatives to tackle two primary contributing factors to the industry’s environmental impact: sustainable corn production and emissions from energy consumption.


CRA member efforts to reduce the environmental impacts of crop production are some of the most significant investments that CRA members make in improving industry sustainability. Nearly every member has producer outreach or engagement programs at various levels to improve corn sourcing sustainability. This ranges from Cargill’s 10 million regenerative agriculture project to Ingredion’s work with Sustainable Agriculture Initiative (SAI) Platform to certify sustainable production.

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Sustainable Energy Consumption

In 2002, corn refining became the first industry to develop an energy performance indicator (EPI) and join the ENERGY STAR Industrial Energy Management Program, a voluntary energy efficiency program run by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Developing the EPI allowed our industry to benchmark and track facility energy consumption to save money and lower a plant’s carbon footprint. An analysis of the results from just the first 12 years of participation showed:

  • A reduction of 6.7 trillion British thermal units (Btu) in annual energy use
  • A 4.3% reduction in overall energy use by the corn refining industry
  • An annual reduction of 470 million kg of energy-related carbon dioxide equivalent emissions from improved energy efficiency

Our industry’s leadership on the development of an EPI has paved the way for meaningful progress. CRA member efforts to shift from higher-impact to lower-impact energy sources have made especially great reductions in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions throughout the corn refining process. One member, Tate & Lyle, has phased out coal in all of its operations. This was done four years in advance of its target of 2025.

Sustainability Outlook

The corn refining industry has made significant strides in its sustainability efforts. Today, CRA is working with Argonne National Lab on an update to its GREET lifecycle model, a widely recognized tool for calculating the carbon intensity of a range of fuel and non-fuel products. The update will allow for more accurate accounting of the innovative bioproducts derived from dextrose, which our members produce. These more accurate carbon intensity scores will incentivize biobased alternatives to petroleum derived products and encourage the growth of the bioeconomy.

This latest report highlights where the industry should focus for continued improvements, including:

  • Seeking out alternative energy generation fuels
  • Changing energy production technologies to increase efficiency
  • Decreasing energy demand
  • Continuing and enhancing grower engagement to increase upstream sustainability

View the full life cycle analysis report and learn about CRA’s climate change policy principles.