Tag: Biofuels

By on January 23, 2011

The EPA has followed up its ruling allowing E15 ethanol blends (15% ethanol, 85% gasoline) to be pumped to vehicles built for the 2007 model-year and later, now allowing the corn juice-enhanced gasoline to be distributed to any vehicle built after 2001. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson announced the decision to Bloomberg arguing

Wherever sound science and the law support steps to allow more home-grown fuels in America’s vehicles, this administration takes those steps

But, as is the case with most ethanol-related decisions, this has more to do with politics than science. After nearly ending the boondoggle known as the “Blender’s Credit,” which pays blenders for every gallon of ethanol they mix into America’s fuel supply, congress relented to lobbyist pressure and extended the $6b per year giveaway for another year. And with that financial incentive in place (along with a “renewable fuel mandate”) but little to no consumer demand to support it, blenders need to find ways to slip ever more ethanol into American gasoline. But, as a recent study proves, even E15 won’t beat the so-called “blend wall”: at best E15 gives the ethanol industry four years of taxpayer-fattened profits before it will be forced to come back and ask the government to yet again increase the amount of ethanol allowed in the gas supply.

Meanwhile, the auto industry that once saw ethanol as a prime opportunity for low-cost greenwashing has made an about-face and is suing to stop the spread of E15, arguing that its effects on engine life haven’t been adequately studied. And because ethanol offers little to no benefits relative to gasoline in terms of environmental or efficiency impacts, the fact that the EPA may be endangering automobile engines in order to keep an oversubsidized industry on (expensive) life support is beyond galling. It’s clear that, with the legislative and executive branches of government held in sway by ethanol-friendly farm states, motorists are now dependent on the court system to do the right thing and end government’s senseless love affair with ethanol.

By on January 14, 2011

Recently the ethanol industry has “suffered” from a problem that epitomizes the problematic nature of government subsidies. Known as the “blend wall” this obstacle was created not by negligence on the part of the industry, but by the fact that its lobbying efforts have been far more effective than its marketing efforts. The problem, in a nutshell, is that the 2007 Renewable Fuel Standard mandates a steady increase in the amount of ethanol blended into the national fuel supply, from 9 billion gallons per year (BGY) in 2008 to 36 BGY in 2022… but with gasoline consumption falling and with standard pump gasoline capped at a maximum of ten percent ethanol (recently raised to 15% for vehicles built after 2007), the industry that’s supposed to get America off gas needs more gas to blend its ethanol into. As a study in the American Journal of Agricultural Economics puts it

Total national consumption of gasoline in the United States has been about 140 billion gallons in 2010 and is expected to fall over time due to increasing fuel economy standards. Thus, at present, if every drop of gasoline were blended as E10, the maximum ethanol that could be absorbed would be 14 billion gallons. In reality, 10% cannot be blended in all regions and seasons. Most experts consider an average blend of 9% to be the effective maximum, which amounts to about 12.6 billion gallons. U.S. ethanol production capacity already exceeds this level. Thus, our ability to consume ethanol has reached a limit called the blend wall.

The solution: well, the EPA’s ruling allowing 15% ethanol blends was supposed to fix the problem, but according to this report, that “fix” would only buy some four years before the industry is back to bumping against the blend wall. The solution?

With ethanol as the primary biofuel and either blend limit (E10 or E15), a substantial increase in E85 would be required to fulfill the mandate.

(Read More…)

By on December 20, 2010

When oil and food industry groups sued to roll back the EPA’s ruling allowing E15 ethanol blends in 2007 and later model-year cars, we concluded

the political tail has wagged the scientific dog on ethanol ever since the farm lobby realized that ethanol could be the next corn syrup. With any luck, this lawsuit could just be the point at which science re-asserts itself.

The missing link: the automakers. Though auto manufacturers have been slowly climbing on board the anti-ethanol bandwagon, in no small part because large domestic OEMs like GM were once closely allied with the ethanol industry, it seems that the coalition to stop E15 is now complete. A new group known as the Engine Products Group, comprised of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, The Association of International Automobile Manufacturers, the National Marine Manufacturers Association, and the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute, has filed a new petition to block the EPA’s E15 ruling.

(Read More…)

By on December 9, 2010

Senate Democrats confirm that an extension of the full 45 cents/gal tax credit and 54 cents/gal import duty has been included in the Senate version of a Bush Tax Credit extension, prompting an angry response from the Brazilian sugar cane ethanol lobby. With Brazilian subsidies set to drop by nine cents per gallon, the Brazilian Sugarcane Industry Association (UNICA) claims that the American subsidy is no longer an “offset” but a full-fledged barrier to trade. UNICA’s President Marcos Jank tells brighterenergy.com

It is clear that the United States is not committed to open and fair trade in clean energy, particularly ethanol. We will have exhausted all options to resolve our differences through informal dialogue and the U.S. legislative process. It will then be time for the WTO to resolve this matter in accordance with applicable international rights and obligations.

Previously it was reported that the ethanol Blender’s Credit would be extended at a lower rate of 36 cents/gal, but with the tax credit extension debate snowballing into a lame duck slugfest, it seems that the subsidy extension was included to bring farm-state legislators on board. In addition to pissing off the Brazilians and possibly sparking a WTO battle, a full five-year extension of ethanol subsidies and tariffs at the current rate will cost the government no less than $31b. But don’t start planting corn yet… House Democrats seem set on scuppering the Senate’s tax credit extension deal (even though they support the ethanol extension). If they keep anything from passing during the lame duck session, the subsidies will expire completely, forcing the industry to champion new legislation. The battle rages on…

By on November 22, 2010

It is not a good policy to have these massive subsidies for first generation ethanol. First generation ethanol I think was a mistake. The energy conversion ratios are at best very small… One of the reasons I made that mistake is that I paid particular attention to the farmers in my home state of Tennessee, and I had a certain fondness for the farmers in the state of Iowa because I was about to run for president

Al Gore reveals [via MSNBC] that politics, not science, made an ethanol believer out of him. More than anything else, the admission underlines how badly ethanol can lose the war of ideas and still be heavily subsidized without fear of political attack. After all, what Presidential hopeful (read:every member of Congress) wants to shut down the biggest pork trough in Iowa, a state that just happens to be the first primary of the race for the White House? Heck, Al Gore probably had to lose his favorite weedwhacker to ethanol gum before he came out against the stuff. But just because your representative won’t vote against ethanol, doesn’t mean you can’t… surf over to pure-gas.org for a list of ethanol-free gas pumps near you.

By on November 9, 2010

We’ve been tracking mounting opposition to E15 ethanol for some time now, and when the EPA approved the 15-percent corn juice blend for vehicles made in 2007 or later, we saw the opposition begin to crystalize. Now, the Detroit News reports that a number of oil, food and other interest groups have filed suit in a D.C. Circuit appeals court, seeking to halt the EPA’s approval of E15. According to the DetN

The petitioners argue that under the Clean Air Act, the EPA administrator may only grant a waiver for a new fuel additive if it “will not cause or contribute to a failure of any emission control device or system.”

They believe the “EPA has unlawfully interpreted the statute to achieve a particular outcome,” but EPA administrator Lisa Jackson said it was based on “sound science.”

Considering the approval was apparently based on study results from a mere 14 vehicles, it sounds like the industry groups might have a solid point here. Especially when you realize that a major motivation for E15 approval is from the fact that blenders couldn’t sell enough E10 to meet government mandates. As the video above (from June of this year) proves, the political tail has wagged the scientific dog on ethanol ever since the farm lobby realized that ethanol could be the next corn syrup. With any luck, this lawsuit could just be the point at which science re-asserts itself.

By on October 16, 2010

At least one of the institutions financing ads damning Democratic candidates this election season wants to put ethanol in your gas tank. The American Future Fund was founded by one Bruce Rastetter, the CEO of Hawkeye Energy Holdings, one of the larger ethanol companies in the US, according to an article in the New York Times. The fund is financing ads aimed at Democrats in key positions to influence booze fuel… so is the problem their “liberal” policies, or the fact that they’re insufficiently supportive of the farm lobby’s beloved corn juice?

(Read More…)

By on October 13, 2010

Bloomberg reports that the Environmental Protection Agency has approved blends of up to 15 percent ethanol in gasoline for cars produced since 2007, handing a victory to pro-ethanol groups like Growth Energy. The EPA had previously capped gas-ethanol blending at 10 percent (E10), on fears that the higher percentage of corn-based ethanol could damage engines. But the approval of E15 hasn’t exactly made those fears go away. According to Credit Suisse analyst Robert Moskow

The approval of E-15 by the EPA won’t have a positive effect on [ethanol giant Archer Daniels Midland] in the near-term. Blenders remain reluctant to implement E-15 because it requires a separate pump and because the EPA has not absolved the blenders of potential legal liability from consumers.

And it’s not just blenders who are up in arms at the decision. Gas refiner Valero Energy, the American Automobile Association and the Detroit automakers (which had previously been pro-ethanol) are all against the increase to E15 in “normal gas.” All of which means E15 isn’t likely to show up at your neighorhood gas pump anytime soon.

(Read More…)

By on August 31, 2010

Gasoline with up to ten percent ethanol have been approved for public sale in the US, and the ethanol industry has been pushing to increase the maximum allowed blend to 15 percent. Or 12 percent until the EPA can figure out if E15 damages engines. But with automakers turning against the e15 push, fears about E10-related engine damage (which primarily began with boat and small engine operators) are being more widely heard. So why is E10 allowed if it damages engines? For one thing, trailerboats.com points out that

Yamaha warns that due to the fungible nature of fuels in transit from refinery to service station, some E10 fuels may actually get an extra dose of ethanol

In other words, E10 may be safe but you may not actually be getting E10. But more importantly, the market is answering the call of consumers. Over at pure-gas.org, a site dedicated to connecting Americans with stations offering ethanol-free gasoline, the number of registered “pure gas” pumps has skyrocketed since June of last year. But, warns the site’s founder (a BMW motorcycle enthusiast),

We buy [ethanol-free gas] because we want to fuel our vehicles with it. If you want to save money on gas, this site is of no use to you – it will NOT have gasoline prices on it. They vary from day to day and this site isn’t about saving money. It’s about finding pure gasoline for your machine.

So we’re wondering: does ethanol-free gas exist near you, and if so, is it more expensive? Finally, is there a price premium you would be willing to pay for ethanol-free gas? Or would you even pick corn-free gas (and its groundwater-accumulating carcinogen MTBE) at price parity with E10?

By on June 18, 2010

America’s ethanol producers were some of the few Americans optimistic or cynical enough to find a bright side to the BP Gulf spill. Ethanol’s lobbyists-in-chief, GrowthEnergy, decided it would be real cute to run ads highlighting all the bad things ethanol hadn’t done. One of which is not “Ethanol has never harmed the Gulf of Mexico,” by the way. As the ad parody above points out though, even if the ethanol was creating a dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico for years before the BP spill, there are quite a few other things ethanol hasn’t done. Like this, just in from the AP [via Google]: convince the EPA to buy into its shameful, manipulative PR line and rush a decision on increasing blending limits.
(Read More…)

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