ethanol

Fred Thompson / Flickr

2014 is nearly over, but we won't know how much ethanol the U.S. EPA will require to be blended into gasoline for 2014, until 2015.  The EPA announced last week it will delay issuing the standard.

The ethanol industry and refining industry are on opposite sides of the Renewable Fuels Standard debate.  The RFS requires increasing amounts of ethanol in gasoline every year, unless there are compelling economic reasons to depart from the practice.

Earlier this year, the EPA indicated it was planning to lower the Renewable Fuels Standard for the first time since 2007 – because it appeared the amount of ethanol in gasoline would have to exceed 10% – and the effect of higher ethanol blends on older engines is unclear.

The delay on issuing that standard has generated relief among corn ethanol lobbyists.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Michigan’s ethanol industry leaders are touting a new study that claims ethanol is reducing greenhouse gas emissions.   

The study comes as a fight is brewing in Washington over federal Renewable Fuel Standards.

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

It’s been seven years since America hit the accelerator on corn-based ethanol fuels. Homegrown corn became the centerpiece of a push to find an alternative to foreign oil.

President Bush signed this expansion of the Renewable Fuel Standard in 2007, promising it would make us “stronger, cleaner and more secure.”

But, as is so often the case, something that offers great promise on one hand, takes its toll on the other hand. So the view of corn-based ethanol very much depends upon which side of the fence you’re standing on.

Photo courtesy of Carbon Green BioEnergy

The ethanol refinery for Carbon Green Bioenergy rises up out of the cornfields outside Lake Odessa Michigan.

The refinery was built in 2006. Mitch Miller, the CEO of the company, says a lot of refineries were popping up then.

“Five years ago, ethanol was a craze,” he says. “It was the next best thing.”

Now, not so much. Refineries aren’t being built. Politicians aren’t stopping by with platoons of reporters.

Seriously, when is the last time you heard anyone talk about ethanol?

Adventure George / flickr

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack was in Michigan today to promote the use of biofuels. He appeared at the NASCAR race at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, south of Jackson.

Vilsack says the fact that NASCAR vehicles are now running on fuel that’s 15 percent ethanol shows that other cars should run on it, too. He says biofuels are more environmentally responsible that petroleum-based fuel.

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Michigan corn farmers may be losing a ‘safety net’.   The Congress is expected to vote soon on ending ethanol subsidies.    The move is expected to save the federal government $1.3 billion this year. 

Ethanol in the United States is mainly produced using corn.  Michigan farmers increased their corn production in recent years as federal mandates required ethanol in gasoline.  

Nathan Laurell / Flickr

Subsidies for ethanol are being put to the test again in the Senate as budget cutters try to demonstrate a growing appetite in Congress to end special interest tax breaks to help reduce government borrowing.

The Senate is scheduled to vote Thursday on two measures that would end subsidies for producing ethanol, a renewable, liquid fuel additive that comes mainly from corn in the U.S.

One measure would repeal a tax credit that provides 45 cents a gallon to oil refiners who mix ethanol with gasoline. The Senate rejected an identical measure Tuesday, 40-59. The other would eliminate federal funding for building ethanol blender pumps or storage facilities.

Critics say the subsidies are no longer needed. Supporters say ethanol helps reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says gas stations can now sell gasoline blended with 15% ethanol for all cars built in 2001 or after. Right now, when you fill up in Michigan, your gasoline has 10% ethanol.

The EPA says E15 gasoline will help reduce our need for foreign oil. Ethanol is made from plants like corn. The EPA only tested the effects of E15 on emissions and catalytic converters.

But ethanol is corrosive. Patrick Kelly is with the American Petroleum Institute.

Fred Thompson / Flickr

The farm lobby has been pushing hard to increase the amount of ethanol allowed to be mixed into gasoline. And it seems like the Obama Administration is obliging.

The vast majority of today's ethanol comes from corn. The alcohol is mixed in gasoline to make it burn more cleanly.

Right now, the standard is 10% (a 10% ethanol, and 90% gasoline mix is most likely in your gas tank right now).

The EPA increased the allowed amount of ethanol to a 15% mix last fall for cars made after 2007.

Now, the Associated Press reports the EPA is poised to allow the 15% mix for more cars. From the AP:

Two people familiar with the decision said late Thursday the agency is expected to announce on Friday that 15 percent ethanol in gasoline is safe for cars manufactured between 2001 and 2006. Both officials requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the decision.

Lincolnway Ethanol plant in Nevada, Iowa
flickr user - freddthompson

Fuel-makers blend refined gasoline with ethanol to make it burn more cleanly.

Corn-based ethanol has been considered a much better fuel additive since MTBE was found leaking into groundwater supplies (the CBS News magazine 60 Minutes did a report that led to MTBE's downfall as an additive).

But there's been debate on how much ethanol to allow in gas. The accepted standard has been a 10% mix, which is found in most gas across the country.