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Congress’s Affair With Ethanol: Love Gone Incorrect

The ethanol mandate in gasoline is starting to sting.
Hassle Brewing

In a information article revealed in Science journal final week, journalist Robert Service writes: “This yr is shaping up to be decisive for ‘cellulosic’ ethanol made from corn stalks and other agricultural waste, as oil firms and the ethanol business clash over authorities mandates for the automotive fuel.”

What’s going on Let’s start with a short primer on the usage of ethanol in America’s car.
As a libation, ethanol’s been around for a long, very long time. As a gasoline, it dates back to 1826 when it was first utilized in an inside combustion engine. Ethanol was also the department of energy oil fuel that ran the 1908 model of the Ford Mannequin T. But “the lowering price of oil (and US prohibition)” amongst other components turned Ford’s “fuel of the long run” right into a gas of the past and, with the exception of World War II [pdf], there it remained for much of the mid-twentieth century the place the fuel of alternative on America’s roadways was ethanol-free gasoline.

Congress’s Love Affair With Ethanol
Beginning within the late 1970s, nonetheless, ethanol started to creep its way back into our gasoline tanks, at first in response to oil shortages [pdf] and the Clear Air Act’s mandated phase-out of leaded gasoline (ethanol supplanted lead as an additive to enhance octane). Demand for ethanol increased as Congress began actively encouraging after which mandating its use in cars. For example, a 1978 tax break for ethanol-blended gasoline was adopted by the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments, whose requirements included the presence of an oxygenated compound akin to ethanol in gasoline to produce cleaner automobile emissions and thus cleaner air.

More recently, Congress upped the ethanol ante with two renewable fuel requirements: the 2005 Energy Coverage Act “required 7.5 billion gallons of renewable gas to be blended into gasoline by 2012” and the Power Independence and Security Act of 2007 tremendously expanded the program by:

– rising the quantity of renewable fuels from 9 billion gallons in 2008 to 36 billion gallons by 2022,
– adding more renewable gas classes every with separate quantity requirements (including cellulosic ethanol targets of 100 million gallons in 2010 growing to sixteen billion gallons in 2022), and
– applying life cycle greenhouse fuel efficiency threshold standards to make sure that each category of renewable gasoline emits less greenhouse gas emissions than the petroleum gasoline it replaces.

Why the Love
Knowing what’s behind Congress’s passion for ethanol as a fuel shouldn’t be fairly as inscrutable as figuring out what sparks romantic love, so let’s take a look at some possibilities. First and perhaps foremost, ethanol is a homegrown energy supply and one that was aided by a healthy tariff on imported ethanol that excluded Brazilian ethanol from competing in the U.S. market. It’s reasonable to assume Congress was considering national security. But that’s not all.

The desired air-quality improvements from the 1990 CAA had been to be achieved, in part, by adding ethanol or a similarly oxygenated compound to the hydrocarbon chains of fossil fuels thus including oxygen and encouraging a extra complete and cleaner burn. But I would take that with a bit salt. The proof (see here and here) that that ethanol mandate truly led to significantly improved air quality is fairly thin.

That brings us to the renewable fuel requirements. As summarized in a report [pdf] by the Congressional Research Service, the 2005 and 2007 mandates were geared toward alleviating our “rising dependence on foreign sources of crude oil, considerations over world local weather change, and the want to promote domestic rural economies.” But like the air-quality mandate, there’s room for some skepticism here. For example, the climate benefits of ethanol have been challenged by various investigators (see right here, right here and here).

Which brings us to the other reason listed above: desire to promote home rural economies. Right here I think we have discovered pay dirt — but not for any outdated rural financial system, simply the ones that grow corn.

Virtually all of today’s U.S.-produced ethanol comes from corn. So ethanol mandates elevate the demand for corn — making it a commodity wanted not only for meals but also for fuel. And so the result Corn prices rise, and American corn growers benefit. Voting for the mandate means making the very powerful Nationwide Corn Growers Affiliation glad. Voting in opposition to it, not to mention making an attempt to remove it, means risking the wrath of the lobby.

After which there’s Iowa. Ever surprise why in recent memory there’s near-unanimous help for ethanol mandates among presidential candidates Might it have anything to do with the all-important caucuses in Iowa, a state additionally recognized because the Corn State where ninety percent of its land is agricultural

With all these reasons going for it, you’d think the 2007 ethanol mandate would be sitting pretty. In actual fact, as noted by Service in that Science article, the mandate is in critical hassle.

Downside #1: Plenty of Ethanol, Not Enough Gasoline
Instances change. In 2007 a development was clear — gasoline consumption was on the rise. For an ethanol mandate to have teeth over time, the amount of ethanol produced, Congress reasoned, would also need to extend over time. And so federal mandates [pdf] required that the total volume of renewable fuel would increase (from 9 billion gallons to 36 billion gallons) with corn ethanol maxing out at 15 billion gallons per 12 months.

30,000 cubic cansThe problem is that gasoline consumption didn’t enhance as anticipated (see graphic below). First got here the financial downturn of 2008 after which a hankering for more gasoline-environment Petroleum Product friendly cars. Because of this, since peaking in late 2007, U.S. gasoline consumption has slowly declined (see graphic).

That is generally good news. However for the ethanol mandate … not a lot. The vast majority of U.S. cars are designed to use a fuel mix that accommodates not more than 10 % ethanol, and most fuel stations are arrange for gasoline with a maximum ethanol content material of 10 percent. So consider what occurs if complete gasoline consumption goes down while the overall quantity of ethanol required to be combined with the gasoline increases Eventually you hit what is understood because the “ethanol blend wall” the place any addition of ethanol to the mix will lead to a gasoline that is more than 10 % ethanol. (See here and right here [pdf].)

So how close is that ethanol blend wall For all intents and purposes we’ve hit it. In 2012, the Power Information Administration stories [pdf], the average ethanol content material in U.S. gasoline was 9.7 p.c. (See graphic).

Suffice it to say, something’s gotta give. Both American automobiles want a mandated retrofit that might enable for the next share of ethanol (just how expensive such a retrofit can be is up for debate — see here and right here) or the 2007 mandate needs to be relaxed.

Problem #2: Not Sufficient of the Good things (Cellulosic Ethanol)
Corn ethanol, like most alcoholic beverages, is produced from a plant’s starches and sugars. (Ethanol is “denatured ” to make it undrinkable.) However it’s corn ethanol’s cousin cellulosic ethanol – which is derived from a plant’s inedible cellulose (a major inflexible component of plants) — that’s typically viewed as the ethanol of the long run. Why Plants have way more cellulose than starches and sugars. And so there’s much more stuff accessible to produce cellulosic ethanol than corn ethanol. Not less than in theory we will produce much more cellulosic ethanol than corn ethanol.

That is in concept. In observe it hasn’t yet worked out that means. Turning cellulose into ethanol is a tough task, made even harder with industrial viability as a purpose. Giving a legislative leg-up is a technique to overcome the hurdles of developing a business enterprise — and that is essentially what the federally mandated will increase in cellulosic ethanol in gasoline blends had been intended partially to do however they haven’t labored.

The trade has merely not been capable of make sufficient cellulosic ethanol to satisfy the mandates. In 2012, for example, instead of the eight.65 million gallons required by the Environmental Protection Company, just 20,000 gallons of cellulosic ethanol have been produced. Usually refiners would be required to purchase credits to make up the distinction, but the American Petroleum Business took EPA to court — and won (see decision [pdf]). EPA later eradicated the 2012 requirements ($ub req’ed). In the meantime, the mandated totals for 2013 are expected to be challenged in court docket, even though 2013 is the yr cellulosic fuel is anticipated by the biofuel industry to make good.

The Ethanol Mandate on the department of energy oil Ropes
So what’s in retailer In his article in Science Service predicts a knock-down, drag-out combat “pitting the world’s largest oil and car corporations towards giant agricultural companies and Midwest farmers.” And the oil business department of energy oil is primed for the kill with Charles Drevna, president of the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, now calling for the repeal of the renewable gas standards. In the meantime several payments floating by Congress goal to slash the cellulosic ethanol mandate.

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