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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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. (Read More…)
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.
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.
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]
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.
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.
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…
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.”