JAMESTOWN, N.D. — A change in regulations controlling the amount of ethanol in fuel could boost the ethanol and corn industries although environmental groups have concerns.
Ethanol industry leaders will testify at hearings Wednesday, June 14, before the U.S. Senate for a waiver to allow higher amounts of ethanol in fuel year-round, according to Phil Coffin, vice president for commodities and marketing for Midwest AgEnergy.
“It’s a first step,” Coffin said. “It is necessary to take that step but it is not sufficient to make sure we get to E15.”
Coffin said waivers have been in place since 1990 that allow fuel containing 10 percent ethanol to be sold year-round. Higher percentages of ethanol, such as the 15 percent ethanol in E15, are not allowed in many markets from June to September, said Deana Wiese, executive director of the North Dakota Ethanol Council.
“Retailers are holding off from modifying or adding pumps because it is a seasonal product,” she said, referring to E15. “It is a significant barrier to offering E15.”
At issue is how rapidly the ethanol evaporates during the heat in the summer. This is measured by the Reid Vapor Pressure or RVP, Coffin said.
“Gasoline with ethanol is more volatile than regular gasoline – and can contribute to smog,” said Jason Lubetkin, director of regional communications for the National Wildlife Federation, in an email. “For that reason, the sale of gasoline with more than 10 percent ethanol is prohibited in most communities across the country in summer, when higher temperatures can exacerbate volatility and pollution.”
Coffin said current regulations limit the amount of ethanol in fuel during the peak driving months in the United States.
“If we could get E15 out in the summer months it would be very good for the ethanol industry,” he said.
Ethanol plants in North Dakota produce about 460 million gallons of ethanol each year. Moving to an E15 mix could potentially raise demand for ethanol to a point where North Dakota ethanol producers could produce 700 million gallons each year, Coffin said.
“We like that challenge,” he said.
Nationally, that would mean another 3 billion bushels of corn used for ethanol, Coffin said.
Lubetkin said that is another reason the National Wildlife Federation opposes the waiver.
“… (NWF opposes) any federal law that further incentivizes more ethanol in our nation’s fuel supply,” he said. “The current ethanol mandate has had alarming consequences for wildlife habitat and water quality: More than 7 million acres of habitat has been plowed and converted to cropland, mostly corn for ethanol production. Farm runoff has hurt water quality as well.”
Coffin said expansions to the ethanol industry could help the farm economy.
“If we would meet our ultimate goals, it would have an impact on corn prices,” Coffin said.
Coffin said most motorists would not notice any difference in performance or fuel efficiency in a switch from E10 to E15 although higher percentages of ethanol can reduce gas mileage.
“Going to E85 they would see a difference in fuel economy,” he said.