Is Ethanol Even Green?

Posted by Ed Burke on Jan 21, 2014 2:08:00 PM

Grassy Hillsides plowed into crop rows. Millions of acres of conservation land converted to corn fields. Fertilizer runoff polluting lakes and streams. All to produce a "green" fuel source.... Or that's the picture painted by an AP article slash expose anyway. 

The ethanol industry renounced the AP article as a "smear campaign" pointing out that fertilizer runoff and associated issues occur regardless of the end point of the corn produced. Another issue with the AP article is that the "conservation" land converted to corn fields wasn't exactly "conservation land" in the usual sense - essentially, much of it was designated conservation under an initiative that seemingly has less to do with conserving land than it does with boosting crop prices for farmers. While those points may be true, there is no doubt that corn based ethanol has environmental impacts, and there's even question on how much benefit to the environment the fuel itself produces, with the revelation that ethanol may be only about 16% "greener" than gasoline, which would technically disqualify it as a green alternative to gas.

The Senate has even introduced a bill to eliminate the ethanol portion of the RFS. This happened in December, just as the EPA announced it would reduce the ethanol blending goals in the standard. Not a good month for the Ethanol Industry, I would say. Senators Feinstein and Coburn - another unlikely alliance, cosponsored the bill. Both cited increased food costs as a result of diversion of corn into fuel supply, and the issues oil companies face with the blend wall - their inability to blend more ethanol into fuel without risking damage to consumer vehicles (that was the issue behind the EPAs reduction as well). [You can read a little more detail about the bill in my most recent Oil & Energy Article by clicking here]

So what does this all mean anyways? Its not likely ethanol will "go away" but both of these actions make it a little less burdensome on refiners and companies and protect the blend wall. It will be interesting to see how it shakes out over 2014 - the Obama administration strongly supports the corn based ethanol on the basis that it encourages biofuel adaptation in general and ethanol is a good starting point. There is no doubt that the mandate for corn based ethanol is extremely costly however, and with the undeniable impacts on food prices for both the industry and consumers, given the recent questions on the reality of its environmental impact, it seems to be time for politicians to really sit down and repair broken and costly regulations.  

 

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Topics: E85, Ethanol, RFS 2, EPA Mandate, RINs, Biofuels, EPA, Blend Wall

Environmentalists & Oil Exec's Unite on RFS Volume Reduction

Posted by Kelly Burke on Jan 14, 2014 9:47:00 AM

A surprisingly unusual coalition of folks have united to support the EPA's reduction of RFS Volume Requirements including food industry leaders, environmental groups, humanitarian groups and oil industry groups. Why is that? 

Everyone involved has concerns about different impacts they believe are created or exascerbated by the mandate, especially if the volumes hold or increase. Refiners, for example are concerned about their ability to breach the "blend wall", where every gallon of gasoline would contain the required 10% - once thats hit it will be extremely difficult for refiners to generate the neccessary RINs, largely because of concerns about moving past an E10 blend.

Refiners and Motorist groups like AAA argue that E15 is not approved for use in a large portion of vehicles, and 13 major car manufacturers will even void warranty coverage in vehicles running E15. That's a huge issue for folks with cars that are not model 2014. Even the Ethanol groups numbers on this issue leave approximately 250 million vehicles on the road that cannot run properly on E15 - that's not good news for Joe Six Pack.

So why are Environmental groups throwing their support behind a Volume Reduction? Isnt Ethanol supposed to be "green"? Well, maybe not. Original numbers put ethanol at 16% greener than gasoline, and then theres the more obvious environmental impacts. An estimated 5 million acres of land that had previously been set aside for conservation have been converted into farm land for corn for ethanol. Fertilizer run offs have worsened a "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico, and contaminated some local water supplies as well, according to an AP investigation. 

Food producers oppose the mandate on the basis that diversion of corn for use in fuel versus the food supply has driven up the cost of animal feed, as well as corn used in processing itself. 

Beyond just supporting the Volume Reductions, the groups in question support a full repeal of the RFS in many cases. 

I wrote an article for Oil & Energy Magazine that gets a little more detailed on the RFS Reduction, you can read it here if you are interested: Oil & Energy Magazine 

What are your thoughts on the RFS Mandate and potential Volume Reductions?

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Topics: Oil & Energy Magazine, Ethanol, RFS 2, EPA Mandate, Biofuels, EPA

Tier 3 Gasoline Standard Ruling to be released by February

Posted by Ed Burke on Dec 10, 2013 8:57:00 AM

The EPA has announced it will release the final rule on the Tier 3 gasoline standard by February of this coming year, after revising the timeline due to the volume of responses received. The standard  is set to be in effect by 2017, with the stated purpose of reducing harmful vehicle emissions and pollution generated by cars and light duty trucks by dropping the sulfur content of gasoline from its present 30 parts per million down to 10 parts per million. (If you recall, Tier 2 dropped gasolines sulfur content from 300 PPM to the current 30PPM) 

The EPA estimates the cost impact of Tier 3 should be around a penny per gallon, but refiners believe that it could be more like 9 cents per gallon. This is because of the overhaul needed at approximately 66 major US refineries to make their existing hydrotrating equipment meet the new standards, and the fear that there is not enough excess in supply to cover demand while the upgrades happen could shoot the price at the pump up.  

The EPA says that by the year 2030 the program should cost about 3.4 billion annually, that they claim is more than offset by the projected monetized health benefits of somewhere between 8 and 23 billion. 

I wrote an article for NEFI's Oil & Energy Magazine that goes into more detail on the standard and how it works, you can read that article here: Oil & Energy Magazine  or in PDF Form by clicking here 

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Topics: EPA Mandate, Refinery Closures, EPA, Tier 3 Gasoline Standard, Gasoline Supply Crunch

API Sues EPA on Cellulosic Ethanol portion of 2011 RFS

Posted by Ed Burke on Jul 27, 2012 12:19:00 PM

Interesting timing - yesterday I linked to my article in Oil & Energy Magazine giving an overview of the state of the Cellulosic Ethanol Industry and the EPA's mandate that 2012 production hits 8.65 million gallons per the 2011 Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS). I mentioned that critics argued that commercial production of Cellulosic remains at low enough levels that many argue they cannot possibly hit the target set by the EPA, despite steps forward that have been made in production.

The American Petroleum Institute (API) filed a lawsuit against the EPA on July 24th 2012 in D.C. Circuit Court arguing the Cellulosic portion of the Renewable Fuels Standard mandates the use of “nonexistent cellulosic biofuels”. API’s Director of Downstream and Industry Operations, Bob Greco stated that the “EPA’s unattainable and absurd mandate forces refiners to pay a penalty for failing to use biofuels that don’t even exist. The mandate is effectively an added tax on gasoline manufacturers that could ultimately burden consumers.”  

You can read API’s news statement describing the lawsuit on their website using the following link: http://www.api.org/news-and-media/news/newsitems/2012/jul-2012/api-files-lawsuit-against-epa-for-mandating-use-nonexistent-biofuels.aspx

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Topics: Biofuels, Cellulosic Ethanol, EPA, API

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