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Ethanol Mandate: Jumping the Gun in a Big Way

By Jen Alic | Thu, 14 March 2013 23:13 | 12

US consumers aren’t sure the ethanol math is adding up here as they prepare for this year’s new federal mandate—they’re also not sure whether it’s good for their car engines.

To wit: This year, the use of renewable fuels must rise to 16.55 billion gallons, and this means more ethanol and more ethanol-blended gasoline for cars. More specifically, US refiners will be required to use 13.8 billion gallons of corn ethanol—up from 13.2 billion gallons now--but this is too much to blend with gasoline.

Right now, the gas Americans are putting in their cars is about 10% ethanol, but even this hasn’t been approved by regulators for ALL cars. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has approved the E15 blend—for newer cars--thanks to a lot of lobbying by the ethanol producers. 

There’s also more because demand for gasoline and diesel has grown less than forecast back in 2007, two years after the Renewable Fuel Standard was enacted. Demand for gasoline and diesel is also expected to decline more over the next decade. What this means is that ethanol will be a larger percentage of fuels on the market at a time when it hasn’t even been approved for all vehicles.  

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The government (and the EPA) may have jumped the gun here. Consumer groups are balking at a mandate they think could harm vehicles and leave car-owners stranded without insurance in the case of ethanol-related damage. All the pieces weren’t put into place ahead of this mandate, and insurance companies are balking at the idea that they may have to fork out cash for any damage ethanol might cause to engines.

Testing has already indicated that old vehicles manufactured before 2001 could incur damage from fueling up with E15. It’s too early to tell what, if any, damage ethanol blends could do to a car’s engine, but according to Popular Mechanics, “the main issue is whether or not your vehicle will be covered under warranty for any damage caused by E15 usage, and in many cases the answer is no.”

On a broader level, AAA notes that “millions of Americans are unfamiliar with E15, which means there is a strong possibility that many motorists may improperly fill up using this gasoline and damage their vehicle. Bringing E15 to the market without adequate safeguards does not responsibly meet the needs of consumers.”

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Consumer groups are also concerned that the ethanol mandate will end up costing drivers more. For now corn ethanol is the only commercially viable domestically produced biofuel—and it’s also apparently 27% less fuel-efficient than gasoline. Consumers will have to buy more to go as far, according to geologist David L. Tyler

The general consensus seems to be that we just aren’t ready for this great leap of faith in ethanol. According to Consumers Report, while the near-term advantages of ethanol look promising because it can be produced in large quantities and requires less complicated infrastructure and technology, there are still three main concerns about its viability as a fuel source: the diversion of food crops for biofuels, the lower energy potential and hence less fuel efficiency and the fact that we don’t yet know whether ethanol production increases or decreases CO2 emissions.

If we don’t know what to do with the 13.8 billion gallons we have to produce this year, what will we do in 2022, when the requirement is 36 billion? If consumer groups have their way, the ethanol mandate will be scrapped until the time is right.

They may get their way, in part: Two bills introduced into Congress seek to delay or ban altogether the sale of E15 gasoline.   

Incidentally, the bizarre has already begun. With refiners required to use a certain amount of biofuels each year or buy credits in the marketplace, prices for ethanol credits have spiked to $0.75 from $0.02 just a few months ago. Traders are having a field day with RINs (Renewable Identification Numbers) awarded to each gallon of ethanol produced. These RINs are basically credits for ethanol to meet blending targets or sell off extra credits for over-blending.

By. Jen Alic of Oilprice.com

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  • David B. Benson on March 15 2013 said:
    Ethanol from maize is a bad idea. Quit subsidizing it.
  • scott on March 15 2013 said:
    We need to scrap the use of ethanol in fuel altogether. if energy companies, refineries, etc. want to use it in their gas, that's fine. but there should be no requirement by the epa or any other government entity to use it, and there should be no subsidy for producing it. it drives up the prices of everything else we buy, especially food. it has no place in the energy field. if we need to transition to some other type of fuel, then it should be either CNG or LNG. Both of those are in plenteous supply and are much less expensive than ethanol.
  • John S. on March 15 2013 said:
    100% agree David!
    Corn Etanol is proven to not improve emissions, improve gas mileage...is corrosive to engines over extended periods.

    Stop this insanity! Farmers do not use ethanol based fuel. What does that tell you?

    Ethanol based sugar can is the way to go.
  • Carney on March 15 2013 said:
    First, EPA tested E15 extensively and proved it is harmless in cars made since 2001. Which happen to be the vast majority of cars on the road.

    Second, we made the transition from leaded to unleaded, and from MTBE as to ethanol as the anti-knock agent, without the world coming to an end. Stop the baseless, fact-free fear-mongering.

    Third, oil leaves gunk and deposits in cars, unless you buy premium gasoline with canter and birth defect causing "detergents" such as benzene, toluene, and xylene. Ethanol leaves no such gunk (in fact it helps clean up gasoline gunk), without needing such poisions.

    Fourth, food vs. fuel fears are silly. We have massive slack unused agricultural production capacity. Even while ethanol corn production went up several fold in the last decade, food corn production did NOT fall, it ROSE. Per acre crop yields rise relentlessly, up more than 17% since 2003 alone. Iowa alone today produces more than the entire country did back in the 1940s. And even ethanol corn helps feed us because it has a byproduct used to feed meat livestock that is better for the animals (easier to digest) than unprocessed corn.

    Fifth, not only causes smog, acid rain, ground level ozone, oil spills, and global warming, it also crashes our economy (1973, 1979, 2008) and funds terrorism. OPEC has 78% of world oil reserves while we have less than 2% COUNTING Arctic and offshore.

    Finally, for the same forces that have for years blocked the proposed "Open Fuel Standards Act" that would make compatibility with 100% ethanol (E100) a required standard feature in all new cars from now on (costing automakers only $130 per new car at the factory AT MOST), to then turn around and complain that cars supposedly can't use ethanol without damage or warranty violations is chutzpah.
  • George2 on March 15 2013 said:
    Automotive engines are not the only consumers of gasoline. Lawn mowers, farm tractors, motorcycles, etc.ALL of which get a MUCH poorer mpg on ethanol gases. Our family auto went from an average of 33 mpg to less than 22. Since we have STOPPED using ethanol gases, our mileage has increased, but NOT to NEARLY as good as it previously got. My motorcycles mpg were cut by approximately 25%. I CAN NOT let my mowers set through the winter, (or even for a few weeks) without fuel line and carburetor damage. As for OPEC, blame our government for THAT. We have as much, if not MORE ground oil reserves than most of the world combined. We have natural gases beyond comprehension. I cannot understand WHY anyone would want corn alcohol...The WORLD is running out of water resources...the land HAS to be fantastically irrigated to raise the corn. Show me HOW ethanol can be produced as cheaply as straight gasoline. It CANNOT. the ONLY reason it sells for the same price as gas is BECAUSE it is GOVERNMENT subsidized subsidized...WITH TAX PAYER'S MONEY!
  • George2 on March 15 2013 said:
    And it STINKS worse than gasoline...It burns your hands even worse than gas when using it to wash parts, and it definitely does not do as good a job cleaning. DON'T EVER FORGET the water it takes to produce ethanol...the droughts are spreading all over the world, and THEY are using our precious water for ETHANOL?
  • Mark chambers on March 15 2013 said:
    You should see what happens if you put nat gas into the car over a short period of time. Take a look at any parking lot in America and times it by 10.
  • Rich on March 16 2013 said:
    Carney, thanks for your sensable comment on ethanol.
    I am tired of hearing the usual comments based on gossip on how bad E is on engines and how mileage is cut so poor compared to regular gas. I have used 10% in my cars for years and have well over 200,000 miles on the last three cars I have had and have not had any problem that has been caused by ethanol. As for farmers not using E, I farmed for over 43 years andstarted using E in my gas engines since it came out andI still use it in my vehicles. Facts are rather scarce in the negative comments about ethanol.
  • daryl on March 16 2013 said:
    carney et al is wrong.
    the epa tested only a few cars on e15 and called it good. even one of the motors died on e15 so it was eliminated from the test.
    i know my '72 vw got 30mpg back in the 90s, now gets 25mpg thanks to ethanol and thats with many new engine parts.
    i hope for the death of ethanol and i hope e15 never makes it to gas tanks. i am lucky that if it kills my 72 bug i still have a diesel vw and flexfuel suburban.
    hes wrong on the other points also but for a good debate make a call to ed wallace on klif.com saturday mornings. he lives and breathes all things car related including oil, politics, ect. he easily chews up ethanol lovers.
  • Fuelinggood on March 17 2013 said:
    Oil companies don't produce ethanol, and people are shocked that they think it is a bad idea. They purposely exited ownership at retail when the idea of an RFS came about, but still control what fuel is sold via franchise agreements, and yet have zero liability. Quite the system. Don't know how they survive.

    The DOE tested E15 more than 6 million miles, more than any fuel in history. Convenient that it is "not enough". Big Oil funded a study that hand picked vehicles with known fuel component issues. Same study had vehicles fail on gas with no ethanol. Look it up, CRC study on E15. It is comical that the only part of the study released is that a vehicle with known fuel related issues failed on E15. Shocker. They also failed on E0. Tell the whole story. Who is saying we shouldn't use gasoline because of the same study? No one.

    E85 is also an option, but we like to also ignore that. More than 15 million vehicles can use it, but once again Big Oil blocks it at retail. If the flex-fuel vehicles on the roads today could use it, the RFS would be met easily. Again, oil companies do not produce it, so they don't want to offer it.

    As for water, ethanol production uses less than 3 gallons of water per production gallon. If you think that is too much, you had better stop using gasoline. Refining oil into gasoline is above 9 gallons of water for each gallon of gasoline and climbing.
  • Paddy on March 17 2013 said:
    Food into fuel is just another wasteful government program. It is vehemently defended by the farm states who benefit from this pork. Food-into-fuel, Solyndra and the other 14 failed "clean Energy investments" are proof that our government is out of control and not acting in the nations best interest. If you had a financial advisor who did as bad as the federal government in this area he would be arrested , his license revoked and he would be imprisoned for accepting kickbacks and running a ponzi scheme. Shame on us for not revolting against such incompetence and corruption.
  • Ricky on July 28 2013 said:
    Give me a break you can't till me that Ethanol is good for older car and trucks. I work on a lot of small engine like atv mowers and thing like that and all of them have fuel problems run ethanol blend gas this cost the customer more money this carb. Are not cheap a atv carb runs 150 to 250 bucks plus labor and it only last 6 mouths to a year and then you have to do it all over . That is the government thing thay just what you to buy more gas. I drive a 1988 mazda b2200 and it got 24 hwy and now running ethanol it gets 15 hwy I have tryed everything I put a new 280 carb on there and it bump it up to 17 hwy. this problem need to be solve from the government but thay don't care about the little man thay just look at money

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