The pain at the pump continues without letup as U.S. motorists pay an average of $3.94 cents per gallon. Some of that pain has been mitigated with the blending of the alternative biofuel ethanol.
Since implementation of the Renewable Fuels Standard, the predominately corn-based fuel additive has been limited to a 10 percent blend for all cars on the road. But in less than a decade the industry has expanded to the point where ethanol producers have hit the so-called “blend wall.” With more than 200 plants producing nearly 14 billion gallons annually, there is little if any room left to mix-in more of the alternative fuel -- until now.
After clearing various testing hurdles with public and private agencies, the next step has been taken to expand the industry by 50 percent.
Following extensive technical review and testing by the Department of Energy as well as other organizations, Environmental Protection Agency officials stated Monday E-15 is compatible with motor vehicles manufactured since 2001. The announcement allows ethanol producers to register as suppliers of the increased blend. The move is the first step in making gasoline containing a blend of 15 percent ethanol and 85 percent gasoline available for distribution to U.S. drivers.
The Renewable Fuels Association, an ethanol advocacy group, calls the action the most significant development in a three year effort to approve the sale of the mid-level ethanol blend. According to Bob Dinneen, the organizations President and CEO, "American consumers may soon have some much deserved relief at the pump. The future for consumers, ethanol producers and this country has just gotten a little brighter, a little stronger."
According to a study released in April by Iowa State University and the University of Wisconsin, the blending of ethanol with gasoline reduced the wholesale price of a gallon of gas in 2010 by an average of 89 cents. The study, funded by the Renewable Fuels Association, further stated gas prices could double if ethanol production was immediately halted.
In contrast, a study funded by the Energy Policy Research Foundation Incorporated., an energy group supported by petroleum and energy companies, raised concerns that the Renewable Fuel Standard mandate will drive up the price at the pump and rising corn costs will make ethanol even more expensive to produce.
In response to the EPA announcement, American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers President Charles Drevna stated "Unfortunately, today's EPA announcement represents yet another in the agency's unwise, premature and irresponsible series of actions in its rush to force E15 to the marketplace. This action is more about political science than real science because it is designed to protect the ethanol industry rather than the American people.”
While registration is the first step, E 15 will have to pass another series of federal tests before the higher blend is available at gas stations.