fuel

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.

Gas prices from the past at the shuttered Logan's Gas and Deli near Battle Creek.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

Every time you fill up, you pay seven-eighths of a cent per gallon of gas for a “regulatory fee” that was originally set up to help clean up the thousands of old underground storage tanks in Michigan.

Those pennies you pay at the pump add up to a $50 million pot of money each year.

It’s called the Refined Petroleum Fund. The fund worked initially. The money helped remove tens of thousands of old underground storage tanks in Michigan. When those old tanks leak, they can pollute the soil and ruin nearby water sources.

carhumor.com

The average fuel economy for U.S. built vehicles reached a new high in May, at 24.8 miles per gallon. This is good news for drivers when gas station signs are showing prices near and above $4 a gallon.

The University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI) says consumers are not only being more fuel-efficient savvy, but car companies are listening.

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Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Michigan utility regulators say gasoline consumption is expected to decline slightly this summer compared with previous years.

The Michigan Public Service Commission's recently released summer energy appraisal forecasts adequate energy supplies and prices this summer.

The group says gasoline sales in Michigan are expected to drop about 1 percent in 2013 after a decline of almost 2 percent last year due to increased fuel efficiency and consistently high gasoline prices.

GM Renaissance Center in Detroit.
John F. Martin / Creative Commons

General Motors says it will close its hydrogen fuel-cell research operation near Rochester, N.Y., and move it to Michigan, along with most of the 220 salaried jobs currently in New York.

The company says most of the 220 salaried workers in Honeoye Falls, N.Y., will be offered the chance to move to GM's engine and transmission research unit in Pontiac.

Spokeswoman Kimberly Carpenter says the move will pull together all of its experts on ways to move vehicles. The company will save some money by not renewing a building lease in New York.

She says GM will continue to focus on electric vehicles and fuel cell development. GM has been testing fuel-cell vehicles that run on hydrogen with no harmful emissions.

LAKEPORT, Mich. (AP) - The U.S. Coast Guard has begun salvaging a sunken barge and an overturned tugboat in southern Lake Huron.

Petty Officer Levi Read tells the Times Herald of Port Huron (http://bwne.ws/MOX3cS) work began at first light on Saturday.

The 110-foot dredging barge and the 38-foot tug were overcome in rough seas early Thursday about a mile from the Michigan coast and nearly six miles from the opening to the St. Clair River.

No one was hurt. Diesel fuel spilled into the lake, but officials say it's uncertain how much escaped.

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?

Ford Motor Company

New, more stringent fuel economy standards are the topic of conversation in Detroit today at the first public hearing for the proposed 2017 to 2025 model year CAFE standards (Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards).

Today's meeting in Detroit is the first of three meetings. The others will take place in Philadelphia and San Francisco.

So far, the remarkable news for a proposed standard that calls for fleet-wide average fuel economy of 54.5 mpg by 2025 is the lack of any formidable opposition.

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

 Environmentalists say significantly raising federal fuel economy standards will benefit Michigan’s auto industry.   

The Obama administration is considering more than doubling the current average fuel economy standard by 2025 to more than 50 miles per gallon. 

Guitarfool5931 / flickr

Legislation is expected to be introduced next month to change the way Michigan pays for road maintenance.

Governor Snyder has a two-part plan for road funding. The first part would switch to a gas tax based on the price of fuel, instead of the number of gallons sold. That’s important because gas tax revenues are slipping as people drive more fuel-efficient cars.

Photo courtesy of EPA

When you’re on the highway, you see all those big 18-wheelers... the cement trucks and trucks hauling logs... the refrigerated trucks heading to the grocery store... pretty soon, all these kinds of trucks will be seeing some changes.

David Friedman is with the Union of Concerned Scientists. He says these trucks are cleaner than they used to be.

Chrysler Group / Flickr

The head of Chrysler and Fiat says the U.S. auto industry can meet tough new fuel efficiency requirements.  The tentative proposal will more than double the miles per gallon average for cars by the year 2025.

Federal officials, automakers, and the UAW agreed to raise the average miles per gallon to 54-and-a-half within the next 14 years. Right now, the average is 25 miles per gallon.  Critics say the new goal may not be technically feasible.  But Chrysler and Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne thinks it is:

"The powertrain guys...  are an incredible resource, an incredible talent.  Let them do their job."

But Marchionne is a skeptic when it comes to the role electric cars will play in meeting the new requirement.  He thinks it will be easier and cheaper to dramatically improve gasoline engines and transmissions.

Scott Ableman / Flickr

The Obama administration says it's close to a deal with automakers to boost fuel economy.

Officials familiar with talks between the White House and automakers say recent changes to make it easier for light trucks to become more fuel efficient have lowered the proposal to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. Last month, the administration floated a 56.2 mile-per-gallon target.

Michigan lawmakers in a letter to the president last week called the higher proposal "overly aggressive." Automakers have said they'd work to get vehicles averaging 42.6 to 46.7 miles per gallon.

An administration official not authorized to speak about the negotiations said feedback from many manufacturers is positive and discussions are wrapping up.

In 2009, automakers agreed to raise fuel economy standards to 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016.

user: ifmuth / flickr.com

Emissions from new vehicles dropped 12% between 2007 and this year, according to a new index by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute. 

But it’s unclear if that trend will continue in the future.

For decades, there was little increase in the fuel efficiency of the new cars people bought. 

That changed starting in 2007.  Consumers turned to more fuel-efficient cars and they drove fewer miles, lowering overall emissions. 

But it probably wasn’t environmental concerns that caused the shift. 

Suncor Energy

DEARBORN, Mich. (AP) - AAA Michigan says gasoline prices are down 16 cents per gallon over the past week to a statewide average of $3.56.

The auto club says Monday the statewide average is about 71 cents per gallon higher than last year at this time. But the price has fallen 56 cents in three weeks.

Of the cities it surveys, AAA Michigan says the cheapest price for self-serve unleaded fuel is in the Lansing area, where it's $3.41 a gallon. The highest average can be found in the Ann Arbor and Marquette areas at $3.62.

Dearborn-based AAA Michigan surveys 2,800 Michigan gas stations daily.

epa.gov

It's probably the second sticker you look at (the first being the price sticker).

The new fuel economy and environment labels will take effect with model year 2013 cars and trucks. The EPA is calling the new labels "the most dramatic overhaul to fuel economy labels since the program began more than 30 years ago."

The new labels show more information about fuel economy, such as predicted annual fuel costs (based on $3.70 per gallon), and how much in fuel you would save compared to an average car (an "average" car's mpg is set at 22 mpg). The labels also give a greenhouse gas rating, and a smog rating.

And it wouldn't be an updated label without a way to load it into your smarty-pants phone. Here's a video from the EPA on how that works:

user Orin Zebest / Flickr

Gas prices in Michigan are expected to go higher, according to an online service that shares information on fuel prices. GasBuddy.com collects data on gasoline prices all across Michigan and the rest of the country.  The company says average gas prices in Michigan are about to jump up  to between $4.05 and $4.15 a gallon.

This from an e-mail sent out by Gasbuddy.com:

We're at increasing odds for a price hike. Oil prices have continued to rally this week, meaning it may be price hike time. With the rise in wholesale costs already being passed on to stations, odds are this hike will occur any time in the next 48 hours.

Patrick DeHaan, the senior petroleum analyst with Gas Buddy, says several factors, including refineries switching to summer blends of gasoline,  are behind rising gas prices. 

“Unfortunately, until these refineries get going and finish their maintenance and boost production…we will continue to see supply dwindle and that will continue to impact prices.”  

DeHaan predicts Michigan gasoline prices will continue to edge higher between now and Memorial Day.

The White House says speculators on Wall Street are driving oil prices up. President Obama made some remarks on speculation in Virginia accoring to UPI:

U.S. President Barack Obama, in a speech in Virginia, said it's not a lack of supply that is driving oil prices up on the commodity markets.

"The problem is, is that oil is sold on these world markets, and speculators and people make various bets, and they say, you know what, we think that maybe there's a 20 percent chance that something might happen in the Middle East that might disrupt oil supply, so we're going to bet that oil is going to go up real high," he said. "And that spikes up prices significantly."

In the article, Bart Chilton, a member of the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission, says speculation makes up part of the price at the pump, "there is a Wall Street premium on gas prices today. Every time folks fill up their tanks, they can expect that several dollars are due to speculation."

Speculation was a big driver of the skyrocketing oil prices back in 2009.

Battery electric cars like the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt count the federal government as a good friend these days.  The government has spent two and a half billion dollars in just a few years to boost battery technology. 

But there’s another way to propel an electric car– with hydrogen.  And proponents are making a last-ditch effort to convince the Obama administration that fuel cell cars are ready for prime time.  

Take Honda’s fuel cell electric car, the FCX Clarity.  It can go about 240 miles on a tank of hydrogen fuel.  About 60 miles to the gallon if you want to compare it to gasoline.  The only emission from the car is water so pure you could drink it

(Here's a video of me taking the FCX Clarity for a test drive)

There are emissions from the process used to create hydrogen, from natural gas.  But the emissions are about 60% less than comparable emissions from cars using internal combustion engines.

Andrew Taylor / Flickr

Gas prices continue to go up in that wake of tensions in the Middle East.

The price of a barrel of crude oil has gone over $100 - that number was a record breaker back in early 2008 - the start of the Great Recession.

From the Associated Press:

Gas prices AAA Michigan says gasoline prices are up 8.4 cents per gallon over the past week to a statewide average of $3.53. The auto club said Monday the statewide average is 80.5 cents per gallon higher than last year at this time. Of the cities it surveys, AAA Michigan says the cheapest price for self-serve regular fuel is in the Saginaw/Bay City area, where it's $3.48 a gallon. The highest average can be found in the Marquette area at $3.59. Dearborn-based AAA Michigan surveys 2,800 Michigan gas stations daily.

The White House chief of staff Bill Daley said on NBC's Meet the Press that opening up the country's strategic oil reserves is an option the Obama Administration is considering:

"It is something that only is done--has been done in very rare occasions.  There's a bunch of factors that have to be looked at, and it is just not the price. Again, the uncertainty--I think there's no one who doubts that the uncertainty in the Middle East right now has caused this tremendous increase in the last number of weeks."

Many people wonder why we're seeing an increase in gas prices when the U.S. imports most of it's oil from Canada and Mexico.

Libya doesn't even make the the U.S. Department of Energy's Top 15 list of countries we import oil from.

The answer, simply, is that oil is a global commodity, so when the global price of crude goes up, we all pay more. Crude oil prices influence the price of gas more than other factors like refining, distribution, and taxes.

How Stuff Works has a write up of how the complex system of gas prices are factored here in the U.S.

They break the cost of a dollar of gas down this way:

  • Taxes: 15 cents
  • Distribution and Marketing: 11 cents
  • Refining: 7 cents
  • Crude oil: 67 cents

You can check gas prices near you on michigangasprices.com.

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.

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