The Truth About Cars » E85 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Tue, 29 Jul 2014 21:42:50 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » E85 For First Time, E.P.A. Proposes Cutting Renewable Fuel Standards’ 2014 Ethanol Requirement for Gasoline Blends Mon, 18 Nov 2013 14:00:02 +0000 rfs

While ethanol producers have been lobbying to increase the blend of that alcohol in standard gasoline to 15%, many in the auto industry have opposed that increase, saying that it could damage cars. Now the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has, for the first time, proposed reducing the ethanol requirement in the nation’s fuel supply. Actually, what they are proposing is a smaller increase in the overall use of ethanol, which means that the national standard may not be raised to E15.

Enough ethanol is being produced to meet the EPA’s current requirements. Most of that is used to make E10, a 10% ethanol / 90% gasoline mix, and E85, which is 85% ethanol. The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 and the Renewable Fuels Standard mandate increasing the amount of ethanol used in the national fuel supply, but the EPA is facing what has been called the “blend wall”. If any more alcohol is mixed into regular gas it will push the overall blend above 10%, which could create problems with the fuel systems of cars.

The requirements project a use of 15-15.52 billion gallons of ethanol and the EPA is recommending that refiners and blenders use a total of 15.21 billion gallons, within the lower range of the projections.

Says the EPA:

[The] EPA is proposing to adjust the applicable volumes of advanced biofuel and total renewable fuel to address projected availability of qualifying renewable fuels and limitations in the volume of ethanol that can be consumed in gasoline given practical constraints on the supply of higher ethanol blends to the vehicles that can use them and other limits on ethanol blend levels in gasoline.

The move was praised by the oil industry and criticized by ethanol makers and farmers.

Biofuel supporters were even more disappointed than those backing corn ethanol, with the EPA proposing to significantly reduce the cellulosic biofuel standard. Producers haven’t been able to make anywhere near the original standards.

The EPA said, “Based on an assessment of the available volumes of cellulosic biofuels, EPA is proposing to set the cellulosic biofuel standard at 17 million gallons, significantly lower than CAA target of 1.75 billion gallons (PDF).”

These are proposed changes in the rules. There will be a period for public comment followed by hearings before any of the proposals are given the force of law.

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Piston Slap: The Corrosive Effects of Ethanol Laced Gasoline? Wed, 12 Jun 2013 11:11:34 +0000

Misha writes:

Hi Sajeev!

I’m a long time lurker, first time asker. I was curious about the effects of E85/E90 ethanol laced gasoline. I have read a bunch about how older cars are susceptible to corrosion damage to various parts of the fuel line.

I was curious to know if this, or any other ethanol related problem, is still applicable in modern cars? Thanks a lot!

Sajeev answers:

Let’s try to avoid the Ethanol Sucks/Support Our Farmers debate, hmm-kay? Long time TTAC readers already know where “we” stand on the issue.

Cars older than 2001 cannot run gasoline with more than 10% ethanol in the mix. Most newer cars cannot run E85/E90 because they aren’t tuned/programmed for it. Older cars (and small gas engines like lawn mowers) with rubber fuel lines are totally screwed, and perhaps also there’s a concern with corrosion of metal components.  But ethanol is only corrosive in some applications: per Wikipedia:

“High alcohol fuel blends are reputed to cause corrosion of aluminum fuel system components. However, studies indicate that the addition of water to the high alcohol fuel blends helps prevent corrosion. This is shown in SAE paper 2005-01-3708 Appendix 1.2 where gasoline/alcohol blends of E50, nP50,IP50 nB50, IB50 were tested on steel, copper, nickel, zinc, tin and three types of aluminum. The tests showed that when the water content was increased from 2000ppm to 1%, corrosion was no longer evident except some materials showed discolouration.”

I spoke (off the record? Ish?) with a Ford engineer friend of mine…just to make this posting a little more kosher.

“It’s only calibrated to do so if it’s advertised. I know at Ford we slap E85/E90 on the capless filler if it can take it. So like on newer cars like the 2.0L Focus, yes. But legacy powertrains like your Ranger, no. (except the 3.0L Vulcan, GOTCHA! – SM)  It’s all in the calibration and the capabilities of the ignition system.”

What’s the key takeaway here?  RTFM…son!


Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice. 

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U.S. Congress Stops Ethanol Subsidies & Tariff on Brazilian Imports Tue, 27 Dec 2011 20:24:36 +0000 After spending thirty years and $45 billion dollars encouraging the use of ethanol the United States Congress has adjourned for the year without extending tax subsidies to the to ethanol industry. The subsidy currently costs taxpayers $6 billion a year. A related import tariff on Brazilian ethanol was also allowed to expire. With a wide group of critics, cutting across political and ideological lines, the tax break had become unpopular in Washington. Business interests in the food and cattle industry as well as environmentalists opposed the law which paid 45 cents per gallon to fuel blenders to subsidize their costs for producing E10 gasoline/ethanol blend. The subsidy resulting in corn being diverted from feedlots and food processors to ethanol production, raising the cost of many foodstuffs. The environmental movement now opposes corn ethanol as a fuel it because it considers the fuel and its production to be “dirty”, in the words of Friends of the Earth.

Ethanol trade groups have said that the industry would survive the loss of the subsidy, now that the US ethanol production industry has become established. The industry is still protected by congressional mandates that call for 15 billion gallons of renewable fuels by 2015 and 36 billion gallons by 2022.

The ethanol issue involves a number of powerful players, corn growers and affiliated industries on one side and food interests, automakers and engine builders on the other. Then there’s the EPA to consider. The EPA has approved the use of E15, an 85/15 gasoline/ethanol blend, for use in post 2001 cars. Manufacturers say that without modifications, E15 will damage engines. In February, in a bipartisan move the House voted 285-136 to block the EPA from moving ahead with E15 regulations.

While ending the subsidy would seemingly discourage ethanol’s use, the end of the 54 cents per gallon tariff on imported Brazilian ethanol might do more to encourage that use than the subsidies did. Brazil is one place where it makes sense to use ethanol as a fuel because of Brazil’s huge sugar industry. The ratio of energy needed to produce it vs the energy obtained in the fuel for ethanol made from corn is barely greater than one, 1.3:1, compared to 2:1 for using sugar beets and 8:1 for sugar cane, the feedstock for Brazil’s ethanol. It costs half as much to make Brazilian cane ethanol as it does to make American corn ethanol. According to one academic study transportation costs to US ports eliminate that competitive advantage, but if that was a certainty, Brazilian sugar cane producers wouldn’t have threatened to start a trade war if the tariff wasn’t ended.

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Study Says: EV Drivers Coddled, Flex Fuel Cars Discriminated Against Sun, 11 Dec 2011 17:18:04 +0000

So what is all this talk about flex fuel being shoved down our the throats of our cars, and EVs driving up Xanax sales due to rampant range anxiety? Bloomberg brings us astounding news:

“Public charging stations for electric autos outnumber outlets for alternative motor fuels by almost two to one, even though there are hundreds of times more flex- fuel vehicles than plug-in cars on U.S. roads. “

Bloomies says that the approximately 16,500 highway-worthy electric vehicles in the U.S. have a choice of 4,448 public charging stations, not counting the ones at home or at work. Bloomberg bases this on U.S. Energy Department data.

Alaska 0 1 0 0 0 0 8 9
Alabama 6 11 20 4 0 1 106 148
Arkansas 5 6 20 11 0 0 49 91
Arizona 14 30 32 41 1 1 67 186
California 46 224 58 1262 23 34 227 1874
Colorado 14 29 83 30 1 0 52 209
Connecticut 3 14 0 39 2 1 16 75
Dist. of Columbia 2 2 3 35 0 0 0 42
Delaware 3 1 1 0 0 0 3 8
Florida 15 14 61 256 0 0 71 417
Georgia 25 17 51 33 0 0 57 183
Hawaii 8 0 1 50 1 0 3 63
Iowa 3 0 163 21 0 0 21 208
Idaho 9 8 8 19 0 0 29 73
Illinois 8 26 219 152 1 0 71 477
Indiana 4 9 153 9 0 0 51 226
Kansas 6 4 40 13 0 0 38 101
Kentucky 4 1 28 0 0 0 42 75
Louisiana 2 9 2 12 0 0 22 47
Massachusetts 7 20 4 45 1 0 21 98
Maryland 7 6 20 148 0 0 17 198
Maine 3 1 0 0 0 0 7 11
Michigan 16 16 121 336 4 0 65 558
Minnesota 3 2 363 63 0 0 38 469
Missouri 4 9 105 34 1 0 68 221
Mississippi 3 1 2 6 0 0 39 51
Montana 6 2 2 0 0 0 53 63
North Carolina 142 21 28 122 0 0 63 376
North Dakota 2 2 68 0 1 0 18 91
Nebraska 2 3 69 0 0 0 19 93
New Hampshire 5 4 0 15 0 0 12 36
New Jersey 3 22 4 70 0 0 10 109
New Mexico 6 10 11 6 0 0 53 86
Nevada 5 11 23 19 2 0 41 101
New York 24 103 82 214 9 0 34 466
Ohio 21 15 75 35 1 0 65 212
Oklahoma 6 63 15 0 0 0 56 140
Oregon 26 12 9 312 0 0 32 391
Pennsylvania 8 29 34 26 2 0 69 168
Rhode Island 2 5 0 2 0 0 6 15
South Carolina 30 5 100 82 2 0 27 246
South Dakota 1 0 102 0 0 0 17 120
Tennessee 44 6 45 122 0 0 74 291
Texas 14 35 57 297 1 5 490 899
Utah 5 72 4 11 0 1 29 122
Virginia 12 11 14 77 1 0 56 171
Vermont 1 3 0 8 1 0 5 18
Washington 32 15 19 365 0 0 67 498
Wisconsin 1 17 141 40 0 0 48 247
West Virginia 0 1 3 6 1 0 9 20
Wyoming 13 8 5 0 0 0 22 48
Totals By Fuel: 631 936 2468 4448 56 43 2563 11145

Doing the math, Bloomberg comes to the conclusion that this is one station per 3.7 electric cars. The 7.6 million alcoholic cars, the ones that can run on E85, get a raw deal. They have only 2,468 places to fill up if they want to fulfill their ethanol cravings. If they don’t find a station that serves booze, they have to go on the wagon and drink traditional gasoline.

Nevertheless, says Bloomberg, the Obama administration is pushing for even more charging stations, and puts $230 million of support from the Energy Department and private investment. behind it:

 “Ecototality received funds under the federal program to install 14,000 chargers in 18 metropolitan areas in six states and the District of Columbia.”

A flex fuel car will be on the pump for 5 minutes max, but even a quick charge to “top off” an electric car can take two to three hours, leading most drivers to charge at home or work, claims Brett Smith, co-director of manufacturing, engineering and technology at the Center for Automotive Research (CAR). He thinks those public charging stations might get lonely.

Brian Wynne, president of the Electric Drive Transportation Association, on the other hand calls the number of charging stations available today “a good start.”

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Senate Votes To Repeal Ethanol Tax Credits Fri, 17 Jun 2011 15:32:51 +0000

Cracks continued to in the ethanol industry’s once-impregnable political vanguard, as the San Francisco Chronicle reports that the Senate has voted to roll back the Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit (VEETC) as well as import tariffs on foreign-produced ethanol. This rollback of multi-billion-dollar ethanol credits failed earlier in the week, when the Detroit News reports automakers came out in opposition of a bill that would have required that 95% of all cars built in the US be capable of running 85% ethanol by 2017. The Senate did fail to pass a repeal of a government ethanol blending mandate that underpins the VEETC, however, and funding is moving forward for ethanol blending pumps. Still, the Senate’s repeal of VEETC alone means taxpayers could save over $5b per year on subsidies, and as one expert puts it

“Looks like we’re going to be relying on the biofuels mandates to make sure blenders use biofuels, rather than bribing them to use it with $6 billion,” [Bruce Babcock, professor of economics and the director of the Center for Agricultural and Rural Development at Iowa State University] said.

In fact, Babcock thinks killing the subsidy could help ethanol because it would come out from the stigma of being a subsidized industry. And removing the subsidy may strengthen support for the mandate, and the tariff on imports.

Over to you, House of Representatives…

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Quote Of The Day: The Beginning Of The End Of Ethanol Edition Tue, 24 May 2011 23:47:58 +0000

Over the course of TTAC’s coverage of US ethanol subsidies, I’ve often wondered why nobody made a political issue out of slaying an ever-growing waste of tax dollars ($6b this year on the “blender’s credit” alone). And with the political rhetoric about America’s debt prices rising, I’ve been wondering with more and more regularity when someone will finally take the ethanol fight to the American people, who are already voting against ethanol with their pocketbooks. But just last December, Al Gore explained why not even he, an environmentalist standard-bearer, could oppose the corn juice he knew was bad policy, saying

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.

The Iowa primary is a key early contest in the Presidential election, and because Iowans grow and refine a huge amount of corn ethanol, campaigning against ethanol subsidies in Iowa is a non-starter. At least that’s what the conventional wisdom was before today, when, with nearly nine months to go before the primary, the impossible just happened.

Republican governor of Minnesota Tim Pawlenty announced his candidacy for the 2012 presidential election today in Des Moines, Iowa with a speech that emphasized the need for truth in American politics. And he put an exclamation point on that theme by standing in front of Iowan farmers and saying (among many other things):

I’m here today to tell Iowans the truth, too.

America is facing a crushing debt crisis the likes of which we’ve never seen before. We need to cut spending, and we need to cut it.big time. The hard truth is that there are no longer any sacred programs.

The truth about federal energy subsidies, including federal subsidies for ethanol, is that they have to be phased out. We need to do it gradually. We need to do it fairly. But we need to do it.

Did a Republican presidential candidate just take the position Al Gore said he should have (for environmental reasons) but didn’t have the guts to? Have we entered Bizarro World? Not exactly, as the Washington Examiner points out

Pawlenty added caveats — that it would have to be phased out and not immediately, and by saying, “I’m not some out-of-touch politician. I served two terms as Governor of an ag state. I fully understand and respect the critical role farming plays in our economy and our society. I’ve strongly supported ethanol in various ways over the years, and I still believe in the promise of renewable fuels – both for our economy and our national security.”

But he added that, “even in Minnesota, when faced with fiscal challenges, we reduced ethanol subsidies. That’s where we are now in Washington, but on a much, much larger scale.”

So, nobody said politics was going to be all inspiring all the time. Still, regardless of political predilections, anyone who has followed the ethanol mess should be able to agree that Pawlenty’s anti-ethanol rhetoric in pre-primary Iowa were good for the debate. Now that it’s been done, hopefully more candidates will break free of the fear that kept Gore captive and just do the right thing already.

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Bipartisan Bill Seeks To End Cornerstone Ethanol Subsidy Wed, 11 May 2011 19:36:18 +0000

Yesterday evening I directed some ire at President Obama’s continued reliance on ethanol as a major plank of his do-nothing transportation/energy agenda, noting

That extra money for 10,000 E15-capable pumps? That’s because no gas station owner will pay to install a pump for a kind of fuel that only cars built since 2001 can use… and which the auto industry has tried to ban. And why E15 in the first place? Because blenders can’t sell enough E10 to blend the government-mandated amount of ethanol and collect their $6b this year in “blender’s credits” to do so. A subsidy to support a subsidy which in turn props up yet another subsidy (I may have missed a subsidy in there somewhere). You can’t make this stuff up.

The “cornerstone” subsidy that all other ethanol subsidies support is the Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit, or VEETC, or “blender’s credit,” a $6b per year subsidy that directs 45 cents to refiners for every gallon of ethanol they blend with gasoline. The VEETC nearly died in December’s lame duck session, only to be revived as a way to buy votes for the President’s tax policy. Now, however, The State Column reports that a bipartisan Senate bill has been introduced that would eliminate both the VEETC and import tariffs on foreign-made ethanol. And with a rash of bad news coming out about ethanol, this could just be the opportunity to kill this wasteful government subsidy with fire.

Where to start with the myriad reasons to end government support of a fuel that has done little besides replacing High Fructose Corn Syrup as the number one “stealth subsidy” for the agricultural business? Let’s begin with news that proves the futility of underwriting this failed fuel, namely the Detroit News‘s report that ethanol production actually dropped 1.5% last year, despite the billions in subsidies it receives. Just as the VEETC needs subsidies in order to stimulate market demand for the fuel blends it already subsidizes, this dispatch proves that no amount of government money is a substitute for organic market demand. If the government needed an excuse to cut bait, this should be enough.

Another sign that ethanol subsidies have reached the limits of their efficacy: a report from GreenCarCongress, showing that 75% of all hybrid and AFV (alternative fuel vehicles) in the US are E85 “flex fuel” vehicles. That’s a sign of success you say? Think again. E85 consumption in 2009 only hit 71,213 thousand gasoline-equivalent gallons, which means each “green” flex fuel vehicle uses about 1/10th of one gallon of E85 per year. So even if people (or governments) buy flex fuel cars, they still choose not to run E85… which is no surprise, given that E85 regularly returns worse fuel economy. Unfortunately, the government’s ethanol blending mandate will basically require a huge sift back to E85 in order to work, so once again the government is trying to subsidize through a brick wall.

And as discouraging as these short-term signals are for the government’s attempts to create a sustainable ethanol industry (if, in fact that was the goal of ethanol subsidies), when stacked against the long-term costs one gets a real sense of the waste involved. According to a new book published by Stanford’s Hoover Institute,taxpayers will have spent “nearly half a trillion dollars” between 2008 and 2017 on a fuel that nobody wants to use. That’s right, Five Hundred Billion Dollars, or enough for more than ten auto bailouts (assuming zero payback). And while we spend $6b this year on the VEETC en route to that staggering price tag, the head of the Renewable Fuel Association still has the gall to whine that “the future of biofuels is tied to the price of oil.” Anyone else just throw up a little bit?

But despite all these signs that ethanol subsidies are accomplishing nothing at a huge cost, this new bill to eliminate the VEETC and ethanol import tariffs is no sure thing. Remember, far more than being about the environment or energy security, ethanol is about politics… namely the fact that Iowa is a key early presidential primary that no candidate wants to lose. Even the arch-Greenie Al Gore himself admits that he “regrets” his support for ethanol, but

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

With a presidential election looming in 2012, any efforts to kill ethanol subsidies will be met with stiff opposition from grandstanding presidential hopefuls, hoping to steal the Iowa primary. Here’s hoping that, for once, policy actually trumps politics.


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What’s Wrong With This Picture: Fixing Transportation Edition Tue, 10 May 2011 23:07:58 +0000

President Obama devoted his weekly address to energy and transportation policy this week, speaking to the nation from an Allison hybrid bus transmission plant in Indiana. A White House blog post accompanying video of the President’s speech included a large infographic on “The Obama Energy Agenda And Gas Prices,” the transportation-oriented section I’ve excerpted above. This one section is actually a fairly good representation of Obama’s auto-related energy policy preferences, and illustrates why I often find myself criticizing the president here at TTAC.

One half of the graphic is devoted to electric vehicles, which it shows becoming rapidly cheaper without offering any sourcing for the numbers (Churlish cynicism, you say? Sadly, a little cynicism is called for when it comes to the White House and EVs). The numbers actually come from this DOE report [PDF], published last summer, which cites the DOE’s Vehicle Technology Program and assumes 100 mile range and 3 miles per kWh is a “typical battery.” Because the industry uses $/kWh, we’ll call this “typical” battery a 33 kWh unit… and find that the government assumes a 2021 price per kWh of about $150. The 2015 price breaks out to around$300/kWh. For some perspective,  a Boston Consulting Group study released early last year found that

Given current technology options, we see substantial challenges to achieving [the "holy grail" price of $250/kWh] by 2020.

Without a major breakthrough in battery technologies, fully electric vehicles that are as convenient as ICE-based cars—meaning that they can travel 500 kilometers (312 miles) on a single charge and can recharge in a matter of minutes—are unlikely to be available for the mass market by 2020.

Is Obama banking on Germany’s “miracle battery” or is there some other major battery breakthrough that has changed the game in the last year? Sure, Nissan claims to have beat down its Leaf battery costs to $375/kWh, but that was probably only possible due to its risky global tool-up to around 300k units worth of annual battery production scale, from Oppama to Sunderland to Smyrna. Will anyone else bet that big on EV batteries between anytime soon? At this point nobody seems anxious to bet bigger on EVs than Nissan has, making $150/kWh by 2020 seem highly unlikely.

But critics of Obama’s overemphasis on EVs can’t go much farther beyond dismissing his “1 million EVs by 2015″ goal as naive or unlikely to succeed… and ultimately such criticism will only inspire more EV subsidies. It’s the other half of Obama’s transportation “Energy Agenda” that’s the most fertile territory for serious attack. And no, not the “cleaner buses” point… it’s Obama’s reliance on biofuels as the second major plank of his energy strategy that rankles.

Huge swaths of the American business community have joined up with environmental groups to protest the continuing subsidization of ethanol, most recently when the EPA announced the E15 approval Obama trumpets in his infographic. That extra money for 10,000 E15-capable pumps? That’s because no gas station owner will pay to install a pump for a kind of fuel that only cars built since 2001 can use… and which the auto industry has tried to ban. And why E15 in the first place? Because blenders can’t sell enough E10 to blend the government-mandated amount of ethanol and collect their $6b this year in “blender’s credits” to do so. A subsidy to support a subsidy which in turn props up yet another subsidy (I may have missed a subsidy in there somewhere). You can’t make this stuff up.

Finally, we have the “commercialization of cellulosic ethanol,” a red herring that’s been touted by ethanol backers for at least three years now. The latest on that front? A case study posted at notes

Based upon information provided by the corporation proposing the biorefinery, Frontier Renewable Resources LLC, owned by Mascoma Corporation and J.M. Longyear, I would not consider cellulosic ethanol to be efficient from an energy perspective.

The facility would have 6 boilers rated at 90 million BTU/hour that will operate 24/7 for 347 days per year according to information provided in the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Environmental Assessment. Converting the BTUs to megajoules, the boilers would generate 4.7 billion megajoules per year of energy that will be used to make ethanol.

The plant is projected to produce 40 million gallons of ethanol/year according to the DOE’s Environmental Assessment and Frontier’s air pollution permit application, which has an energy content of 3.3 billion megajoules of energy. The boiler energy consumed in making ethanol would be 1.43 times more than the energy content of the ethanol that they plan to produce. According to the DOE’s Environmental Assessment, timber harvesting, wood processing and wood transportation would require approximately 3.75 million gallons of diesel fuel per year. When diesel fuel energy use is included in the energy required for the production of the ethanol, the ratio of energy consumed/energy produced increases to 1.59.

Sound good? It had better, because the goal is to build four more or cellulosic”or “advanced” (read: made from anything other than corn) ethanol plants  in order to meet the (recently reduced) cellulosic ethanol blending mandates. Or, not. Remember, by law we have to use 36b gallons of this stuff by 2022, whether it makes any sense or not.

Ultimately, Obama’s transportation “Energy Agenda” is severely lacking in substance in terms of both long-term strategy and short-term policy. Half of the agenda seems to be waiting for EVs to cheapen up, while the other half seems to be not escaping the endless trap of ethanol subsidies (at a time when it such an escape seems most likely). Without trotting out the familiar campaign slogans (as I’m hoping to start a conversation on policy rather than politics), this is hardly the bold, new direction that Obama’s fans and detractors alike seem to expect from him (oh shoot, there’s a political lesson there… please ignore it).  Between natural gas, battery swap infrastructure and (gasp) a gas tax, there are plenty of options in Obama’s toolbox for charting a more daring, effective course for US energy and transportation policy… we’re just waiting to hear something, anything new.

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GAO: Government Ethanol Rules Actually Increase Gasoline Use Thu, 05 May 2011 17:07:16 +0000

A massive study by the Government Accountability Office into “Opportunities to Reduce Potential Duplication in Government Programs, Save Tax Dollars, and Enhance Revenue” has turned up an interesting finding. It seems that the government’s desire to buy more “alternative fuel vehicles” (AFVs) may actually increase the amount of gasoline used by government fleets. Why? Because agencies largely buy E85 ethanol-powered vehicles to fulfill their AFV requirements, and there aren’t enough E85 pumps to actually fuel the fleet, forcing agencies to obtain waivers to buy regular gasoline. Hit the jump for the report’s full findings on this, the latest unintended consequence of America’s ongoing ethanol-subsidy boondoggle.

The GAO report finds to basic contradictions in the government’s AFV-boosting fleet strategy, to wit:

  • Increase the use of alternative fuels vs. the unavailability of alternative fuels.Agencies are required to increase alternative fuel use, although most alternative fuels are not yet widely available. Thus, agencies have been purchasing primarily flex-fueled AFVs, those that can operate on E85—a blend of up to 85 percent ethanol and petroleum—or petroleum. However, since E85 was only available at 1 percent of U.S. fueling stations in 2009, agencies are requesting waivers from the requirement to use alternative fuels. According to DOE, in 2010, approximately 55 percent of flex-fueled AFVs received a waiver. Further, some fleet operators indicated they use petroleum without a waiver when alternative fuels are available because it is either more convenient, less expensive, or both.
  • Acquire AFVs vs. reduce petroleum consumption. Agencies are required to purchase AFVs, but this requirement may, in some cases, undermine the requirement to reduce petroleum consumption. Virtually every agency has succeeded in acquiring more AFVs, but there have been only modest reductions in petroleum use and modest increases in alternative fuel use, due to the lack of available alternative fuels. As previously stated, the lack of available alternative fuels results in agencies using petroleum to fuel AFVs. In areas where alternative fuels are not available, purchasing more fuel efficient non-AFVs could reduce petroleum consumption more than purchasing AFVs.

Meanwhile, until we hear of specific plans to fix these fundamental issues, expect the waste and non-fulfillment of gasoline use reduction goals to continue, as President Obama recently pledged that every new government fleet vehicle purchase would be an AFV by  2015. E85 is widely considered to be the most common type of government AFV purchase, as they are relatively cheap and more robust for certain government tasks than hybrids and plug-ins. And, as Automotive News [sub] reports, the baseline ain’t great either:

In 2009, Obama’s first year in office, the U.S. government increased gasoline use in vehicles 3 percent from the previous year even as he boosted hybrid purchases to about 10 percent of the federal fleet from 1 percent in 2008, according to data from GSA and the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Overall government energy use fell about nine-tenths of 1 percent in 2009, the data showed. Figures for 2010 are scheduled to come out later this year.

And if the government is struggling to actually reduce its gasoline use with E85 vehicles, imagine how the rest of the US is doing. After all,

Vehicles that can run on E85 accounted for 37,590 of the 43,750 alternative-fuel fleet vehicles sold last year, according to the Energy Information Administration

Meanwhile, on the other end of the ethanol subsidy complex, the US Comptroller General used his testimony [PDF] to identify domestic ethanol subsidies as an “Opportunity to Reduce Potential Duplication in Government Programs, Save Tax Dollars, and Enhance Revenue” saying

Congress supported domestic ethanol production through a $5.4 billion tax credit program in 2010 and through a renewable fuel standard that applies to transportation fuels used in the United States. The ethanol tax credit and the renewable fuel standard can be duplicative in stimulating domestic production and use of ethanol, and can result in substantial loss of revenue to the Treasury. The ethanol tax credit was recently extended at 45 cents per gallon through December 31, 2011. The tax credit will cost $5.7 billion in forgone revenues in 2011. Because the fuel standard allows increasing annual amounts of conventional biofuels through 2015, which ensures a market for a conventional corn starch ethanol industry that is already mature, Congress may wish to consider whether revisions to the ethanol tax credit are needed, such as reducing, modifying, or phasing out the tax credit.

Instead, it seems the government is heading in the opposite direction, sinking yet more money into ethanol infrastructure. AN [sub] reports:

A U.S. Agriculture Department program that started in the last two weeks is pushing for 10,000 pumps in the next five years, he said. The U.S. has about 162,000 fueling stations, according to the association.

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New Ethanol Bill Faces Automaker Resistance Thu, 07 Apr 2011 22:15:17 +0000

How things change in a few years! Just a few short orbits of the sun ago, automakers like GM were some of the biggest boosters of ethanol subsidies. Now, the Detroit News reports

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers – the trade association representing General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co., Chrysler Group LLC, Toyota Motor Corp. and eight others – opposes a bill sponsored by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, that would require 90 percent of all vehicles to run on E85 – a blend of 85 percent ethanol – by the 2016 model year.

Shane Karr, vice president for government affairs, said the mandate “would cost consumers more than $2 billion per year” for flex fuel vehicles if automakers passed on the full cost “even though consumers will have little or no access to alternative fuels. Therefore, such a mandate is essentially a tax with little consumer benefit.”

In the face of this new opposition, the Renewable Fuels Association has even taken to employing the rhetoric of market economics to justify market-manipulating ethanol subsidies. And it doesn’t seem to be convincing anyone. If anything, Harkin’s bill may just hasten the death of existing subsidies, which are under pressure as both Democrats and Republicans seek to trim the federal budget.

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Study: Ethanol Industry Must Go Back To E85 To Beat “Blend Wall” Fri, 14 Jan 2011 15:40:54 +0000

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.

Do you remember E85? A few years ago, automakers like GM were deep into the “Flex Fuel” craze, touting the 85% ethanol blend as America’s opportunity to free itself from foreign oil dependence. But after the so-called “tortilla riots” in which Mexicans protested the rising cost of corn driven up by ethanol (not to mention a growing awareness of ethanol’s environmental costs) GM has become a far less vocal proponent of ethanol, as the Alliance of Automotive Manufacturers has even gone as far as to sue the EPA to stop E15 ethanol blends. And no wonder the enthusiasm for E85 in particular has taken a hit recently: not only does it use the most ethanol, thereby incurring the greatest impacts on food prices and the environment, but the EPA has even stated that

E85 needs to be priced competitively with (if not lower than) conventional gasoline based on its reduced energy content, increased time spent at the pump, and limited availability

And despite the huge government subsidies enjoyed by the ethanol industry, E85 simply isn’t priced anywhere near competitively. But the problem isn’t limited to the issues listed above either: E85 has to be so appealing to consumers that they choose to purchase a “Flex-Fuel” or E85-capable vehicle from the limited models that offer such capability.

Given the blend limits on E10 (or the blend wall), additional ethanol consumption can come from only E85. However, this leads to a new dynamic that further exacerbates the challenge. Unlike E10, which is a derived demand from gasoline, E85 acts as a substitute for E10 in equation. Thus, the effect of increasing E85 is to crowd out some of the ethanol used to blend E10, further lowering the E10 blend wall.

And the blend wall isn’t the only challenge: because E85 must be used to soak up the government’s ethanol mandates, there would also be a pump and Flex-Fuel vehicle (FFV) bottleneck as well. The study concludes that, even with E15 coming from from normal gas pumps

Ethanol in E15 consumption would grow from 13.1 BGY in 2010 to a peak of 19.7 BGY in 2016, before falling to 17.5 BGY in 2022, as the continued growth in E85 once again crowds out the use of the lower-blend fuel. By 2022, there needs to be around 90.4 million FFVs on the roads, served at 236,208 E85 dispensers. The total cost of installation for E85 dispensers and FFVs is $23.4 billion, or an NPV of $8.0 billion for this scenario. Thus, compared with the E10 scenario, the adoption of an E15 blending limit would reduce the consumption of E85 by 6 BGY in 2022 and lessen the demand for FFVs and E85 dispensers. This would save an NPV of $3.1 billion, or 28% of the Scenario 1 E10 NPV.

And who, pray tell, would bear the $8b cost of forcing Americans to buy a fuel they don’t want? Oh, and by the way, the study notes that

the cost estimates provided here are clearly underestimates of total cost

And if E15 is proven to be harmful to non-FFVs, we’re back to “scenario 1″ in which the “underestimated” cost rises above $11b. And all this is necessary only to make sense of a subsidized mandate that will cost taxpayers at least $6b per year next year alone. The ethanol industry has clearly gone down the government subsidy rabbit hole, and it’s time for the madness to stop.

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Born On The Cob: 680 Miles With E85 Mon, 01 Nov 2010 18:11:36 +0000

Last week, I reported on my decision to use E85 fuel in my 2009 Town Car for a week or so. How’d it go? Well, as it so happened, I accidentally veered off the road while texting and killed a

pretty solid “sexting” session with one of automotive journalism’s most prominent, and beautiful, distaff contributors. (I apologize for the placement of the “jump” there, but I’ve been told to “get my clicks up” or something to that effect.) Back to the math.

In the original article, I indicated that my “target mileage” to break even with E85 usage was 17.8mpg, based on my gasoline mileage of 21.4 average and the $2.29/$2.79 pricing of E85 and 87 octane fuel. The first tank was very promising; I averaged 18.1mpg with no difficulty.

The second tank was still $2.29, but gasoline was $2.63. This made my target mileage 18.6mpg, but from the moment I refilled the mileage began dropping precipitously, eventually settling at 16.4. Worse yet, twice during my morning commute I noticed a low-speed stumble. Was it because I had fuelled up at a different E85 station?

Over the course of the first 28.5 gallons, I averaged 16.4 mpg total. My third fillup, still priced at $2.29 but this time facing a gasoline price of $2.87, came just as temperatures in Ohio fell to the 45-degree Fahrenheit range. A Halloween weekend of serving as a designated-driver taxi for some female friends found me pulling into my driveway at 3:05AM, having burned thirteen more gallons and lowered my overall mileage to 15.7. There was a persistent smell of alcohol in the car, but this turned out to be due to the “to-go cup” of Abolut Apeach that somebody spilled down her costume. It turns out there was no cotton between her and the seat to absorb the drink, but I’m told that vodka can sterilize almost anything, including corrected-grain leather.

Today’s commute, done with the windows down just in case I got pulled over by the Ohio Highway Patrol, raised the average back to 15.9 and burned all but a gallon or so of fuel. I’m now sitting in a corporate cafeteria doing the math. A rough total of 42.5 gallons, purchased for $97, carried me approximately 675 miles. Assuming there would have been negative temperature effect for using standard gasoline, something of which I am not completely certain, I would have needed 31.5 gallons of gasoline to cover the same distance. Averaging out the cost of gasoline over the past eight days, I would be looking at about $87.

This is the kind of sample size and scientific methodology that probably makes Michael Karesh vomit directly into his pocket protector, but if you want some genuine, peer-reviewed literature, I suggest you read Social Text. The raw numbers indicate that it cost me ten bucks to run E85.

The intangibles aren’t as clear-cut. Using E85 decreases my range, shortens my refuel interval, and possibly causes the Townie to be a bit upset in the mornings. On the other hand, it raises the price of food, and I’m told that’s about all this country exports nowadays, so that’s a positive thing. right?

I’m semi-tempted to keep running the yellow-handle fuel for a week or so more. I will probably go through another 30 gallons or so before I leave for Toronto on Friday for another weekend catastrophe. If I can find an E85 station in Buffalo I might be able to run the Lincoln on corn for my entire trip and purchase no fuel at all in tax-rapacious Ontario.

I will leave the last word to one of my Halloween party pals. When informed that her short-wheelbase limo for the evening was running on alcohol, she frowned for a moment: “What are we going to drink, then, if the car drinks all the good stuff?”

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Take A Chance On E(85) Mon, 25 Oct 2010 14:00:55 +0000

You’ve heard the old joke about ham and eggs, right? The chicken is involved, and the pig is committed? Well, I’m going to give ethanol a shot for a while and report the details to all of you. I’m involved, and my Town Car is committed.

There are three E85 stations within five miles of my house. Two of them are operated by the Kroger grocery chain. E85 pricing is perhaps the one thing in America more subject to political and economic meddling than gasoline pricing, but it’s currently at a point where it could make sense to run it.

To find out for myself, I’ve run my 2009 Lincoln Town Car Signature Limited down to below “E” and refueled with E85. On October 24, 2010, E85 was priced at $2.29 locally for me, compared to $2.79 for 87 octane gas. My Town Car reports 21.4 miles per gallon in mixed-use driving, usually running between 75 and 85 on the freeway and with about five surface street miles for every fifteen ones on the Interstate.

I estimate that I need to average 17.8 mpg in order for E85 to “balance out” under these conditions. I’m scheduled to drive about 600 miles in the next seven days, so on Monday I will come back and tell you how I did.

No, this isn’t particularly scientific, and it ignores the other potential costs of E85 — wear on the engine, fuel system damage, food prices in Zimbabwe, and so on — but it’s a start.

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What’s Wrong With This Picture: The Very Model Of A Modern Mainstream Automobile Edition Thu, 16 Sep 2010 16:00:44 +0000

The Automotive X-Prize is over, and the Edison2 Team has won the “Mainstream” class with its Very Light Car. It may not look like any mainstream car you’ve seen recently, but it does fit four passengers, offers air-con, heater, an audio system, and a 200 mile range. And using a 250 cc ethanol engine, it got 102.5 MPGe, while accelerating to 60 MPH in 14.2 seconds. But this was not necessarily a hard-fought victory: Edison2 was the only team that even made it into the finals in the “Mainstream” class. Meanwhile, the X-Tracer motorcycle shown above won the “Alternative” class. In fact, it won the whole damn competition with 197 MPGe while accelerating to 60 MPH in just over 6 seconds. So, despite the ego-boosting rhetoric from Nancy Pelosi, and the other politicians speaking at the awards ceremony, the Automotive X-Prize didn’t so much advance America closer towards a fuel-efficient future as it proved that motorcycles are way more efficient than cars are. The much-maligned gas guzzlers that we know as “mainstream cars” are in little danger from this lot.

"Mainstream" class winner Edison2s with the X-Tracer edison2 Who you calling a niche? Picture 537 edison22 ]]> 19
E85 Boondoggle Of The Day: EPA Lets Corn-Free Ethanol Goal Slide Tue, 13 Jul 2010 22:51:02 +0000

Since corn-based ethanol began coming under attack for a wide variety of negative environmental and social impacts, the renewable fuels industry has sought to cover the sins of its corn juice gravy train with a coat of “advanced biofuel” greenwash. Accordingly, the ethanol blending mandate (from the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA)) has included requirements for cellulosic and non-corn-derived biofuels which the industry says will replace corn… eventually. Unfortunately it seems that “eventually” is going to take longer than was expected, as the EPA has already slashed the 2010 mandate for advanced biofuel blending from 100m gallons to 6.5m gallons. And today the EPA announced rules for the 2011 advanced biofuel blending goal, and once again the non-corn fuels are getting the short end of the stick.

The new goal is as follows:

Biomass-based diesel (0.80 billion gallons; 0.68 percent)
Advanced biofuels (1.35 billion gallons; 0.77 percent)
Cellulosic biofuels (5 – 17.1 million gallons; 0.004 – 0.015 percent)
Total renewable fuels (13.95 billion gallons; 7.95 percent)

The new goal allows for a range of cellulosic biofuel production of between 5m gallons and 17.1m gallons. That means that it’s possible that next year’s cellulosic biofuel blending level could actually be lower than this year’s 6.5m target. The overall blending level for all renewable fuels next year is now set at 7.95 percent (13.95b gallons), down from 8.25 percent.

Why the reduction in renewable biofuel mandates, especially cellulosic ethanol which can be made from waste biomass? According to the EPA’s release

Based on analysis of market availability, EPA is proposing a 2011 cellulosic volume that is lower than the EISA target. EPA will continue to evaluate the market as it works to finalize the cellulosic standard in the coming months. Overall, EPA remains optimistic that the commercial availability of cellulosic biofuel will continue to grow in the years ahead.

Not that market demand (or lack thereof) has ever stopped the government from subsidizing corn-based ethanol. In fact, sales of E85 are so low that renewable fuel lobbyists worry that the so-called “blend wall” which prevents the blending of more than 10 percent ethanol in regular gasoline will hurt cellulosic and corn-based ethanol producers alike. But even the lobbyists from the Renewable Fuels Association admit that this drop in cellulosic biofuel blending goals will hurt the struggling industry, telling BusinessWeek

While this may be prudent for EPA based on market conditions, it does send a chilling effect through the investment community with respect to cellulosic ethanol technologies

And since the overall biofuel blending mandate hasn’t gone down, the cellulosic ethanol industry’s loss is the corn ethanol industry’s gain… even though the whole point of biofuel subsidies is to promote environmentally responsible options (weak demand hasn’t stopped subsidies for corn ethanol or electric cars). With 36b gallons of biofuel mandated by 2020 but no government support available for the struggling cellulosic and advanced biofuel industry, there’s little doubt but that corn ethanol will continue to benefit heavily from the EISA mandate. And until such time as renewable biofuels start receiving extra help (or the corn ethnaol industry is cut off from its flow of federal cheddar), the US will be no closer to a widely-available, environmentally-responsible gasoline alternative.

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EPA Resists Cheap BP Spill Symbolism, Delays Ethanol Blend Hike Fri, 18 Jun 2010 21:47:55 +0000

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.

Not that it’s much of a victory. After all, not exploiting a tragic disaster to shove down wasteful subsidies is hardly something to brag about. And it’s looking like E15 (“normal” gas with 15 percent ethanol, instead of the federal cap of 10 percent) will be approved this fall, as there’s no other way for blenders to meet their subsidized 12b gallon 2010 blending mandate. Secretary of Agriculture Tim Vilsack tells the AP that tests look “good” and that discussing a timeline is a positive sign for ethanol.

With this green light, USDA is surging ahead on our work to provide support to feedstock producers, biofuel refiners and infrastructure installers, such as blender pumps, to ensure that all the pieces of the ethanol supply chain are ready to supply the market demand,

But the ethanol industry wasn’t having it. GrowthEnergy made a statement harping on the BP spill, the Renewable Fuel Association called for an interim approval of E12, and ArchersDanielMidland said it was “disappointed.” [via]. And all because the EPA wants to test vehicles (even then, only 2007 models and later) to prove they won’t be harmed by the 15 percent blends that the industry is so impatient for. But this is the second time the pro-ethanol forces have seen an E15 ruling delayed, and their billion dollar boondoggle needs to be fed to keep going. After all, when the ethanol industry talks about “demand,” they’re not referring to consumers, who have shown a marked distaste for the corn juice. Demand for ethanol begins and ends in Washington D.C.

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Will The BP Oil Spill Lead To More Ethanol Subsidies? Sat, 12 Jun 2010 15:12:22 +0000

Slate‘s Robert Bryce reckons so. With ethanol producers and blenders bouncing off the ethanol “blend wall” and into bankruptcy court, Bryce figures

Now the industry is counting on a president beleaguered by the made-for-TV crisis in the Gulf of Mexico to help it out. And he appears ready to do just that. On April 28, six days after the Deepwater Horizon rig sank, President Obama visited an ethanol plant in Missouri and declared that “there shouldn’t be any doubt that renewable, homegrown fuels are a key part of our strategy for a clean-energy future.” Obama also said, “I didn’t just discover the merits of biofuels like ethanol when I first hopped on the campaign bus.”

The strongest indication that an ethanol bailout is imminent came last Friday when Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack (former governor of Iowa, the nation’s biggest ethanol-producing state) said, “I’m very confident that we’re going to see an increase in the blend rate.”

The heart of the problem: overbuilt ethanol refining capacity. Thanks to generous “blender’s credits,” ethanol refining capacity has more than tripled over the last five years. With 13b gallons of built-up capacity, over 1b gallons of capacity are standing idle… even as another 1.4b gallons of capacity are being built.  According to the Earth Policy Institute, the ethanol industry used about a quarter of America’s domestically-produced grain last year, or “enough to feed 330 million people for one year at average world consumption levels.” Meanwhile, the “blend wall” doesn’t even reach 12b gallons until next year, meaning overcapacity is here to stay. Unless a bailout comes along.

And that, says Bryce, is exactly what’s about to happen. Because ethanol is a purely political project, the symbolism of the oil spill is not being left under-leveraged.According to the president of the Renewable Fuels Association:

The Gulf of Mexico disaster serves as a stark and unfortunate reminder of the need for domestically-produced renewable biofuels.

Even though the previous champion of Gulf of Mexico environmental destruction was… wait for it… the ethanol industry! But, as Rahm Emmanuel is so fond of saying, a crisis is a terrible thing to waste. Don’t be surprised if ethanol takes full advantage of this one.

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Meanwhile, Back At The Farm: Ford Promises Flex-Fuel Bumper Crop Wed, 05 May 2010 13:43:29 +0000

As TTAC readers well know: There is a huge E85 flex-fuel loophole in the new federal fuel economy CAFE standards. Ford will drive right through that barn door-sized hole.

By the end of this year, Ford wants to deliver 370,000 flex fuel vehicles, a number which they can trade against fuel oinkers. Let’s review:  A flex-fuel vehicle is one that is capable of running on E-85. But it doesn’t have to. It can also run on straight gas. Or on any mixture of the two fuels. As long as it’s E85 capable, it counts at least for a Peppermint White Chocolate Mocha at the DC CAFE.

At the 2010 BIO International Convention in Chicago, Sue Cischke, Ford’s group vice president, Sustainability, Environment and Safety Engineering said that “Ethanol and other biofuels help reduce the county’s dependence on imported oil.”

She even had stats to prove it: More ethanol is now produced and used in the U.S. than the amount of gasoline made from oil imported to the U.S. from Saudi Arabia and Iraq combined. Now there’s food for thought …

Ford is ready to expand flexible-fuel vehicle output to 50 percent of total 2012 model year vehicle production. Under one condition, says Ford:

“Assuming incentives continue to encourage the manufacturing, distribution and availability of renewable fuels as well as the production of flexible fuel vehicles.”

So CAFE credits aren’t incentive enough?

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GM Bets Nearly $900m On Next-Gen V8s, Thanks To E85 Loophole Tue, 27 Apr 2010 18:31:20 +0000

CAFE got you down? Worried that it’s only a matter of time before the feds come for your V8? You can relax a little, as General Motors is announcing that it will spend nearly a billion dollars rolling out its next generation of small-block V8 engines. According to Automotive News [sub], GM is dropping $893m to upgrade or renovate engine plants in Tonawanda, NY; Bay City, MI; Bedford, IN; Defiance, OH; and St. Catharines, Ontario. These new plants will build GM’s next generation of all-aluminum V8 engines, which will use direct-injection and a new combustion system for improved efficiency.GM won’t say what vehicles these new V8s will be offered in, but expect this to signal the end of the road for the Northstar family of engines as well as replacing the outgoing small-blocks. And what of GM’s commitment to reducing emissions? According to The General’s presser, all of its future small-block V8s will be E85-capable, meaning they qualify for the CAFE ramp-up’s Flex Fuel Vehicle credit loophole. As such,

their fuel economy is determined using a special calculation procedure that results in those vehicles being assigned a higher fuel economy level than would otherwise occur.

Which helps explain why Sen Chuck Schumer (D-NY) doesn’t mind publicly lobbying for V8 production at Tonawanda despite his strong belief in Global Warming: the regulatory fix was already in.

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E85 Boondoggle Of The Day: GM Still Tilting At Biofuels Tue, 16 Feb 2010 18:57:34 +0000

GM is spending about $100 million a year adding flex-fuel capability to our vehicles. We can’t afford to leave this capital stranded… I think it would be very helpful if we could get government assistance. But I really want the oil industry, I want the people who are at this conference, I want the government and I want us to just work together to make ethanol a reality,

This was the message the GM’s Tom Stephens took to the Renewable Fuels Association’s National Ethanol Conference in Orlando. And though Stephens’ exhortation of the ethanol industry makes for a pleasant addition to GM’s typical ethanol message (i.e. the first sentence of the quote), it’s little more than filler. GM’s push to align itself with the ethanol industry continues unabated, as Stephens reveals that half of all GM vehicles will be flex-fuel capable by 2012. The problem is that GM reckons the country needs another 10k E85 pumps (up from the current 2k), and since the ethanol industry would effectively collapse without government support, nobody from the industry is jumping in to take responsibility for this self-serving infrastructure project.

Today’s there’s 2,200 (ethanol fuel stations) that are out there but that’s not enough. Two-thirds of the pumps are concentrated in 10 states and those 10 states have only about 19 percent of the flex-fuel vehicles that we have on the road. That’s a big problem for us.

Though Stephens can quantify the problem, and hope that the industry will fix it, he’s whistling in the wind. Even with government blending mandates and tax credits, few localities have any interest in expanding ethanol’s availability, in no small part due to its highly questionable environmental benefits (in the current corn-based form). In fact, the Southern California Association of Governments recently turned down $11m in federal grants aimed at expanding ethanol pump availability. Why? As one representative put it:

If we could prevent forest fires that’s a good thing. However, preventing forest fires by cutting down every tree in the forest might not be the way to accomplish that… You have to consider carbon emissions in your land use, you have to consider everything. That is something that has not been done by the boosters of ethanol.

Local companies confirm that without the federal grants, the pumps will not be built. If production, blending and infrastructure construction must be paid for by the government to make ethanol a viable gasoline alternative, well, how viable is it really? The irony in all this: corn use in ethanol production is actually increasing, and thanks to the new Renewable Fuel Standard proposed rules, it likely will continue to. And all because political convenience is a far more persuasive argument in Washington than mere science.

The fact that GM remains so whole-heartedly in favor of this country’s continued flirtation with the welfare queen of alternative energy will not help wash the “Government Motors” label off anytime soon.

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E85 Boondoggle Of The Day: Obama’s Corny Ethanol Science Fri, 05 Feb 2010 14:22:07 +0000
First President Obama said the Senate may forego passing cap-and-trade, by far the most critical piece of the energy legislation that’s brewing on Capitol Hill. And now, the Environmental Protection Agency is suddenly pushing snake-oil, uh, corn-based ethanol in the latest iteration of the renewable fuel standard [proposed rule PDF], claiming that its substitution for gasoline will reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This contradicts an earlier renewable fuel standard iteration, and most studies of the matter, including a 2008 study in Science, which found that “corn-based ethanol, instead of producing a 20% savings [as per typical life-cycle studies], nearly doubles greenhouse emissions over 30 years and increases greenhouse gases for 167 years.” [Ed: for more on the corn ethanol sham check out TTAC's E85BOTD archives]

The Washington Post quoted EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson saying she was “confident” that “we weren’t dumbing down the standard to favor any particular industry or…outcome.” Of course any increase in corn ethanol mandates is pretty, well, dumb, and it’s a safe bet that Obama, who nixed gas tax relief during that summer of pricey petrol in ‘08, knows better than this. But then this is the same guy who during primary season ditched his Chrysler 300C muscle car after the press outed him, following his speech castigating the D3 for building bigger, faster cars. For all the changes in Washington over the last year, one thing hasn’t changed: when it comes to the renewable fuel standard, politics still trump science.

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EPA Won’t Rule On E15 Based On Two Cars Worth Of Data Tue, 01 Dec 2009 16:02:50 +0000 (

Well, the good news is that the EPA has thus far refused to allow gasoline blends of more than ten percent ethanol. The bad news is that the Agency has yet to take a firm stand against the idea of eventually allowing E15 into the nation’s gas pumps. In fact, as the EPA’s response to the ethanol lobbying group Growth Energy’s request to allow E15 [full document in PDF form here] opens:

It is vitally important that the country increase the use of renewable fuels. To meet that goal EPA is working to implement the long-term renewable fuels mandate of 36 billion gallons by 2022. To achieve the renewable fuel requirements in future years, it is clear that ethanol will need to be blended into gasoline at levels greater than the current limit of 10 percent.

This time though, the glacial pace of bureaucracy is a positive. Though the EPA believes that “the robust fuel, engine and emissions control systems on newer vehicles (likely 2001 and newer model years) will likely be able to accomodate higher ethanol blends, such as E15,” it won’t have definitive results until August of 2010. After all, the EPA admits that “presently, data are available on only two vehicles.” By May though, it will have tested 12 additional vehicles, making the data set literally good enough for government work. Unless that data “highlights potential problems,” the EPA says it will approve E15 for 2001 model year and later cars, pending the necessary changes in pump and vehicle labeling. [Hat Tip: Paul Greenberg]

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E85 Boondoggle Of The Week: Blend Cap Decision Coming This Week Mon, 30 Nov 2009 21:30:00 +0000

The EPA is set to rule as soon as tomorrow on the so-called “blend cap,” which forbids the sale of gasoline with more than ten percent ethanol. The petition to raise the blend cap came from a relatively new pro-ethanol lobbying group, Growth Energy, which requested the cap be moved to fifteen percent ethanol. Growth Energy’s request cites foreign oil dependence, “green-collar jobs” and the future of cellulosic ethanol as reasons to bump the blend cap, but as the New York Times reports, the real problem is that the ten percent limit is bumping up against a congressional mandate to blend 15b gallons of biofuels with gasoline by 2012. What the Times fails to mention is the financial incentive for raising the blend cap: the 51 cent-per-gallon of ethanol blended tax credit. In 2007, when gas consumption was at an all-time high and ethanol blending mandates required a mere 4.7b gallons (with 7b actually blended), that credit cost taxpayers nearly $3b. In 2012, when the mandate hits 15b gallons, the taxpayer tab will be closer to $7.65b.

Meanwhile, the Alliance of Automotive Manufacturers is warning that higher blends of ethanol will cut the lives of catalytic converters in half, while E85 (85 percent ethanol, used only by “flex-fuel” vehicles) is 31 cents per gallon more expensive than gas when its lower efficiency is factored in. The reality is that meeting blending mandates has simply become more difficult because they were legislated in 2007, when few saw reason to project downward trends in fuel consumption. As Americans struggle with economic downturn, and as the auto industry improves its fuel-efficient offerings, the ethanol blending mandates represent nothing more than a burden without meaningful reward. Here’s hoping the EPA stands strong on the ten percent limit, and the discussion moves towards limiting the public expense of the ethanol industry.

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Micro Brewed E85 Wed, 04 Feb 2009 16:32:13 +0000

You know, this sounds crazy, but this MicroFueler thing might just work. I’m no fuel expert (I just play one in the autoblogosphere), but flex fuel vehicles are ready to rock and roll on any mix this bad boy can brew. And now E-Fuel, the maker of the home pump, is expanding beyond the home brew market to… the micro brewery market. CNET’s Green Tech reports, “The inventor of the EFuel100 MicroFueler home ethanol maker has signed on Sierra Nevada Brewing to make ethanol from beer dregs.” I would have thought that waiting around for drinkers to leave the dregs would be a time-consuming business, but then that’s just a bad joke isn’t it? Here’s the real deal…

[Micro-brewer] Sierra Nevada every year generates 1.6 million gallons of “bottom of the barrel” beer yeast waste, which it now sells to farmers as feed. The MicroFueler will be able to raise the alcohol content in that mix to 15 percent and remove water.

Initially, Sierra Nevada plans to use the ethanol in its own vehicles. Once it has excess fuel, it will look to supply employees and distribute through E-Fuel’s distribution network, a company representative said.

Maybe Sierra Nevada should rename their Early Spring Beer (ESB) E85. Of course, then kids would be sticking E85 gas hoses down their gullet. And we’d have to tell them to “drink responsibly; avoid liquids intended for vehicles.”

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North Dakota Defeats Detroit-Only Tax Break Tue, 03 Feb 2009 19:44:37 +0000

North Dakota’s House of Representatives has voted down a measure which would have exempted the sale or lease of a Detroit-branded vehicle from the state’s five percent excise sales tax. The Chicago Tribune reports that the measure, which would have cost the state $25.9m, was defeated by a convincing 64-29 vote. “If we do anything as far as tax exemptions, we should have a greater good in mind,” says Rep. Jon Nelson, R-Rugby. “The passage of this bill . . . we don’t expect anything from (the Detroit auto companies), except that they’re going to sell more of the same old, same old. . . . Every technology in the world has grown, doubled or tripled or quadrupled, in the last 20 years, but the pickup I drive gets the same mileage as one 30 years ago,” he said. “Things like that . . . they haven’t progressed, and that is the reason that U.S. auto makers are in . . . the shape they’re in.”

Proving that Detroit doesn’t have a monopoly on poor decision making skills and regressive tendencies, Nelson went on to argue that the Detroit-only tax break should be used to encourage purchases of hybrids or “flex-fuel” vehicles. A flex-fuel tax break, notes Nelson, would help to promote North Dakota’s ethanol industry. Ironically, Detroit firms have a near-monopoly on flex-fuel vehicles, a strategy that many argue has distracted them from achieving the very efficiency gains Nelson longs for. Other lawmakers cited the struggles of import-brand car dealers, the foreign production of many Detroit-brand vehicles and general fiscal responsibility in opposing the measure.

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